All mining operations eventually cease. For AngloGold Ashanti, an integral aspect of operating its mines is ongoing mine closure planning, together with the associated estimates of liability costs and the assurance of adequate financial provisions to cover these costs. An estimate of future liabilities is given in the provisions note to the annual financial statements, note 28.
The company’s environmental and community policies were integrated into a single Environment and Community Policy during the year in review. The policy commits the company, amongst others, to ensuring that “financial resources are available to meet its closure obligations”. One of the company's values is that “the communities and societies in which we operate will be better off for AngloGold Ashanti having been there”.
In order to ensure that operating staff and the company’s stakeholders understand clearly what these statements mean in practice and to set a common benchmark across the company, a closure and rehabilitation management standard was finalised during 2009. Operations have been given two years (i.e. by mid-July 2011) to achieve full compliance with the standard. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) recently published an integrated mine closure planning toolkit. This, together with other national and international references, was consulted in preparing AngloGold Ashanti’s standard to ensure that it was aligned with current good practice.
The evaluation of new projects takes into account closure and associated costs.
For many of the older mines, closure planning and the evaluation of environmental liabilities is a complex process. This is particularly the case in Brazil, Ghana and South Africa, where many of the long-life operations present environmental legacies that may have developed over a century or more.
The AngloGold Ashanti standard requires that closure plans be reviewed and updated every three years (annually in the final three years of a mine’s life) or whenever significant changes are made, and take into account operational conditions, planning and legislative requirements, international protocols, technological developments and advances in good practice.
A particular challenge is concurrent rehabilitation, which is carried out while a mine is still operating. This practice serves to decrease the current liability and reduces the final rehabilitation and closure work that must be undertaken, but has the potential to sterilise reserves, which the company might wish to exploit should conditions, such as the gold price, change.
An assessment of closure liabilities is undertaken annually.