There is no escaping the reality that mining is an extremely complex business. From exploration to processing, staffing, equipment management, and environmental policies that have to be dealt with on a daily basis, there are many challenges that mining companies face. Just when a mining operation gets up and running, it could be hit with a drop in commodity pricing. This type of unforeseeable economic issue can have a huge impact on a mine.
Does this mean that any startup mining company needs to throw in the towel? Not at all. In order to avoid a disruption in their operations they just need to be aware of how to tackle these issues head on.
The Mining Workforce Gap
A recent report issued by the Society For Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) found that by 2019, mining operations will need to find upwards of 80,000 new workers to take the place of the retiring workforce. Right now in the US, accredited universities are handing out degrees to around 140 mining engineers each year. To meet the employment demands of the future, those numbers need to hit around 300 engineers.
To fill these widening gaps, the mining industry has to step up its recruitment programs. Many high school graduates haven’t chosen a particular career path. These students are potentially suitable for mine employment, assuming the proper development and training is pursued. It may come down to a matter of providing more high schools and community colleges with the resources and information needed for these undecided grads to make an informed decision about joining the mining industry. If they have the facts about the rewards and benefits, it will be easier for them to make a decision about joining the family of mining operators.
The Water Supply Problem
Not many people outside of the mining industry realize how crucial water supplies are to the excavation process. The United States Geological Survey found that in 2005, up to 4,020 million gallons of water were being used every day in mining operations. How is this a challenge for mines? The first area of concern is availability. Just because a site is rich in ore doesn’t mean there will be easy access to water sources. There are several mining operations that compensate for water stress by utilizing seawater. However, this needs to be done with caution as the corrosive nature of seawater needs to be taken into account.
Even before the first tunnel can be dug, management needs to develop the proper simulation models for how they’ll gain access to water. This certainly can’t be an afterthought. Then, the challenge is to build a model of an interconnected system that deals with all the factors pertaining to water use. These include recycling, potable water, public supply, and process control. Also, there are the external issues, such as the impact of climate change on available water sources, which need to be factored in.
Finally, there are a slew of regulations around water supply issues that every mining operation has to contend with. Even when it seems everything has been sorted out, those regulations could change what would upend the models. That’s a lot to figure out.