The phrase “sustainable mining” seems, at first, an oxymoron as metals and minerals are finite. However, if the mining industry is to develop sustainably it must incorporate sustainability principles into its practices, including the way in which energy, water and land resources are managed. This has never been more evident as an increase in the demand for metals and minerals has led to long-term growth in production, increasing the pressure placed on resources. Energy, water and land play an interconnected role throughout the entire mining and processing system, making the security and efficiency of resource management critical to the sustainability of mining operations.
The aim of this project was to assess whether land, energy and water resources are considered essential in the decision making process for the future sustainability and viability of mining operations by industry and regulators. This work also evaluated whether any particular holistic tools are used both by industry and regulators to assess the supply, use and sustainability of resources in the mining process; in particular in relation to the use of water and energy resources and the restoration of land after mining operations has finished.
A survey questionnaire coupled with supplementary discussions with key people in industry, regulatory bodies, consultant services, and research institutes, was conducted to gather statistical information on the approach the mining industry takes with regards to making strategic decisions on resource use. A case study on an existing mining operation in Australia was also undertaken to assess resource use of the mining operation and to identify linkages between the interconnected relationship of resources and meeting sustainability targets. This study was also undertaken to emphasise the point that resources should not be viewed in isolation from each other, as a decision that affects one resource could have an effect on another.