Investor, lender and owner perspectives on mine closure

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A4   |   Letter


SRK News | Issue 58
Mine Closure: Can closure create opportunities?

Terry Braun, Principal GeoEnvironmentalist     

 

For owners of active mines, mine closure links past performance to future permission. Their success in expanding existing mines, new brownfield developments or greenfield projects will depend on the owner’s track record for mine closure. Without that record, a project’s closure plans will be compared to similar projects. 

Most investors in the mining industry understand if an operator fails to successfully close a mine, the expected investment returns will be impaired. Shareholders now demand more environmentally-responsible performance during operations and closure.

Project financiers tend to enter and exit a project long before mine closure. However, international lenders now follow global guidelines, such as the Equator Principles, that address the mining life cycle of planning, building, operating and closing. Financial institutions will demand best practice for mine closure as part of the funding requirements.

The global mining industry strives to improve best practices in mine closure organisations, like the International Council on Mining and Metals, fund research and prepare guidelines for mine closure planning and goals for new sustainable mining projects. The industry’s commitment for continuous improvement is real.

Today, owners and developers for new mines embrace the challenge of implementing best practices, including synthetic-lined process facilities, dry-stack or low-water consumption tailings practices, and progressive reclamation techniques. The mining projects of the future must consider the project’s life-cycle. This means mine closure practices and economics become an upfront conversation with regulators, the public and investors.

For legacy sites or active mines with a multiple-decade history, applying international best practices is more complicated. Legacy sites live with long-since-discontinued operating practices. Their owners include governments, non-mining companies or individuals that inherited or acquired them secondhand. Further complicated by funding limitations and/or legal uncertainties, permanent and effective closure of legacy sites remains a unique challenge and opportunity.

Active mines may have multiple-decade operating histories, having opened before and during the modern era of mining and environmental regulation like the massive copper porphyry deposits in Africa, Chile, Peru and the southwest U.S. These long-lived properties include un-lined leach dumps and exposed sulfide-rich mine rock piles. Long-term producers often address these issues concurrent with active mining operations. Owners and operators work with regulators, investors and other stakeholders to align mining operations with regulatory requirements and industry best practice. 

In fact, large institutional investors and financial institutions understand the difference in closure risks for long-term producers and future operations. And, mining companies recognise that building a track record of successful mine closure for depleted assets builds credibility with these institutions, as does reducing the environmental liabilities posed by legacy sites. Both trends are rising. 

No matter the commodity, mining method or geographic location, project developers must recognise the rising expectations of investors and financial interests for responsible mine closure.

Terry Braun: tbraun@srk.com

 

SRK Latin America