3.3 Adjustments for changes in the mine plan

Monitoring programs need to be planned and documented in such a way that, when changes occur to an operation and new or altered impacts are possible or former risks are mitigated, it is a straightforward matter to adjust the monitoring program.

Ideally, individual monitoring tasks are defined within both a medium-term time frame (such as one year or five years) and a life-of-mine plan for a particular project. The medium-term plan documents all phases of monitoring and indicates the lead times required, particularly when a scope-of-works statement needs to be defined for a monitoring project and subcontractors/consultants are required to develop proposals prior to commencement.

Specifically, the following aspects should be addressed.

Throughout the mine’s life, from baseline to post-closure, leading practice monitoring should be based on a detailed, annually revised monitoring plan. This is developed or revised using a risk assessment that identifies the monitoring needs and tasks that require attention during the coming year and their interrelationships. It revisits and updates the less detailed medium-term and life-of-mine monitoring plans.

The following apply for individual tasks within the annual plan:

  • Objectives are defined and documented in a scope-of-works statement with supporting information.
  • If external expertise is needed, the scope of works is used as a basis for seeking proposals.
  • If monitoring is to be undertaken internally, managers commit to resourcing the task and the expectations and commitments are documented.
  • In the evaluation and selection of an external contractor, agreements are defined for key elements of monitoring; responsibilities for data management, interpretation and storage; and responsibilities for progress and final reporting or recommendations.
  • An internal or external project coordinator or manager takes ownership of ensuring the continuity and success of the monitoring. This role ensures that the correct activities are undertaken in the right locations, appropriate stakeholders are engaged during the process, and all relevant supporting information is made available to the consultant. The coordinator reviews all draft reports and ensures that they are finalised and circulated to key personnel, and that data is managed in accordance with any agreements.

For a medium-term monitoring plan, it is important that the link is made to medium-term construction or production plans so that any change in production or infrastructure enables adjustments to be made to the monitoring programs. For example, if the annual production rate is to increase, then pre-clearing monitoring may be needed over much larger areas than previously planned and so more resources will be needed. There is also a need to review the findings of annual monitoring programs to determine whether there is any need to change management practices or alter the monitoring.

The life-of-mine plan for monitoring needs to be reviewed at frequencies that reflect the rate of change of the operation. In the early stages, when the rate of change may be greatest, there may be a need for an annual review of the monitoring program in the context of life-of-mine or closure planning. When the project accelerates or decelerates, there is a need to review monitoring programs frequently. For example, towards the end of the mine’s life there is a risk that early closure or handover to another operator (change of ownership) may cause a shift in the focus that means that certain information (for example, completion criteria, community impacts due to closure, socioeconomic studies of local business impacts) is needed sooner.

For abandoned mines and mines that have suspended operations and are in a care and maintenance phase for an extended period, having a record (no matter how old) of past monitoring plans, data and maps showing monitoring sites is invaluable. Such information provides a sound basis for risk assessment focused on developing a closure or rehabilitation plan. In summary, the key element is to ensure that monitoring programs are aligned to operational changes or the development of the project and, where relevant, to cumulative impacts at the regional scale. While many monitoring components may be defined through the ESIA process and formalised through regulatory documents (such as licences and authorities), other components are internally driven to develop site-specific methods and datasets for other purposes (such as using water and energy more efficiently). The documentation of overall monitoring plans is essential if continuity is to be maintained between successive monitoring program managers so that, even if changes in ownership occur, the momentum of monitoring programs is maintained and data gaps at critical stages are avoided or minimised.

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