Through safe and responsible asset closure, we are working to deliver shared benefits for host communities, employees and investors; positive ESG outcomes; and innovative solutions that minimise long-term liabilities.
We do this in partnership with our stakeholders, embedding closure considerations throughout the lifespan of our assets – in the way we design, build, run, close and transition them.
As temporary stewards of the land where we operate, we partner with our stakeholders to develop a shared vision for the future of the lands and host communities. Balancing environmental, financial and social considerations, we look for opportunities associated with progressive closure, remediation and repurposing, and, where appropriate, long-term monitoring and maintenance.
At the end of 2022, closure provisions on our balance sheet totalled $15.8 billion (2021: $14.5 billion).
A start-up to support habitat restoration
Restoring legacy and former mine sites is a complex, industry-wide challenge – one that we need to get right.
We are partnering with RESOLVE, a non-profit organisation, to launch Regeneration, a start-up that will use the re-mining and processing of waste from legacy mine sites to support rehabilitation activities and restore natural environments.
Regeneration will extract valuable minerals and metals from mine tailings, waste rock and water. Earnings from the sale of these responsibly-sourced materials will be reinvested to help fund habitat restoration and closure activities, including at legacy and previously abandoned mine sites. Regeneration will also seek to create and trade biodiversity and carbon credits through the rehabilitation of land and the generation of environmental offsets.
We will invest $2 million in Regeneration and will work with the team to identify potential opportunities for the first Regeneration project.
Argyle diamond mine
We continue to close the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia. In 2022, we completed the high-reach demolition of structures and processing equipment on site and progressed reprofiling and rehabilitation works. We are engaging with Miriwoong and Gija Traditional Owners on how to best support and expand meaningful participation as we progress closure activities.
Gove refinery and residue disposal areas
While mining continues at our Gove bauxite operations in the Northern Territory in Australia, we are implementing progressive closure activities, including the decommissioning and demolition of the refinery and progressive capping of the bauxite residue disposal areas.
In 2022, we completed the relocation of essential services, including electrical and water, from the refinery footprint to begin safe demolition. This work supports the security of services for the town of Nhulunbuy post closure.
Ranger uranium mine
Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) is rehabilitating the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory, Australia. We are committed to the successful rehabilitation of Ranger to a standard that will establish an environment similar to the adjacent Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage site. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners, the Mirarr people’s, consistent opposition to developing the Jabiluka uranium deposit and restate our full support for ERA’s commitment that the deposit would never be developed without the Mirarr people’s consent. Our utmost priority and commitment is to the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area in a way that is consistent with the wishes of the Mirarr people.
Following ERA’s announcement of cost and schedule overruns in February 2022, we sought to work constructively with ERA’s Independent Board Committee (IBC) to find a funding solution to meet its rehabilitation obligations. This included engaging for several months on an interim entitlement offer that was deferred by the IBC in July 2022 when its proposed terms failed to obtain major shareholder support.
In October 2022, ERA’s IBC resigned as directors of ERA to allow for the introduction of new perspectives to address the rehabilitation costs.
While a funding solution for the rehabilitation is being identified and agreed by new ERA Independent Directors, we agreed to amend an existing A$100 million credit facility to assist ERA with its management of immediate liquidity issues.
Together with ERA and other key stakeholders including the Mirarr people, we supported the recent amendments to the Atomic Energy Act 1953 (Cth), which will allow rehabilitation activities at Ranger to extend beyond the previously legislated timeframe of January 2026.
We manage over 90 legacy assets in nine countries. Where appropriate, we rehabilitate these sites and work with local stakeholders to transition them to their next use. For example, at Mount Rosser in Jamaica, an inactive bauxite reside storage facility, we have covered 95% of the site with vegetation, seeing a diverse and sustainable mix of plant species all using a top-soil-free rehabilitation method.
We progressed rehabilitation at Pohatcong, a packaging site in New Jersey, US by completing in-situ thermal remediation to treat and eliminate contaminates in soil. In France, we completed our post-mining obligations at Le Thoronet, a former bauxite mine, and handed back the site to the French authorities for monitoring and maintenance. We continue to work in partnership with the French Ministry of Ecological Transition to further restore the site and create a diverse space with public hiking trails set to open in 2023.
We continued work on our GISTM compliance plan, and in 2022, we strengthened our knowledge of legacy sites.
Progress in 2022
Strengthening our approach
We completed six asset closure strategies in 2022, now in place for 38 of our operations.
These strategies create a progressive vision for future land use after our operations cease and focus on opportunities to reduce closure costs and risks over the asset lifecycle. All of our operating sites have closure plans. We review these plans regularly to align with stakeholder expectations and to incorporate lessons learned from other closure projects. At operations with joint ownership structures, we work in partnership with other asset owners to ensure closure is considered throughout asset design, planning and operations.
Working in partnership
Successful closure needs to align with the expectations of host communities and governments. We are developing new approaches to engagement, such as co-creation of the future use and landform, co-execution and co-governance. To achieve this, we are working with host communities, including Indigenous partners, on rehabilitation, revegetation and long-term monitoring at many sites.
We look for opportunities across our portfolio to contribute to decarbonisation efforts for the communities where we operate. For example, at our Gove bauxite operations, we are working to introduce solar power into the grid to support sustainable power for the region beyond mining.
We partner with universities, governments and other organisations to find opportunities to repurpose and reprocess mineral and industrial waste, improve treatment and valorisation of mining-influenced waters, and explore the social aspects of mine closure. For example:
- We joined the Mining Microbiome Analytics Platform project to identify microbes that could help the industry mine and remediate sites more sustainably.
- Through our joint venture partnership with Regeneration Enterprises, we developed partnership strategies on re-mining and remediation of two legacy assets. We have engaged key technology, research and development, and ecological partners in our closure work.
- We joined the National Alliance for Water Innovation, a public-private partnership that brings together a team of industry and academic partners. The team examines the critical technical barriers and research needed to radically lower the cost and energy of desalination to secure an affordable, energy-efficient and resilient water supply for the US economy.
- We continued engagement in partnership with the Gove Peninsula Futures Reference Group (GPRFG) to plan for a sustainable future for Nhulunbuy and the Gove Peninsula post-mining for the benefit of Yolngu land owners, local communities and businesses. Members include the Gumatj and Rirratjingu Traditional Owners, the Northern Land Council, the Northern Territory Government, Australian Government and Rio Tinto. Learn how the GPRFG is supporting a positive transition on their website govefutures.nt.gov.au.
What are legacy sites?
We manage a number of historic sites – known as legacy sites – some we did not operate but acquired through corporate acquisitions after they were closed. Where required, we rehabilitate these sites and, where and when we can, transfer them to local authorities or third parties for future land use.
Turning an old gold mine into a rhino sanctuary
Our Kelian team rehabilitated the 6,670-hectare gold mine site, including remediating waste dumps and building dams to protect ground and surface water from mine tailings, and converting areas that lay beneath the processing plant into a wetland.
It’s hoped the sanctuary could provide the lifeline that Kalimantan’s remaining Sumatran rhinos need to begin their recovery – and is just one example of the contribution that thoughtful closure of former mine sites can make.