Although the planning process for Dalradian’s proposed underground gold mine at Curraghinalt is still ongoing, one area which has already been considered as part of the application process is the progressive rehabilitation of the site.
Rehabilitation is an integral part of modern mining operations, and an array of engineering and technological solutions are available to assist. There are many examples from around the world of how former mine sites can be rehabilitated or even repurposed, including a former zinc and lead mine in County Tipperary (see below) which was once one of the largest in Europe.
Curraghinalt will create 350 jobs and Dalradian expects to spend US$1 billion on the project’s supply chain over a 20-25 year period. As part of its commitment to the environment, however, Dalradian is as interested in Curraghinalt’s closure as we are in its construction and operation. Indeed, as detailed in our 10,000-page planning application, our proposed operational plans have been developed to support rehabilitation, where possible, as mining takes place. Rehabilitation will, therefore, be very much part of Dalradian’s day to day business.
MISCONCEPTION: Rehabilitation is an afterthought for mining companies
FACT: Our approach to rehabilitation operates within a legal framework based on EU regulations which are now part of Northern Ireland law. However, as part of Dalradian’s Environmental Management Policy we are also committed to international best practice and implementing environmentally responsible practices during every part of the mine’s life cycle.
In keeping with those commitments Dalradian has produced a conceptual Closure and Rehabilitation plan. The plan, which is publicly available, was submitted to regulators as part of our Environmental Statement. The conceptual plan (which is subject to approval by the Department for
Infrastructure) details a range of measures which will leave the site safe and secure, and rehabilitate it for use as either farming and/or heathlands. The planning process also allows the local community and other stakeholders such as Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, to comment upon retaining elements of the site if they can be reused for a beneficial post-mining purpose.
MISCONCEPTION: The public will pick up the costs of rehabilitation
FACT: The rehabilitation process will begin during the operational phase of the mine and will form part of Dalradian’s ongoing business. For example, the dry stack facility, which will contain waste rock, will be progressively reclaimed and planted as mining is ongoing.
For rehabilitation measures which can only happen after the mine has closed, the conceptual plan has estimated that the costs will be in the region of US$16 million. Before the mine opens, a final figure will be agreed with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and Dalradian will provide a financial guarantee secured by way of a Planning Agreement with DfI. This will ensure that rehabilitation costs are covered. At no stage will the public purse need to contribute towards these costs.
MISCONCEPTION: The rehabilitation period will be short lived
FACT: Most closure and rehabilitation activities will take approximately one year to complete once processing operations finish, but that is just the start of a process which could last more than five years. During the first year we propose, among other things, to:
- secure underground entrances
- allow the mine to flood naturally
- remove all underground infrastructure
- landscape the site in line with the local area’s characteristics as agreed with DfI • remove surface buildings and machinery • construct wetlands to help treat water The post-closure monitoring period will be agreed with DfI.
Lasting potentially five years, this process will demonstrate that the site meets all required environmental standards.
With regard to water management, the bespoke water treatment facility used during the active life of the mine will continue to operate post closure. Once the authorities have assessed that water standards have been met, the facility will be removed and replaced with a less intrusive (passive) water treatment system that uses natural processes. Water quality will continue to be monitored for at least five years.
Lisheen, County Tipperary
It can be difficult to envisage how Dalradian’s site will be rehabilitated, but fortunately a mining operation in County Tipperary can help demonstrate what can be achieved.
Employing up to 400 people when operational, 22.4 million tonnes of ore was mined at Lisheen over a 17-year period.
The mine closed in 2015 and much of the area has been returned to its pre-mine use as cattle/sheep grazing. However, the mine’s owners and local stakeholders have also worked closely together to find new purposes for the site. These include a new €22million Bio-economy Research Centre which was launched by the Irish Government only last month.
By the beginning of 2017 Lisheen had been sealed and rewatered, the majority of its tailings management system had been capped and vegetated, mine buildings had been removed and land was rehabilitated. During a debate in the Dail last year, the mine was praised for being an “exemplary operation” for the manner in which it was closed.