ISO 21795- Key Takeaways from the New Mine Closure and Reclamation Standards

Mine closure and reclamation is made up of a series of complex activities that require the participation of a diverse group of scientists, engineers, Indigenous peoples, community members, and government regulators.  When successfully undertaken, closure and reclamation returns the land to a post-mine productive use, reduces long-term financial risk to the mining company and the community, and prepares the community for a sustainable transition from active mining. When done poorly, greater than anticipated and increasing costs may be borne by the mining company, and very often result in an ongoing burden to taxpayers. Mining companies may also experience reputational damage, adversely impact their ‘social license to mine’, and communities are typically divided over concerns about a post-mining future.  

In October 2021, two new ISO standards were released with the goal of promoting consistency and quality in planning for mine closure. These standards will become key tools for all those involved with planning for mine closure and reclamation, including mine planners and operators, environmental and closure teams, regulators, impacted communities, and financial stakeholders. 

ISO 21795-1 Mine Closure and Reclamation Planning – Part 1: Requirements

ISO 21795- Key Takeaways from the New Mine Closure and Reclamation Standards 1

This standard presents a framework for mine closure and reclamation planning for new and operating mines.  Six elements of mine closure and reclamation planning are noted as a framework that should be applied at all stages, from mine planning to post-closure:  

  • Responsibility- Specifically the responsibilities of the mining company to stakeholder engagement, regulatory processes, and financial planning. 
  • Integration- Including mine closure and reclamation as a part of the entire mining life cycle. 
  • Design- To ensure development in the context of meeting closure and rehabilitation objectives. 
  • Risk and opportunity assessment and management– Identify and act on opportunities 
  • Evaluation and improvement– Application of quality assurance and adaptive management.  
  • Knowledge- Develop knowledge by collecting, managing, and identifying knowledge gaps.

The planning framework is applied to seven key mine closure and reclamation planning activities to demonstrate how each framework element plays a role throughout the entire mine closure and reclamation lifecycle.  

  • Mine closure and reclamation plan objectives and commitments 
  • Technical procedures and techniques 
  • Mitigating socio-economic impacts 
  • Financial assurance and associated planning 
  • Mine closure and reclamation planning for unplanned closure 
  • Post-closure management plan  
  • Mine closure and reclamation plan documentation 

ISO 21795-2 Mine Closure and Reclamation Planning – Part 2: Guidance

This standard includes guidance and recommendations on four key mine closure activities for new and operating mines: 

  • Closure and reclamation of a mine site 
  • Land reclamation and water management 
  • Stakeholder engagement 
  • Decision and analysis tools 

Closure and Reclamation 

Detailed recommendations are made for closure and reclamation of specific mine site facilities. These include tailings storage facilities, water storage facilities, mine rock stockpiles, heap leach facilities, open pits, underground workings, mine infrastructure, and the possibility of addressing all facilities should a temporary closure occur.  

Land Reclamation and Water Management 

The topic of land reclamation and water management is broken into seven key categories: landforms, surface preparation, vegetation establishment, water management, water treatment, covers, and climate change effects.  It’s not a coincidence that landforms are addressed first, as the landform shape, aspect, material and integration with other landforms will greatly influence the next five categories.  This primary influence is bookended by discussing the importance of considering climate change and understanding how the anticipated changes in air temperature, precipitation, and storm intensity may affect the other six categories. 

Stakeholder Engagement  

The significance of stakeholder engagement is highlighted as its inclusion as a major activity of mine closure and reclamation planning.  The standard discusses the identification of stakeholders and the aspects of engagement.  The knowledge of stakeholders is invaluable, and stakeholders should be included in returning land use decisions using a transparent process that provides adequate time to evaluate and respond with input. 

Decision and Analysis Tools  

If the first three major activities relate to Where, What, and Who, the final activity is How: decision and analysis tools. The standard presents a rational basis for identifying alternatives, analyzing alternatives, assessing and managing risk, and estimating costs.  The Decision and Analysis approach begins with progressing through the stages of design, from conceptual to detailed design, and at each step, improving the plan, refining the cost estimate, and reducing risk. This is a process that ideally begins with the initial mine design and is complemented by an operations plan implemented with closure and reclamation in mind.  

 As closure and reclamation activities progress, the process highlights the need for monitoring and reporting of performance. This begins during operations when progressive reclamation activities begin and continues as closure and reclamation plans are implemented.  The monitoring data reveals design performance and presents opportunity to implement adaptive management measures. 

Okane’s Approach and Key Takeaways  

Okane is committed to the advancement of mine closure, and the development of international best practices to improve environmental and social outcomes. We work with industry groups like The Mine Environment Neutral Drainage Program (MEND) and the International Network for Acid Prevention (INAP) to publish internationally recognized guidance documents for cover system design and rock placement strategies to enhance performance of mine rock stockpiles. 

New standards like ISO 21795 help align mine closure and reclamation practices to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. ISO 21795 will serve as a well-presented reference for both new and veteran members of the mine closure and reclamation community. Future development of standards could focus on guidelines for closure and reclamation planning at abandoned mine sites, and relinquishment of a closed and reclaimed mine.