Sustainable mining: Faint hope or urgent reality?
04 November 2019
Engineers dealing with infrastructure development are well used to their projects facing intense scrutiny via the planning system and projects usually face vigorous opposition, often leading to further examination in the judicial system.
An ‘oppose everything’ society?
The eastern region water supply, north Dublin’s Wastewater plant, numerous wind farms and road projects all face strong opposition. The Apple data centre in Athenry was abandoned in the face of judicial challenges, while the Corrib gas project took almost 15 years to materialise.
Mining is no different. The Galmoy zinc lead mine in Co Kilkenny opened in 1995 and now closed, was evaluated by two local authorities, An Bord Pleanala, the Mining Board and the High Court.
The proposed Curraghinalt gold mine in Co Tyrone has attracted more than 15,000 objections (many perhaps computer generated) and some 3,000 supporters and has already been subject to one judicial challenge.
Opposition to mining has shifted the focus to objecting to the mineral exploration phase. If opponents can stifle exploration, there can be no discoveries to mine.
Climate action and minerals
Climate action plans: the acronym ‘CAP’ is already used for the Common Agricultural Policy so I must forego CAP for a climate action plan (the CAP itself will need to change in the light of climate actions needed).
Climate action plans at national and global levels stress inter alia the need for reducing greenhouse gases by providing more renewable energy, electric vehicles, smarter buildings, better communications and reuse/recycling in a circular economy.
Realisation of these plans will require the use of significant amounts of minerals, many of which are already in short supply and/or are sourced in politically sensitive places.
The International Energy Agency estimates that the amount of copper needed to supply electric vehicles will increase by almost two million tonnes by 2030.
Demand surges from EVs will also arise for nickel, cobalt, lithium, aluminium and manganese. If HGVs and buses go electric, the demand for these minerals can be expected to increase by an order of magnitude. Without further discoveries and development of new mines, shortages will occur and prices will rise.
The EU and the US recognise the shortages of critical raw materials and have developed policies to reduce dependence on supplies from outside their jurisdictions.
However, rare earth minerals necessary for wind turbines and mobile phones are largely sourced from China. Cobalt for batteries comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, not renowned for its environmental or health and safety record.
EU policies, however, do not seem to find strong endorsement in many member states, as the mining sector in several EU countries is in decline or non-existent.
Finding and developing new mines: SLO
Geoscientists are adept at discovery, while engineers and metallurgists fulfil the development tasks. For example, recent years have seen the discovery of new lithium deposits, an integral battery mineral; supply fears were intense 10 years ago.
However, the development of new mines requires community acceptance at local and national levels of a proposed project.
This is often referred to as Social Licence to operate (SLO). The absence of SLO will delay or derail projects.
The mining industry is striving to improve its relationship with communities with initiatives like the intergovernmental forum on sustainable mining which Ireland joined this year; protocols for community engagement developed by the International Council of Mining and Metals and by policies adopted by national mining associations.
The Irish Centre for Applied Research in Geosciences (iCRAG), operated by six Irish universities led by UCD and funded by SFI, recognises the importance of public perception and understanding of geosciences. iCRAG sponsors postgraduate researchers on the issue and has recently concluded a UNESCO-sponsored workshop on the topic.
Raising public awareness of the importance of minerals in climate action and mitigation is an urgent priority for national and local governments.
Geological Survey Ireland is a section of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and has an important role to play in this regard.
Ireland’s recently published climate action plan recognises a number of climate related tasks for GSI but does not adequately address the need to explain and promote the public understanding of minerals.
GSI has recently engaged with regional planning authorities in explaining the need to recognise the importance of resources for building materials (aggregates) for housing and infrastructure development. Similar but more extensive action is needed to bring matters to the wider public and community groups.
Professional and vocational organisations such as Engineers Ireland continue to provide informed and constructive commentary on Ireland’s infratstructure needs. Minerals and mining need to be centre stage in that process.
Author: Sean Finlay, professional geologist and chartered engineer, director of business development, Geoscience Ireland.
Sustainability in the exploration and mining industry
Sustainability in mining could be considered by some to be a contradiction in terms. Mining by its very nature is the depletion and removal of a natural resource until the specific resource is eventually exhausted.
However, when considered more holistically, sustainability can, and must, have a place within the mining industry.
In the modern context were the global community is striving to move away from a carbon based economy to sustainable energy production and storage, the world will look to the mining industry to provide the raw materials, lithium, graphite, zinc, lead, cobalt and so on that will be essential for this transformation.
In parallel the industry is striving to become more environmentally responsible in how it carries out its’ business, in particular, how it mines, processes ore and rehabilitates mine sites.
In a more unstable and insecure world, Europe is waking up to fact that it needs to establish sources of strategic minerals to ensure its’ industries can continue to function.
Europe is strongly dependent upon mineral raw materials imports, with only 3% of Critical Raw Material (CRM) supply obtained from indigenous sources. This fact clearly has implicit political, social and environmental risks.
Within Europe there is an urgent requirement to adopt a raw material policy that is capable of ensuring the sustainable extraction of the minerals critical to meeting the UN Paris Agreement on climate change.
Ongoing social / environmental opposition and bureaucratic issues are delaying or stopping projects that will allow Europe to meet its obligations under the Paris accord.
Metal mining has virtually ceased in the geographical core of Europe and is continuing elsewhere at significantly lower rates.
If Europe really wants a quality environmental future it must encourage and support the discovery and development of its own resources and not instigate policies that will inhibit exploration and development.
Mineral exploration drilling in Ireland
Ireland is in a strategic position with respect to the transformation away from a carbon-based economy. Ireland has long between recognised as one of the most well-endowed countries in the world for world class zinc resources.
Zinc is an essential component in large-scale battery infrastructure that will facilitate energy storage from intermittent renewable energy sources like wind or tidal power.
Irish zinc and lead deposits are renowned for being clean and easy to process. In addition, Ireland has significant potential for lithium deposits and for carbon capture and storage facilities.
Ireland has an excellent modern mining and exploration record, with world class geological consultancies and professionals, drilling contractors, laboratories, regulators and a legislative system to underpin a high quality and environmentally responsible mining/exploration industry.
Ireland also is a world leader in modern mine closure and rehabilitation, with the recent closure of the Lisheen and Galmoy mines examples of how mining and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.
In Ireland the recent rise of misinformed or malicious objections to all mining or exploration activities is of major concern. The call for blanket bans on exploration or mining is in fact not a Green policy but very clearly NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) in its worst form.
The people advocating this position are happy to continue using the products of mining (smart phones, computers, jewellery, planes, trains and automobiles etc) but want the physical mining carried out elsewhere.
This means the mining industry will be exported to less well developed and more poorly regulated countries where environmental and infrastructural failures, such as recently witnessed in Brazil, are much more likely. Europe and Ireland should not only welcome and encourage exploration and mining but also hold it to the highest of environmental and health and safety standards.
Author: Dave Blaney, professional geologist, director of geological consultancy, BRG Ltd
Irish mining company in West Africa
PW Mining International Ltd (PWMIL) is a leading general contractor, operating in contract mining, civil engineering, building construction and property development, with industrial construction representing another area of expertise.
PW’s roots as an engineering operator can be traced back 70 years when it was incorporated as H&D Flinn in Ireland.
By 1963 the company had undergone massive expansion, playing a major role in some of the largest, most prestigious civil engineering projects ever undertaken in Ireland. To reflect its developing status, the name was changed to Public Works Ltd and later to PW Ltd.
PW then began operating in West Africa in the early 1970s and by 2007, PWMIL was formed as a business unit to address the ever-growing mining workload being undertaken, with its footprint today stretching from Sierra Leone to the Republic of Congo.
Breaking into mining
The Obotan mine in Ghana represented an important historical milestone for PW. Starting in 1997, PW performed all contract mining at the Obotan gold mine for the complete lifecycle for Resolute Mining from Australia.
This project demonstrated that PW had made the leap from being a well-known and respected civil engineering contractor into a fully-fledged mining contractor.
From here, the company routinely broke into new markets and built up a formidable track record of completing milestone projects.
North Mara in Tanzania (2002), Youga in Burkina Faso (2007) and Syama in Mali (2008) were landmark projects for PW, clear stepping stones which took PW Mining to its current position in the African mining sector.
More recently the firm has secured contract mining work again at Obotan mine in Ghana from Asanko Gold, a happy return for PW after the mine was reopened.
In Burkina Faso, the company has undertaken a three-pronged series of work for Teranga Gold Corporation at its Wahgnion gold project.
Having tracked the potential of this site for several years prior to being awarded its contract, PW initially secured the site earthworks development which it began in January 2018.
Thereafter it signed up for a concrete works package, and finally a contract for pit development in the Nangolo pit on site, rounding off a project that demonstrates to prospective mining clients in the region the breadth of its capabilities.
A key factor in PWMIL’s successful track record is its ability to respond flexibly and make decisions quickly thanks to its relatively flat organisational structure and private ownership.
One of their key objectives as a company is to deliver top class value and service to their clients by providing cost effective, quality workmanship which is executed with due regard to all HSE parameters, and to deliver completion of contracts on agreed timelines.
This value and service proposition has been boosted by the opening of a new centralised ‘state of the art’ equipment maintenance workshop in Tema, Ghana.
About 4,000 square metres in size, the facility consolidates operations for heavy equipment and transport and caters for in-house component rebuilding. The site also has a purpose-built customs bonded area to improve clearing times from the port.
Looking to the future, Tony O’Neill PWMIL, general manager, advises: “I want us to strengthen our reputation to the point that our mining clients consider us to be a strategic partner – they believe that we are the best contract mining company in Africa, they wish to partner with us on a repeat basis and that they know us for our integrity, excellence, and quality of delivery.”
Author: Noel Flannelly
Water management, mining and climate change adaptation
Water is frequently ranged amongst the top 10 risks to mining businesses and access to water is identified by the IFC (2017) as remaining one of the biggest global challenges.
Ernst & Young flagged, in their 2015 report on the business risks facing mining, the need for a strategic approach to water management that benefits all stakeholders, not just the mining operation, requiring water use and management to be incorporated into future development plans to cope with shortages or surpluses.
With the impact of climate change on mining operations becoming a felt reality, it is necessary to plan and adapt for future conditions in order to use the available resources in a sustainable manner.
It is necessary to consider the impact of climate change at all phases of the operation, requiring an understanding of both the baseline and future climate projections but also the uncertainty in those projections.
Designing a water management system to handle the projected future climate is a balance of risk, regulatory drivers and capital investment. Ideally operations will be designed and built with adaptive capacity.
This requires: an understanding of weather variability and the long-term impact of climate change on operations; the identification of potential risks, such as flooding, and the resultant impacts on transport, operations and worker health & safety; consideration of future water supplies, dam safety, flood control and requirements for water management; and incorporation of climate change assessments into existing risk registers and continuous improvement programmes.
When we look at the life cycle of a mining operation we frequently think of it in terms of: greenfield; exploration; resource/reserve Evaluation; permitting/ESIA; construction; operation; closure; and, aftercare, but that cycle is intimately linked with the water cycle and each phase has different impacts, risks and opportunities.
Adaptation to climate change may appear to present additional cost burdens based on uncertain forecasts.
An approach to mitigate the impact of adaptation is to create value and to identify opportunities: for example, reducing seepage from a tailings facility may increase CAPEX, but reduce OPEX (less need to capture seepage).
Another example might be building deeper ponds to contain a particular volume of water, thus reducing the surface area of water storage, hence evaporative losses, that is, more water available for process use or release to the environment.
Consideration should be given to the use of treated water be used for supply. Can water from mines be used for other beneficial purposes such as stock watering or even community supplies.
Mine water systems are complex with multiple interdependencies, identifying where value can be found in the system can unlock the door to a more sustainable operation from a water resources perspective.
Climate adaption and building resilience to the impact of climate change on water resources in the context of mining operations can be completed with consideration of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by localising the SDGs through setting relevant priorities, identifying effective methods of implementation, and adopting appropriate indicators to measure progress within existing corporate systems.
Author: Peter Corrigan is a principal in Golder Associates. He leads Golder’s European mine waste team from the Golder office in Naas, Co Kildare. Corrigan has managed numerous multi-disciplinary mining projects across a number of European and African countries. As a geotechnical engineer, he specialises in design and operation of tailings storage facilities and heap leach facilities for a range of commodities. As part of this, Corrigan is aware of some of the challenges facing the mining industry, these include concerns around stability of tailings storage dams after recent tailings failures most notably in Brazil but also the challenges posed by climate change.
Aurum Exploration Services
Aurum Exploration Services is a competitive, international provider of high-quality, professional and innovative geological services to the mineral exploration industry.
From our offices in Ireland and Canada we provide services to meet our client’s needs worldwide, and have international experience for traditional commodities such as base- and precious-metals, immerging commodities such as battery minerals (cobalt, lithium, and graphite), and technology-critical metals such as the rare earth element group.
Mineral commodities are vital for economic growth, agriculture, improving the quality of life, and the overall functioning of modern society.
Minerals are being used in larger quantities than ever and in an increasingly diverse range of applications – from telecommunications (mobile phones and computers), to renewable-energy generation (wind turbines, solar photovoltaics, and fuel cells), to clean forms of transportation (electric and hybrid cars).
Over the past 17 years of operation, Aurum has been involved in numerous projects which have given the company a comprehensive knowledge of mineral systems worldwide, and excellent contacts within industry and government.
Whether a client focus is base-, precious, or energy- metals, industrial or agricultural minerals, Aurum should be considered as a natural partner to unlock the mineral potential of an area or project.
As a project generator Aurum continues to develop a portfolio of projects via independent generative work and also through existing and new co-operative partnerships.
At Aurum we appreciate the pressures on our planet’s limited natural resources and the challenges of economic pace and change require prompt and concerted action from us all.
We are committed to proactively caring for the environment and conducting our activities in an environmentally responsible way.
It is our policy to fully comply with environmental legislation, with a particular focus on best practice waste management systems, the promotion of recycling, and diversion of waste from landfill.
We have developed an Environmental Policy which outlines our commitment to the environment in more detail.
All our staff adhere strictly to our environmental, health and safety procedures and we are proud to have an excellent record.
As a company, we are committed to effectively managing our impact on the environment and safety and as a result we have adopted a proactive culture to ensure that the environment and safety remains a key focus of all management, employees and contractors.
Author: Johnny Meehan, operations director, Aurum Exploration Services.https://www.engineersjournal.ie/2019/11/04/sustainable-mining-faint-hope-or-urgent-reality/https://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/a-main.jpghttps://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/a-main-300x300.jpgSponsoredgeoscience,Geoscience Ireland,mining