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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Yukon adopts new mine reclamation policy

Mining industry supports ongoing collaborative effort; will wait and see on implementation; policy encourages early reclamation

 

Last updated 2/26/2006 at Noon



Yukon Territory has approved a mine site reclamation and closure policy for new hard rock mines developed in the Yukon, effective immediately.

Yukon, which devolved from the Canadian federal government in recent years, is now responsible for primary regulatory decisions involving major mines in the territory.

"Devolution created an opportunity to develop a 'made in the Yukon' approach to managing hard rock mine developments, operations, reclamation and closure," said Laurie Sthamann, a spokeswoman for the Yukon Government's Ministry of Energy, Mines & Resources.

Several major new mines are nearing development in the Yukon, and the mine site reclamation and closure policy provides an effective framework to guide these and other new mine developments in the Yukon, she said.

The policy, announced by government officials in January, is designed to encourage early reclamation and closure planning, to recognize progressive reclamation, and to ensure that public risk for closure liability is minimized.

It is based on the concept that mine operators are responsible to plan, implement and fund mine reclamation and closure, and they must provide financial security to contain public risk for site reclamation and closure costs.

Industry provides input

Yukon officials said they consulted extensively with First Nations, mining industry representatives, environmental groups and government agencies in developing the new policy.

"Industry supports the policy because it provides a clear and consistent approach for mine closures, which we didn't have before," said Dan Cornett, a mining consultant who worked with the Yukon government in developing the new policy.

With new mine activity heating up in the Yukon, it may seem like odd timing for the government to come out with a mine closure policy, said Cornett, who also serves as vice president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. "We've always had problems in the Yukon where the mine closure policy has never been spelled out," Cornett said. "The policy provides a goalpost, and it supports industry using modern and progressive" reclamation techniques.

"The policy is viewed as an improvement because it was developed by the Yukon government. It's a good starting point," he added.

Yukon Chamber of Mines President John Witham said the mining society has taken no official position on the new reclamation and closure policy.

"I was less impressed with the old (federal) policy. It involved posting enormous bonds regardless of the condition of the mine at the time of closure and with no assurance that mining companies would get any of the bond money back."

Dynamic bonding important

Witham said the new Yukon policy allows dynamic bonding but is a "double-edged sword" because it requires a lot more government involvement in the reclamation process.

"It's a lot more transparent, palatable to the public," he explained. "It keeps everybody in the loop so there are no surprises like Yellowknife and Faro. … The acid test will be the first mine that goes through the process. I'll be interested to see the level of government involvement and corporate record-keeping required." (Yellowknife and Faro were mines in Yukon Territory that closed with significant and costly reclamation issues.)

Though the new policy provides for a very high standard of due diligence and care for reclamation and closure of mine sites, Yukon officials say it will not put Yukon mining at a competitive disadvantage.

Witham agrees. "I don't expect the policy to be onerous, but I've been surprised before," he said.

Among the policy's key components:

• Mine owners must prepare mine reclamation plans and submit them for review and approval by government prior to mine development.

• Updates are required periodically throughout the operating mine life (minimum every five years).

• Annual reports are required stating what progressive reclamation has been accomplished and results of environmental monitoring programs.

• As progressive reclamation and closure work is completed, monitoring must be conducted by the mine operator with respect to the effectiveness of the mitigation measures.

• Mine owners must provide financial security for full outstanding mine reclamation and closure liability.

• Outstanding reclamation and closure liability is based on the cost to reclaim and close a mine site, in its current status, in accordance with the approved reclamation and closure plan.

• Outstanding reclamation and closure liability will be reassessed periodically (minimum every two years) to reflect the impact of operations and progressive reclamation.

• When government is satisfied that a mine owner is no longer operating and has met all conditions of the quartz mining license, the Minister of Energy, Mines & Resources may issue a closure certificate.

Guidelines due by April

Other critical elements in the policy are detailed technical and financial guidelines that complement the policy, which are yet to be developed, Cornett said.

"We are making sure these reflect modern industry standards and best practices," he said. "We want to make sure we have a level playing field."

Sthamann said these guidelines will address the specific conditions for reclamation standards and forms of acceptable financial security. More public input will be invited to finalize the guidelines, which are scheduled for completion by April.

 

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