Selecting the best site
Much of a mine’s environmental footprint and economic sustainability depends on thoughtful, future-focused site selection. In fact, many unnecessary risks and costs can be either mitigated or avoided altogether if the site is chosen well. To that end, experts must evaluate a mine’s potential based on intersecting factors like value, geology and geopolitics. Now, that’s a list that’s fraught with uncertainty — the only “known” variable is geology. But when it comes to evaluating mine geology, the industry is getting much more accurate.
Drones have already transformed the way we survey, and magnetic surveys have dropped substantially in cost (by a factor of 10 times). We’ve also shifted to new methods of collecting data at the potential mine site, which provides a wealth of information in a faster time frame. With onsite evaluations without dependence on a lab, mining is already shifting to more effective tactics for choosing the best possible site.
Leveraging better business acumen
Did you know that there’s only about a one in 100 chance that an ore target will convert into a profitable mine?
Mining is a relatively risky business venture, and capital expenditures and large-scale new project approvals are limited. However, with stronger financial and strategic acumen, there is great potential to do more with less.
Strategic moves during the study and geology phase of a project can go far to increase the chances of obtaining financing and support. This requires much more than just geological knowledge, though — it demands the expertise to balance the shifting sands of our emerging geopolitical, societal, financial, technological and climate landscapes. Mining operations need expert advisors who can foresee and balance these future risks. It’s also valuable to work with advisors who understand a global context for mining, since diversification to a global portfolio is a key business strategy to weather potential local downturns.
Maximizing value, minimizing waste
Like strong business acumen, efficiency is a key differentiator toward a mine’s sustainability and success. In addition to using up non-renewable resources like minerals, mining operations use large amounts of other resources as well, including energy, water and soil. By taking the two-pronged approach of reducing inputs (such as by diverting surface water and pumping groundwater, or using alternative energy sources like solar or wind) and reducing outputs (by using cleaner production techniques, and reusing mine waste and by-products), mining operations can maximize their efficiency and sustainability.
Five years ago, a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project found half of the world’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions could be traced back to just 50 companies.
Mining operations, particularly those in coal extraction, ranked high on that list. Fortunately, mining companies are evolving their operations to drastically minimize their carbon footprint and “green” their operations. The following changes are just a few common trends in the pursuit of zero carbon footprint mining:
- Using electric mobile fleets for reduced fuel consumption and improved air quality
- Using remote operations, where mobile mining equipment is operated from surface (this also feeds in to mining companies’ endeavours toward zero harm)
- Using variable speed ventilation fans to reduce energy consumption
- Using “Smart Tracking” to allow for optimized operation of ventilation and fleet management
- Optimizing extraction method to reduce the amount of waste material
Closing and reclaiming mine sites
If mines aren’t properly closed and reclaimed after use, they can present a significant hazard to the surrounding environment. There may be hazardous waste on the premises, which can contaminate soil and water — not to mention posing harm to nearby human and animal populations.
The easiest way to close and reclaim a mine is to minimize the disturbance it causes in the first place. Site selection plays a large role in this, but so do the sustainable mining practices discussed above. Good upfront planning around closure and reclamation is also more financially sustainable, leading to much smaller upfront costs when it comes to putting up a closure plan surety bond.
Applying a circular economy approach
We already alluded to the importance of minimizing mine waste, but even with our best efforts, mining operations will always produce some amount of waste material and by-products. What if we could turn these materials into re-usable, financially valuable assets instead of simply storing them or throwing them away? In line with the circular economy approach, many mining companies are finding innovative ways to extend the lifecycle of materials that, in the past, would have been considered waste. For example, one WSP client in Newfoundland has a large amount of rock material as a by-product of their mining operations. Instead, they are shipping and selling it to the U.S. as road aggregate — turning a profit instead of turning over waste.