Taking the long view

Mines and metals operations are closed at the end of their productive lives. It is part of the cycle of our industry and stakeholders rightly expect us to rise to the challenge of doing this responsibly.

Over the next five to ten years the mining industry faces a significant challenge: more mines will be closed while society’s expectations are rising and requirements are becoming stricter.

This is as true for us at Rio Tinto as it is for other mining companies.


Holden mine Holden mine

Doing it right

We are committed to ensuring that we manage our assets and the impacts they have across their full life cycle, including after we have finished. This is the right thing to do for communities and the environment and it is the right thing to do for our business. The legacy we leave behind from our past activities impacts on our future licence to operate.

Our approach is two-fold. We must:

  1. Reduce the risks and liabilities from future closures by planning for closure from the very beginning of a project and throughout operations.
  2. Manage end-of-life closure efficiently to meet regulatory and Rio Tinto standards.

Our approach to closure planning and management is guided by our Closure standard and governed by our Closure Steering Committee.

Planning for the end at the beginning

Planning for closure has to start during project development and extend through construction, operational and decommissioning phases. That means thinking about factors such as long-term water management, post-closure land forms and use and economic impacts. For example, being able to "dump to design", recognises that we can efficiently design the site we want to leave behind from the very first days of the mine’s life if we have the final landform for closure in mind when we first break ground.

We work in collaboration with local communities and regulators to ensure post-closure outcomes are achievable and adverse risks are minimised cost-effectively. We aim to progressively rehabilitate land as we operate our mines – to meet regulations, control dust and erosion and confirm successful land rehabilitation practices.

Learning from experience

We have developed and are refining our approach from our experience of managing a portfolio of old mines and facilities. One of these so-called legacy sites is the former Holden copper mine in Washington State in the northwest US, surrounded by a national park and sitting alongside a Lutheran spiritual retreat centre. Our remediation work there is now complete but we continue to manage and monitor the water quality. What we learn from working at legacy sites such as Holden is as much about how we engage with stakeholders and our internal ways of working as it is about the technical challenges of the site.

Putting the learning into practice

We have started to understand the breadth of the closure challenge and we feel we have now put in place the mechanisms to enable us to manage this as a business issue. Our work is under way. But we are fully aware that we will be, rightly, judged by how well we close mines in the coming years.