How OceanaGold will influence long-term community outcomes at Macraes

When gold was first discovered at ‘Macraes Flat’ by prospector James Crombie in 1862, it set off a series of gold rushes. Fast forward nearly 160 years, and the Macraes Operation – New Zealand’s largest active gold mine – produces between 140,000 and 150,000 ounces of gold annually.

The mine’s owner and operator, OceanaGold, is committed to the people and ecology that host its operation in the South Island, and that’s why they are undertaking a Social Change Assessment and driving continuous improvement.

We spoke to OceanaGold’s Macraes Operation Environment and Community Manager, Gavin Lee, and Social Performance Advisor, Danielle Crawford, about what the Social Change Assessment looks like, and how the company will use the data to inform their mining activities at Macraes into the future.

 Most of us have heard of a *Social Impact Assessment but what is a Social Change Assessment and are they common in the industry?

Gavin: It’s probably becoming more prevalent as the industry starts to look beyond how it can mitigate the potential issues associated with its operations and instead, considers how it plays a bigger role to influence positive outcomes. Full-scale modern mining at Macraes commenced in the early 1990s and over that time, Macraes has changed, Otago has changed, and certainly New Zealand has changed. As a large organisation that contributes significantly to the region’s economy, it’s important we keep abreast of those changes – demographics, policy direction, community need – they all drive our strategy moving forward.

Danielle: The Social Change Assessment has involved assessing and monitoring social changes over time – this means understanding the social and economic change happening in the Otago region, how the effects of the Macraes mine influence that change and community expectations for how the mine operates. This will help us identify what we can do better now and what we can do better in the future. For example, how we can better design our infrastructure, improve our operational policies and collaborate with communities and local government to support positive regional development, better design our infrastructure and operational procedures, to reduce the negative effects and seek benefits for the local community.

What do those benefits look like?

Gavin: One of the key influences mining can have on small communities is employment. OceanaGold is a major employer in the Otago region. The Social Change Assessment has looked at the impacts of employment on the local community – both now (during operations) and how we impact dependency impacts post mine closure. The data collected will help us plan how we continue to support the community long after we have gone.

Danielle: Another potential benefit is community partnerships as agents for positive economic or environmental change. A good example is our long-term partnership with Fish and Game New Zealand. We store fresh water about 18kms from the Macraes Operation which we pump to our Processing Plant for mineral processing. However, Fish and Game use the water to farm trout, and in turn, they distribute it across Otago. This is a great example of leveraging mine infrastructure to develop a partnership that supports recreation in the region.

Gavin: We are quite broad and innovative when considering where we can influence outcomes. We are the foundational sponsor for the Waitaki Whitestone Geo Park, which aims to showcase how the local geology interrelates with culture and history, business and gastronomy. Obviously, geology is a huge part of our core business and we can provide extensive education and resources, and in turn, play a role in boosting local tourism. We are also forming strong partnerships with local landowners and engaging in important discussions around integrated land use and conservation.

Why has OceanaGold undertaken this work?

Danielle: As a global mining company, we need to keep abreast of the changes happening around us. We’ve looked at where we operate and how we can use our expertise, influence and resources to achieve long-term, positive social and economic outcomes. In New Zealand, water, biodiversity and climate change are huge drivers for positive environmental change and as a global responsible miner, we are at the forefront of that thinking. 

Gavin: It’s about staying ahead of the game. Twenty years ago, the industry had a narrow view on how to manage social impacts and took purely a risk mitigation approach. For example, the machinery we use to mine an open pit might create some residual dust impacts to local residents, so how do we mitigate the dust…but really, the broader risk was around the issue gaining traction in the community and having the potential to stop works. That view only considers the operator or the project. We don’t think like that anymore – we can’t. The mining industry is always evolving. Today we approach risk mitigation with a broader, more opportunistic lens – it’s no longer just about risk to the project, it’s about risk to the community. In the same way you don’t mitigate safety issues because you are trying to reduce the cost of injury, you’re controlling a hazard to save lives and livelihoods.

What happens next?

Danielle: The Social Change Assessment was the first step in collecting extensive data about our influence and impact across the region, and New Zealand more broadly. The next step is to dig deeper to analyse and validate the findings, and we will involve the community in that process.

Gavin: This piece of work has allowed us to take a more systemic approach to managing and influencing our impact as we move ahead with plans to extend mine life at Macraes. We are part of the future in Otago, so it’s our responsibility to ensure our contribution leaves a positive legacy.

*A Social Impact Assessment is defined as: The process for the identification, analysis, assessment, management and monitoring of the potential social impacts of a project, both positive and negative

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