Infrastructure invested in mines offers opportunities for reuse

Mining companies and society have invested significant amounts of money in mines and the civil infrastructure supporting them. When the mining ends, the mining area will be restored, but what happens to the infrastructure? In many cases, the infrastructure would still have some technical lifetime left, and a potential reuse of the area could still benefit from it.
Jari Joutsenvaara ja Jukka Joutsenvaara

Mining usually ends when the mine runs out of ores, or because of challenges related to the economic viability of excavation or the financing of the company. Mining companies are responsible for ensuring the safety of the mining area in terms of quarries, mining waters, gangue dumps and buildings, even after the mine has been closed down. For this purpose, the mining company has a security fee to cover any closure measures even in situations where the company itself no longer has funds for it, for reasons such as bankruptcy. In this case, the state will assume responsibility for the closure measures. This has happened, for example, in the case of the Hitura mine, where the closure measures have been completed by the state under the direction of the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre).

In recent years, residents of mining areas, municipalities and mining companies have started developing opportunities for the reuse of mining infrastructures both globally and in Finland. The motivating factors include the preservation of industrial history, further use of the area, and socio-economic challenges caused by the closure of the mine. After the mining activities have ended, areas have been restored and introduced as green areas and nature tourism destinations (Flambeau Mine, USA), sites of industrial heritage (Almadén Mining Park, Spain), platforms for teaching, training and research (Reiche Zeche, Germany), energy parks (Black Law Wind Farm, UK) and for agricultural use (Jeziórko, Poland). Similar examples in Finland include the Callio – Mine for Business and Callio Lab research environment (Pyhäsalmi mining area). Outokumpu Mining Museum, Nilsiä Louhosareena [Nilsiä Quarry Arena] and Raajajärven Wanha kaivoskylä [The Old Mining Village of Raajajärvi].

There are challenges related to the reuse of mining areas and, in particular, the launch of these activities during mining operations. In Finland, the current Mining Act allows only mining activities or operations that support the mining activities while the area is considered as a mining area by law. However, if the mining company allows other activities in its area, the ultimate responsibility for accidents rests with the mining company.

The mining company’s supervisory responsibility for the area does not end with the closure of the mine and the mining area, but it will continue after the closure. This situation is challenging if other actors start operating in the area and, for example, there is a collapse or environmental damage. In this case, is this the fault of the new activities in the area, or a case of negligence by the body responsible for supervision?

In the United States, the conversion of the Homestake Mine into an underground multidisciplinary laboratory can be used as an example to clarify questions regarding liability. There, the scientific community (National Science Fund) together with the state bought the entire mining area and its liabilities from the mining company. The solution was considered unprecedented, but from the perspective of liability issues, it provided a clear operating model for all parties.

The closure of a mine is not necessarily a death blow to the village or municipality where it is located. The mining environment can offer many new business opportunities in tourism, industry, research, agriculture and energy production through well-prepared and collaborative activities between the mining company, stakeholders and authorities.

Jari Joutsenvaara, Doctoral Researcher and Project Manager, Callio Lab, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute
Jukka Joutsenvaara, Part-time Teacher and Project Manager, Arctic Natural Resources and Economy, Lapland University of Applied Sciences

This article was originally published as an expert article in the Keskipohjanmaa newspaper on 23 June 2022.