Abandoned Mines in Ireland
Historically, in Ireland, mining sites were simply closed, with little or no consideration given to the remediation and long term aftercare of the site. Abandoned mines have caused, and may continue to cause, environmental damage and pose risks to human and animal health however.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) undertook an inventory of historic mines in Ireland in 2009, during which 27 abandoned mine sites or districts were identified and classified according to the risk they pose to the environment. The full report can be accessed here.
Rehabilitation of abandoned mines
Remediation work has been undertaken at Silvermines, Co. Tipperary in accordance with the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 (the 2006 Act) which states that the Minister with responsibility for mineral extraction (currently the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment) or a local authority acting on his or her behalf may develop, alter and implement a mine rehabilitation plan.
Mine closure plans
For mines currently in operation a mine closure plan is required as part of:
- the terms of the mining licence granted by the Minister;
- the conditions of the operating permit granted by the EPA; and
- the planning permission conditions for the site.
The purpose of a closure plan is to ensure the environmental integrity of the site is protected, by ensuring that necessary measures are taken to prevent environmental pollution risks, and where pollution does occur to return the site to a satisfactory state.
Mine operators must have financial surety to adequately provide for the costs associated with the closure and the subsequent long-term monitoring and maintenance of the site in accordance with the closure plan (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2015). Details of historic mines can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency's website here.
The Minerals Development Acts also provide that compensation must be paid for any damage to land or water supplies, or nuisance caused because of activity under any lease or licence. This is a strict liability, which means that there is no need to demonstrate negligence, only that damage was caused by working minerals or minerals exploration.
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