Goldcorp’s 2016 Sustainability Report highlights the careful management of the environmental and socio-economic challenges as our operations move towards closure and reclamation. With US$28 million invested in progressive or closure reclamation activities in 2016, we are committed to the sustainability of local communities long after Goldcorp completes mining activities. Chris Cormier, Vice President, Reclamation and Closure, takes us through some of the closure developments in 2016.
From the perspective of mine closure and reclamation, what were Goldcorp’s highlights or main accomplishments in 2016?
There are four properties we made real progress on in 2016. Our major accomplishment was at El Sauzal in Mexico, which closed in December 2014, where we successfully concluded the closure activities at the mine. Since production stopped, we moved millions of tonnes of rock and planted hundreds of thousands of plants to create a stable, environmentally safe and natural-looking landscape. Throughout the closure we maintained an ongoing relationship and dialogue with local ejidos (landowners), because we were, in essence, reclaiming and managing their land.
In preparation for the end of mining activities in Marlin in 2017, the closure plan was updated and a project charter was approved for the closure of the mine. Backfill of the Marlin pit was 95% completed in 2016. The tailings pond is being filled to final elevations in preparation for rock capping and revegetation over the next three years. Last year, to help prepare our employees for the transition, an education and training program was offered, and planning continues to provide opportunities beyond operations.
Porcupine, in Timmins, Ontario, is one of our largest collections of closed sites. The Hollinger project was conceived as a closure project since exploration began more than a decade ago. The concept was to remediate hundreds of underground openings in the centre of downtown Timmins, essentially turning unusable land into a sustainable green space in the city centre. The initial phase of reclamation that has been completed is the construction of the berm surrounding the open pit, which will become the foundation for our future vision.
What are Goldcorp’s objectives and priorities in mine closure and reclamation?
One priority is to improve our ability to monitor and manage remote sites, where there is no infrastructure and sometimes no access. One form of satellite monitoring is being deployed at El Sauzal, where we are moving toward remote monitoring using satellite technologies. This technology and others coming to market are showing tremendous promise in the ability to monitor remote sites.
Another priority is to integrate closure and reclamation into our central business: to factor closure in financial decisions and to consider it in every phase of mining, from exploration through the operation of a mine. We have the ability to design and operate mines in ways that will make closure and reclamation easier and less costly. If, for example, rock storage facilities are contoured and modelled after surrounding terrain, the final product could result in a landform that enhances the surrounding ecosystem.
This requires taking a longer view, and more integration and knowledge-sharing between departments. It’s something we’re working on.
What challenges does Goldcorp face in this area? How can Goldcorp ensure it is mitigating environmental and social risks and impacts associated with the closing of a mine?
With closed mines, the challenge is predicting unexpected events. It’s a major challenge, especially with sites that have been closed for decades.
To manage the challenge, we need to monitor for physical changes over long spans of time and to understand how the sites will respond to significant environmental events. To get there, we are working on remote monitoring technologies and on improving our predictive models. Our objective is to consistently become more proactive than reactive.
At Goldcorp, we annually review our closure obligations at every one of our sites, accounting for the site’s technical challenges and local social obligations. It is an ongoing process that is continually improving.
How is Goldcorp integrating social and economic considerations in its mine closure planning?
Mine closure is more than reclamation and environmental work; it’s about helping communities prepare for the eventual closure of the mine and to find opportunities to mitigate the effects on the local economy. There are two sides to that planning. One is the corporate social responsibility side, in which our investments in infrastructure, health and education are intended to benefit the community in ways that will last long after the mine has closed.
The other side is employment. It’s a huge challenge to deal with the closure of a mine and the employment transition that occurs for our employees. We begin to plan and develop opportunities long before the mine shuts down. Initiatives to help with retraining, re-education and teaching business skills are essential to support opportunities for former employees to start and run successful businesses or take advantage of alternative employment opportunities.
Ultimately we want to integrate these processes into our life-of-mine planning to ensure the ultimate transition is well thought out in advance. In some cases, we set up foundations or guardians (custodians) of the land, which are businesses that are intended to be profitable and productive, to support local employment in the long term.
External stakeholders have expressed concern over environmental legacy issues that may arise long after closure. What is Goldcorp doing to prevent this?
Clearly today there is an increased public awareness regarding issues surrounding contamination and clean up arising from poor management of abandoned or closed mine sites. To prevent this, we diligently monitor our closed sites and we are actively engaged in applying innovative solutions to improve our capacity to respond quickly.
Since the Reclamation Operations Business Unit was formed last year, we have been focused on improving the institutional knowledge and monitoring on identifying the potential risks at each of these sites and gauging the probability and severity of the risks. Once that’s complete, the task is to mitigate risks and monitor the health and recovery of the environment.
What does innovation in mine closure look like?
Innovation is in nearly everything we do, from our remote-monitoring projects, to utilizing improved technologies for measuring and treating water, to recycling tailings or removing water covers on tailings.
One of our projects for 2017 is to explore the development of sustainable green energy solutions for some of our mine sites. The idea is that a mine could develop a renewable energy system to serve some of its current energy needs. Then, after closure, the energy infrastructure could be repurposed to support ongoing maintenance costs along with providing sustainable investment opportunities in our communities. We are currently reviewing potential test sites, and are developing the technical and economic justifications to see whether the investments could provide sustainable benefits. If found positive, this could represent a transformative change in the sustainability of mine closure.
At an organizational level within Goldcorp, what we are doing in this department is very positive: we have consolidated closure into a single area of our business and pulled together all the good work that has been done by various departments and teams. We are learning to look at closure as more than an end result, seeing it as a part of a mine’s lifecycle. I think that’s very innovative, and it says a lot about us.
Where do you see Goldcorp five – and ten – years in the future?
One vision – an ultimate goal for mine closure – is to get all of our closed sites into the state of ‘passive care’. That’s the state where the site is visited once a year or so, and observed via satellite images a few times a year, and that’s it. Our goal is to have all our closed sites attain this level of care over time.
We would also like to see closure planning integrated to support well-developed, sustainable post-closure opportunities for our communities and former employees. Well-planned land use and well-designed productive or sustainable projects can provide income and investment capital sustainably beyond mining. This would put the local communities in control of the land and of the productive projects that we have developed. We are not there yet – but we do see a path to take us there in the future.
Over the next few years, I would like to see Goldcorp recognized as a leader in integrating closure planning in the end-to-end mine lifecycle. It is critically important that all of our decisions are made with an awareness of the impact they’re going to have when we’re gone. That’s a lesson etched in the industry’s history and learning from it will provide sustainable value for everyone.
For further information on Goldcorp’s commitment to sustainability, visit the 2016 Sustainability Report