A New Decade Dawns for Mining
Looking back over the last decade, two questions emerge: What have we learned and what does the future hold? Annually, E&MJ publishes its Project Survey, which details the different stages of mining-related investments. Some of these projects may come online in the next few years and some may never see the light of day. In 2010, mining-related construction investments had slowed to $57 billion in the wake of the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis. Recovery was on the horizon and today mining-related construction spending is pegged at $209 billion and it’s still growing.
Looking through this month’s news, readers should note that in 2010, Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine was at the feasibility stage; Hecla was exploring the feasibility of Shaft No. 4 at its Lucky Friday mine; construction was beginning on Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia; and Fruta del Norte was a gold exploration camp in Ecuador owned by Kinross Gold. Barrick Gold’s Cortez Hill mine was under construction, BHP’s Jansen Project was at the EIS stage, and North American Palladium (NAP) was restarting the Las des Iles mine.
Many names disappeared during the last 10 years and new ones emerged. Most recently, NAP became Impala Canada. Glencore bought Xstrata. Newcrest purchased Lihir Gold. Sibanye acquired Stillwater. BHP spun out several operations as South32. PotashCorp and Agrium merged to create Nutrien. Cleveland Cliffs became Cliffs Natural Resources and then returned to Cleveland Cliffs.
Triumph and tragedy put mining on the world stage. Everyone cheered when 33 copper miners were rescued in Chile. Three coal mine explosions in 2010 killed dozens of miners at each operation. The world watched as the Samarco tailings dam collapsed and an orange plume flowed through rivers in Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. It would happen again and take the lives of more than 200 miners.
Large open-pit mines, such as Grasberg and Chuquicamata, transitioned to underground mining operations. And, the Bingham Canyon mine recovered from a massive landslide that seemed nearly impossible at time.
Time and again mining engineers prevailed, inventing new methods and optimizing existing operations. When mineral exploration dollars dried up, junior miners discovered drones, which have now become ubiquitous. Gearless drives became a reality for SAG Mills and long, large conveyor systems. Sensor technology and dashboards helped miners understand the usefulness of data. Equipment manufacturers transitioned from a bigger-is-better mentality to mining smarter. Mining operations began making the leap from automated mining equipment to fully autonomous operations. Today, underground mines are quickly adopting battery-electric equipment.
What does the future hold? Scroll through this edition and you will see where the mining industry stands today and where it is headed. Our job is to oversee steady improvement while providing a safe, secure and sustainable source of minerals for tomorrow’s world.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ