Reclamation of Abandoned Mining Sites

Some mining sites in Québec are considered abandoned because they do not have a known or a solvent owner. Others that have been transferred back to the State or released by means of a certificate pursuant to section 232.10 of the Mining Act .

In 2007, a program for abandoned and contaminated sites was entered into the public accounts by the Québec Government. Among other things, the program contains a list of abandoned mining sites.

On March 31, 2017, the Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles (MERN) entered an amount of $1.2 billion into the public accounts as its environmental liability relatited to mining sites. The amount includes $ 744.9 million for abandoned mining sites and $ 455.2 million for mining sites in respect of which the MERN may have to take action in the future due to the precarious financial state of the companies that are currently responsible for them. In all, the MERN has invested $157 million since 2006 for reclamation, security, maintenance and monitoring of abandoned mining sites.

As of March 31, 2017 , 459 abandoned mining sites were listed. They include:

  • 223 mineral exploration sites;
  • 11 quarries and sand pits;
  • 225 mining sites:
    • 139 that have been reclaimed or secured;
    • 20 “major” sites at which work is currently being done;
    • 35 mining sites to be reclaimed;
    • 31 mining sites to be secured.

The MERN has devised a work plan that will allow it to fulfill its undertaking to reduce the environmental liabilities from mining by 80% until 2022.

Moreover, the MERN publishes annually the list of contracts awarded for the reclamation of abandoned mining sites.

Rehabilitation and reclamation Process

In most cases, past mining activity at the abandoned sites dates back several decades and generated stockpiles of uncontained mine tailings. As a result, the potential for impacts on human health and the environment is high. In some cases, site rehabilitation and reclamation is a significant challenge, first because of problems such as acid mine drainage, contaminated neutral mine drainage, contamination from related industrial activity and ore concentration, equipment and machinery maintenance, security of underground openings and so on, and second because of the size of the areas concerned, their remote locations and the context in which the work must be carried out.

The MERN’s rehabilitation and reclamation process for abandoned mining sites is divided into six steps:

  • Initial characterization to obtain an environmental review of the site and identify the real and anticipated impacts;
  • Conceptual engineering, which consists in choosing a suitable rehabilitation and reclamation scenario for the site;
  • Validation and optimization of the reclamation scenario;
  • Detailed engineering, which includes preparing plans and specifications for the reclamation scenario and providing all the technical details required to perform the work;
  • Rehabilitation and reclamation field work;
  • Monitoring and maintenance.

What next?

The Québec Government has tightened the rules governing mine closure plan, to ensure that it will no longer inherit sites for reclamation without also receiving the money required to perform the work. In future, the closure plan must be approved before a mining lease is issued, and the lease holder must provide a financial guarantee covering 100% of the reclamation cost for the entire site. The guarantee money must be deposited in the two years following approval of the plan. These two measures will significantly reduce the likelihood that the State will have to pay the cost of mine rehabilitation and reclamation work.