We begin planning for responsible mine closure before mining even starts, and that work carries on throughout the lifecycle of the operation, in cooperation with Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
"We simply will not start a project unless we are first confident that we can responsibly close and rehabilitate it when mining is finished. That is an important part of who we are as a company, and it is a commitment our employees are proud to work hard to uphold." -Don Lindsay, President and CEO
We begin planning for mine closure begins before mining starts, and that work carries on throughout the lifecycle of the operation. We work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the area to create closure plans focused on supporting the economic and social transition after mining ends, as well as a range of productive post-mining land uses.
This work is guided by our vision of achieving a net-positive impact on biodiversity in the areas where we operate. This means that the ecosystem and biodiversity of the mining area and its broader surroundings will be in better off than before the mining occurred. Responsible mine closure and reclamation is a major part of achieving this vision.
At Teck, we plan for responsible mine closure before mining begins. Our approach to closure is to responsibly end and decommission mining operations while working with Indigenous Peoples and communities to reflect their input and priorities for viable, long-term and diverse post-closure land uses.
“Our goal is to work cooperatively with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to restore mined areas back to a state where they can support a range of post-mining land uses, from wildlife habitat to economic diversification”. - Marcia Smith, Senior Vice President, Sustainability and External Affairs
Mining operations are often key contributors to employment, local businesses, and social benefits for nearby communities, so we understand that steps must be taken to minimize economic impacts after the mine closes. We work with communities to identify ways of supporting them through the transition.
During the closure phase, we focus on returning the land to a stable state for post-mining land uses and healthy ecosystems.
Once the mine site is closed, it is monitored and managed on a long-term basis to ensure that our closure actions remain successful in achieving the goals we planned for back at the beginning. Key objectives include: healthy ecosystems, public safety, water quality protection, and alternative uses for the land as suggested by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
The goal of reclamation is to conserve and enhance biodiversity, protect the environment, and turn lands where mining has occurred over to new and productive uses. This work can include establishing healthy wildlife areas and wetlands, or preparing for future economic or recreational uses.
We engage with governments, communities and Indigenous Peoples about our reclamation plans and objectives prior to mining. We adopted this approach to promote a more inclusive and collaborative way of doing business and outcomes that better reflect what local stakeholders want for their region.
Prior to mining, we conduct social, environmental, regulatory and archeological assessments and consult with Indigenous Peoples and local communities regarding traditional and recreational land uses. The information we gather on the original conditions at our mine sites helps shape our long-term reclamation targets for areas such as water, soil and biodiversity, as well as end land uses.
During our initial research we develop a biodiversity baseline for each site that guides our reclamation plans. It helps us ensure we are minimizing impacts to animals, plants and their habitats, and is factored into all our work throughout the life of the mine.
To prepare the site for mining, we begin by removing the sand, gravel, topsoil and vegetation in the areas we plan to mine. Where practicable, we save this mixed soil material so we can use it as part of reclamation work as mining is completed. Soil is a valuable resource for re-establishing native plant-life, which leads on to habitat for birds, insects and other animals to make the former mine their home once again.
When mining in a particular area of the operation is complete, we begin the work of reclaiming that area of the mine even as work continues in other areas of the operation.
Sloping and placing soil
We re-slope the area as required, and place the soil material salvaged in Step 2 on areas of the mine to be revegetated. We may also use additional coarse woody debris—fallen trees and large branches found in the areas ground cover during the reclamation process—as ground cover during the reclamation process. We also use wildlife trees, dead trees placed vertically in the ground, to provide structures on rocky areas which can be used as nesting or perching habitat for birds. This enhances the biodiversity value of the reclaimed landscape by returning key elements of mature or old growth forest that create suitable habitat for nesting birds.
Whenever possible, we plant native species when reclaiming a mined area, chosen based on research and consultation conducted during previous planning phases. We use those native species most likely to survive and thrive in a particular area and we also plant the type of vegetation most suitable for natural ecosystems that occur in the area, in order to achieve ecosystem and biodiversity objectives. We also incorporate cultural uses of the land, after learning about those from area Indigenous peoples and other community stakeholders tied to the land.
For example, one area of reclamation at our Fording River Operations is a relatively low-elevation site, and is east-facing, which means that the slopes are cooler and moister than a sunny west-facing slope would be. This results in selection of plant species that will thrive in a cooler and moister environment. Species such as Engelmann spruce will have much higher growth rates in these sites than if planted on a drier and warmer site. Reclamation at higher elevation sites can mean a harsher climate—higher winds, more exposed sites—so vegetation planted in these areas needs to be tailored to thrive in these conditions. A lot of work goes into determining the right types of vegetation to plan: site studies, Indigenous peoples consultation and science informs these decisions.
Reclaiming water features
Another important part of the reclamation process is reclaiming water features at the mine site, such as tailings ponds and pit lakes. Tailings are the finely ground rock particles, sand, silt and other substances left following the process that extracts the valuable resource (e.g. copper, zinc, steelmaking coal) from the rock. They are often stored in tailings ponds created through the use of berms, dams or natural features that hold it all in place. Depending on the reclamation plan and the end land uses, these ponds are either entirely drained of water and decommissioned, or turned into new aquatic ecosystems of their own.
In some cases, our closure plans include creating other new water features that remain after mining, called pit lakes. In this case, when one area of a mine is complete, the remaining pit can be filled with tailings or rock and then covered with water, creating a new lake. Turning tailings ponds and pit lakes into functioning, healthy aquatic ecosystems is something Teck has done successfully at several of our sites, including our Highland Valley and Cardinal River operations.
Once reclamation of an area is complete, we monitor the success of reclamation activities and adjust our approaches as necessary to ensure our land-use plans are working and environmental and biodiversity objectives are being achieved.
At some mine sites, long-term treatment of water is required. In those cases, Teck responsibly operates and maintains those facilities, and monitors to ensure water quality targets are being met.