Dr. Corinne Unger
The University of Queensland, Business School
A spectrum of Closure Outcomes from Managing Enviro-Social Risks over the Life of Mine
Only when I wrestled with the limitations of risk assessment frameworks for mining operations did I realise that they were all directed toward mitigating unwanted events and in doing so overlooked the process whereby enviro-social risks develop over the whole life of a mine. This prompted me to advance from earth science to social science to learn how to research and explain these risk organising processes that come together under the broad concept of mine closure. This comprises a set of activities carried out throughout the life of mine to manage risks that develop collectively, slowly and inconspicuously over long durations. This paper presents a spectrum of ways of managing these enviro-social (insidious) risks with divergent outcomes from i) leading practice creating beneficial post mining uses, to ii) worst practice that leaves persistent negative mining legacies. ‘Leading practice’ insidious risk management (IRM) for mine closure creates safe, stable and non-polluting landforms of waste materials, backfilled into pits or in purpose-built above-ground landforms, remediated/ reclaimed to support life (e.g., ecosystems), or healthy pit lakes with carefully managed groundwater rebound supporting sustainable and agreed post-mining uses; decommissioned or repurposed infrastructure; together with communities having a say in the landforms and uses so they can reconnect culturally with mined lands and return to old livelihoods or find a role in new livelihoods. There is also potential to find new value in wastes to extend the life of mines and reduce liabilities. At the other end of the spectrum catastrophic outcomes result from inadequate closure and may include: large unfunded liabilities at the end of mine life, companies selling mines for $1 to smaller entities who underestimate the closure risks, partial reclamation leaving persistent impacts to be managed in perpetuity by others, abandonment of environmental obligations and mining-dependent communities. While the latter are increasingly less common as regulations catch up over the last decade, globally there remain a significant number of mining legacy sites that require intervention. Importantly, while the outcome of mine closure is relatively obvious, the IRM process that accomplishes this, is not. Thus, this presentation will explain the eight main activities carried out during IRM and show how differently each are carried out within the spectrum of ways. Understanding this process supplements our understanding of risk management that is directed toward preventing or mitigating an unwanted event. The two dimensions of risk – process and outcome - go hand in hand, but the crucial influence of the social organising process of risk management that leads to different outcomes has not been well understood or even examined until now. Hence, I explain how practitioners, including geoscientists, interact with; colleagues and other professionals, regulators, environments and mine features, plus communities over the life of a mine to produce leading practice outcomes (or the opposite). Increasingly investors and markets are urging higher sustainability standards. This keynote urges integration of disciplinary fields and a longitudinal perspective of mining that reflects upon past activities and standards and creates a more sustainable future.
Corinne Unger is a research fellow in Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of Queensland Business School. Her initial earth sciences and education studies were followed by a postgraduate diploma in Geoscience (applied geomorphology) from Macquarie University, Australia. She then embarked on a multi-decadal career starting in soil conservation and advancing to mine rehabilitation and closure at ERA’s Ranger Mine in the Northern Territory. Corinne then became an environmental regulator of mining for the government in Central Queensland, before leading an abandoned mine rehabilitation planning project for the largest legacy site in that state: Mount Morgan. Following a move to Brisbane, Corinne was a specialist consultant for many years in mine rehabilitation, closure and legacy site management during which, she undertook a Churchill Fellowship in 2009, studying leading practice abandoned mine rehabilitation and post-mining land use in Europe and Canada, later publishing her research in a book chapter and journal articles. After a few years conducting research in the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, at The University of Queensland, Corinne moved to the UQ Business School to complete her PhD. Here, she added social science to her qualifications, researching how organisations manage slow developing, inconspicuous risks over long durations. Corinne is a Board Member of the Victorian Government’s Mine Land Rehabilitation Authority, is a chartered environmental professional within the AusIMM, and an expert contributing to ISO’s TC82/SC7 ‘Mine Reclamation and Closure Management’ family of standards. Currently she is also Project Lead for the Working Group developing a ‘Managing Mining Legacies’ standard.