Reclamation of Mining Sites under Effective Public Responsibility

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 contaminated sites (called Passif au titre des sites contaminés [PTSC]) was entered into the public accounts by the gouvernement du Québec. Among other things, the program contains a list of abandoned mining sites.

As of March 31, 2022, the ministère des Ressources naturelles et des Forêts (MRNF) has estimated the cost of work related to environmental mining liabilities at $1.02 billion, including $708.8 million for currently abandoned mining sites and $312.8 million for mining sites where the MRNF may have to act in the event of the bankruptcy of the companies responsible for them. As of March 31, 2022, $222.9 million has been invested since 2006 by the MNRF to restore, secure, maintain and track abandoned mining sites.

The MRNF has introduced a work plan that plan to reduce the environmental liability from abandoned mining sites under its authority, in compliance with its undertakings following the recommendations made by the Auditor General of Québec in a report dated June 2018.

The MRNF publishes annually a report of reclamation work resulting from the work plan for reclamation of abandoned mining sites:

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

Reclamation Process

In most cases, past mining activities at the abandoned sites took place several decades ago and generated tailings that were uncontained (without tailings storage facilities). As a result, the potential for impacts on human health and the environment is high. In some cases, site 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 MRNF’s reclamation process for abandoned mining sites includes the following steps:

  1. Data acquisition: this phase involves conducting Phase I, II and III environmental site assessment studies and related studies.
    Specifically, environmental site assessment studies identify contamination risks and their locations, the presence and extent of contamination (if any), and the issues and impacts associated with it.
    The related studies are carried out in other areas such as geotechnical engineering, rock mechanics, etc., and will be adapted to the specific circumstances of each abandoned mining site.
  2. Scenarios and reclamation plan: this step involves several activities, namely:
    • the development of reclamation scenarios, which are based on site-specific design criteria to address site-specific considerations and issues;
    • the validation and selection of reclamation scenario(s), carried out based on, but not limited to, risk analysis, peer review and validation studies, as appropriate;
    • the development of the reclamation plan, which is the preliminary engineering design for one or more reclamation scenarios;
    • the grant of authorizations for reclamation work through the submission of permit and authorization applications from departments and agencies (provincial and federal), municipalities, etc., for each phase of the work associated with the reclamation plan;
    • the preparation of construction plans and specifications associated with the reclamation plan, which consists of drafting and drawing the technical documents describing the work for completion by a contractor.
  3. Reclamation work: the purpose of this step is to implement the reclamation scenario(s) developed, including the award of contracts to the contractor(s) for the completion of the work, the monitoring of the completion and the final acceptance of the work.
  4. Post-reclamation monitoring and maintenance: this phase consists of three activities:
    • monitoring of environmental water quality (surface and groundwater);
    • agronomic monitoring;
    • maintenance of engineering structures and related developments.
      The first two activities are intended to verify that the work completed is achieving its goals, while the maintenance activity ensures the sustainability of the engineering structures and related developments that are part of the reclamation plan.

In addition to the activities presented in the four steps of reclamation, other activities such as monitoring (inspection and maintenance) and legal audits are carried out at various points during the reclamation.

More specifically, monitoring activities help ensure the sustainability of existing engineering structures (e.g., dykes), while legal audits can identify former operators who would be responsible for a site.

What Next?

The Gouvernement du Québec 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. 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 reclamation work.