Long before we start projects, we work with governments, Indigenous groups and local communities to plan the end of our operations in a way that leaves lasting benefits for our host communities.
For example, we work with governments to contribute to regional economic planning and look for ways to support entrepreneurship to help build diverse economies that can thrive once we have gone. We provide career support and training opportunities to help the local workforce – including our own – transition to new opportunities as operations wind down. And we work with local Indigenous groups to ensure areas are looked after for future generations – right down to the kind of plants we use to regenerate land. Often we progressively rehabilitate the land we mine: in 2018, for example, we rehabilitated 24% of the land we disturbed for mining.
We operate with closure in mind, incorporating closure into the design of new projects and looking for ways to optimise decommissioning, remediation and any long-term management obligations, such as water treatment.
All of our 66 managed operational assets are covered by closure plans; a number of these assets are coming to the end of their operating lives over the next ten years. With the oversight of the Board’s Sustainability Committee, we are working on closure plans for the next decade, with a particular focus on our Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia, which is set to close in late 2020.
Argyle Diamond Mine
Following the last production from the Argyle mine, we anticipate that it will take five years to decommission and dismantle the mine and undertake rehabilitation, followed by a further period of time for monitoring. Argyle will continue to employ people post-mining to work on rehabilitation and monitoring, continuing to pay wages and contributing to the local economy.
Diavik Diamond Mine
We are also committed to safely and responsibly closing our Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada and have planned for its closure from the outset. We will cease production at Diavik in 2025, at which time there will no diamonds left to economically mine. We are currently undertaking detailed closure planning studies that cover not only site reclamation but also employees, communities and business transition planning.
At the Energy Resources of Australia’s (ERA) Ranger Mine in the Northern Territory, uranium mining has ended, but processing of ore stockpiles continues and so does a structured programme of progressive rehabilitation. The mine is owned by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), which is 68% owned by Rio Tinto. Rehabilitation and closure planning began soon after the mine began producing uranium oxide in 1981.
The initial Ranger Mine Closure Plan incorporated numerous rounds of feedback following a rigorous 18 month stakeholder consultation process including discussions with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council, as representatives of the Mirarr Traditional Owners, and Northern Territory and Commonwealth Government agencies. Since 2012, ERA has spent more than $559 million on rehabilitation and water management, to incorporate the Ranger mine into the surrounding Kakadu National Park.
Blair Ranford is a safety support officer at Argyle, and shares his story about how we have helped him follow his passion, and pursue a new career after Argyle:
“I have been at Argyle for over a decade now, but we are heading towards closure and so we need to start thinking about what our life will be like after mining finishes.
My passion outside of work is filming wildlife. I have been very lucky to work in the mining industry and be able to travel all over the world: I have been to Africa a dozen times, and I have been to some very remote islands diving and filming sharks of all sorts.
The beauty of the support I have been given is that it is allowed me to go out and get my full commercial drone operator certificate. That means that, after Argyle closes, I am going to be able to have a real crack at filming wildlife as my career. It is pretty exciting!
After getting my certificate, I have been able to focus on using drones to film the marine life where I live about three hours south of Perth. I can capture them from a whole new perspective.
We are pretty lucky, we get whale migration going north and south. I have filmed blue whales – the biggest thing that has ever lived! – and we get dolphins, turtles and sharks (my favourite!). Filming something as incredible as a great white shark in clear, shallow water and being able to share that in a documentary form is pretty exciting! I have already been able to work with the likes of the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
So Rio Tinto opened a pretty big door for me, and I’m very grateful for it. Who knows – with a bit of luck you might see me on the TV in a year or two!”
We also manage a number of historic sites – known as legacy sites – that we did not operate, but for which we are now responsible through acquisitions and mergers. We rehabilitate these sites and, where and when we can, transfer them to local authorities or third parties. In situations where we can not relinquish the site, we make sure it is in a safe and stable condition, and the cost of aftercare is appropriately provided.
Rio Tinto is a member of the International Council of Mining & Metals and contributed to the development of the ICMM Integrated Mine Closure Good Practice Guide. We are also leading two of the 2019-21 Closure Working Group projects – External Reporting Metrics and Key Performance Indicators.
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.