Closing a mine is a big decision that affects communities, economies, companies, the environment and workers.
It’s not something people in the mining industry often think about when times are booming but, eventually, all mines close. At some point the resource will become fully exploited or it will become uneconomic to continue mining it, and a mine site will close down.
A report commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation and published in mid-2016 revealed 75 per cent of Australian mines had been closed prematurely or in an unplanned way and there are about 50,000 abandoned mines around the country. So it’s an eventuality every mining company and every mining industry employee needs to have a contingency for.
But what happens when a mine closes? Let’s look at an example to demonstrate.
KCGM to close the Super Pit in 2019
In 2014 KCGM announced a closure plan that will see one of Australia’s most famous mines, the Super Pit in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, cease mining in 2019. The plan is to complete processing of stockpiles in 2029, subject to gold price and operating costs being within budget. At the end of the mine life, the pit will measure 3.6 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and 600 metres deep. To date, the Golden Mile on which the Super Pit now sits, has produced some 58 million ounces of gold since its discovery.
Unlike most mine sites, the Super Pit is right next door to a large town and there’s the possibility it could be developed into a tourist attraction. After all, what do you do with a hole the size of Uluru? Currently the people of Kalgoorlie-Boulder are being asked the question of what should happen once the ore reserves are depleted. Some suggestions have included a racetrack, an inland lake or a resort.
Most mine sites, however, will have their infrastructure removed as part of the decommissioning process and then undergo some level of environmental remediation work — as required in their original statutory approvals. The site will then be secured, and abandoned — although environmental monitoring will continue.
You can read more about Australia’s 50,000 abandoned mines in this Guardian Australia article.
But what happens to the employees
There are 1,100 employees and contractors working at KCGM and the company also supports numerous community events and projects — so the closure of the mine will have a significant effect not just on workers but on Kalgoorlie-Boulder, its residents and its economy.
Unless more ore can be found, once 2029 comes around the employees at KCGM will need to find new work locally, or they’ll need to move elsewhere. In the interim, there is the possibility of other deposits being discovered, new mines being opened or alternative employment becoming available in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
This article from news.com gives a good insight into what it can be like for workers when their mine closes suddenly. It has real-life examples from mining towns across Australia.
If you know your mine is set to close ahead of time, then you’re able to make plans. But whether you have time to plan or not, we recommend getting your CV up to date and talking to a specialist mining industry recruiter. You’ll have good experience, which will help you when it comes to securing a new position. Working closely with a specialist recruiter is a good way to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance of swiftly getting back into employment.