Importance of Natural Resources

Conversations about mining and society – Complex Orebodies

My name is Tony Hodge, welcome to
conversations about mining and society. So welcome to my conversation with
Professor Rick Valenta. Rick you are leading a cross-cutting theme that’s about
accessing critical resources, now you have a particular name, why is this
important why are you doing this on top of everything else? The main focus of
that program came about because we were going through a process in early 2017
where some of the other senior leadership team were discussing
initiatives around some of the key problems that were facing the mining
industry and and one that we all seem to agree on was this concept of
complex or bodies; that you know the world’s population is continuing to
increase as countries you know advance in terms of their you know in terms of
their development, the way China has and the way India is doing now, their
consumption of most of the world’s critical metals is going to increase and
at the same time we’re in this situation where we’re discovery rates
just aren’t keeping up and so the deposits that we’re gonna have to focus
on are the ones that could potentially be accessible if we understood how to
unlock them. The interesting thing for me is that the idea that I had in my
mind of what those problems were going to be at the start was quite a bit
different to how it turned out. I’m not a mineral processing guy, I’m not
a mining guy, I’m a geology guy and so my thought was ‘well you know I’ve been
involved in a lot of in a lot of developments in various different places
where I knew that social challenges were important maybe, 20 25 percent probably
are going to be ones that were would have otherwise been able to be developed
but they’ve you know they’ve got social or environmental problems that are
stopping them from being developed’, but what we actually found when we looked at undeveloped or bodies was that over 75 percent of them were actually, in
a very significant way, held up by buy things by challenges that were
non-technical that were related to permitting or that were related to
social unrest or resistance from communities or that were related to
to environmental barriers. What that’s meant is that as time has gone on with
this project, as we’ve carried out an analysis of undeveloped ore
bodies, we’ve sort of been slowly moving around the focus and research towards
those things. How much can we strengthen the capacity of technical
people to be more effective at working on that relationship interface, which is
so critical to accessing these our bodies? I think that is, I think that is
absolutely critical. I guess I can speak from my personal
experience on that. You know when I first started getting involved in this you
know what we’re calling sort of cross disciplinary programs, I think at
the start of the interaction for example with the Center for Social
Responsibility and Mining people they probably thought ‘ugh there’s this geologist who’s going to be working with us God knows what sort of view
he’s going to bring to this’, but I guess what I tried to say was that I’ve
been involved in I’ve been at the frontline of interaction with
communities. What I found, particularly at an early stage of my career you know
getting parachuted into Mexico put in charge of an operation board in charge
of an exploration office where we had advanced projects suddenly going down
to a community in Chiapas where Spanish was the second language and having to
negotiate with these people to get access to to carry out an exploration
program and to and I guess I’ll allied to that too to be leading a group that
was supposed to be carrying at a program to understand the context and needs of
that community, and the needs were great there’s no doubt about that, I had zero
training, absolutely zero training in that area, and I don’t think that that’s something that was out of the ordinary, that there are
exploration companies and geologists all over the place that are, that are at
the front line they’re the they’re the the first impression that meets a
community and then if they make a discovery then they’re actually at the
frontline of that development and usually they have,
usually they have zero training but the people who can do it I think do it
quite well, but I think they would do it a lot better if they had training and I
guess contextual understanding of the sort that they could have gained for
example by taking some of the courses that’s available. Yes
training would help, there’s no doubt about that, but to do, to build
effective relationships takes a different timeframe, the local people
require time to understand – the capacity is there, but they require
time to understand – and in order to do that there there is a requirement from the company to put resources as a priority to that. So the
decision-making element of senior executive to be willing to put resources
to that, to me, may in fact be a greater impediment to success then the kind of
people are the capacity of the people that are at the front lines. No that’s
right. We don’t put the resources to that Yeah. I mean we do but in a very – cursory – in a very cursory way, exactly. it’s not it’s not something where,
if you’re exploring a new property then
then you have a you may not have an exact checklist but there is a an
implied checklist of things that you’re going to do. You know, you’re not going to
go in there and start drilling before you have your geological map and you
probably got a a Geological, you’ve got a Geo chemical sampling program you’ve
probably done some geophysical surveys you’ve put all those things together and
and said well based on the analyses of all these things here’s where I think we
need to drill. We don’t do the same sort of thing in a social sense at all, it’s
very much well let’s find out who’s in charge and let’s talk to them
and let’s show them the paperwork that we have to go through, do the studies
that we have to do, and basically try to communicate with them to the
extent that we need to in order to get permission to move on to the next stage
and I think that sometimes yeah I certainly think in my experience
sometimes that’s done you know probably not in the best way because it’s it’s
you know it’s like like anything no matter no matter what sort of company
you’re working with you’re under time pressure. I don’t probably have enough understanding to say here all
the solutions but I know that there are there are people here who do have the
understanding that can contribute to that. You know, it’s not just undeveloped ore bodies where something’s gonna have to change in
order to gain access to them, it’s going to be those new developments and the
expansions I think are going to have to operate under a different under a
different framework. Let me bring us down from a from high up
to very focused: What’s your next step in terms of your program right now, what’s
what’s on the agenda for a priority for you right now in terms of your next step
or two? We all sort of agree that what we’ve identified with this analysis of a
broader range of risks as they apply to mining can be expanded in a whole series
of different directions in terms of looking at looking at mine losure for
example, we’re starting a process of putting together a database of potential
mine closure risks in different areas in order to analyze that aspect of things,
we’re also expanding to different commodities. So that’s just the the
database side of things but we’re doing it because we think it has the potential
to have an impact on gaining access to these undeveloped ore bodies in a way
that that is going to be acceptable so that’s why we’re tending to divert or
at least focus a lot of the expenditure towards I guess two things: one is
towards improvement of the understanding of social performance
and potential changes in how we do that, so we’re we have a number of of
collaborative projects going on in that area, and then the technologies that
we’re looking at are all around areas where we see they have the
potential to decrease footprints so things like you know high voltage pulse
comminution where you’re just eliminating a huge amount of the your body before it
ever makes it into the waste dump or the tailings or the tailings dam or you know
coarse particle floatation that allows you to more easily produced dry tailings as opposed to wet tailings and
collaborative projects with companies aimed at trying to better understand
water usage and reduction in water usage and that sort of thing so. So it’s
interesting is the final comment or a question I put to you but early on we
talked about exploration and the first contact that has made you’ve raised the
work that your data system is now looking at closure on the other hand and
we’ve zeroed in right now on a number of very real operational issues that can
make a real difference. How do you see your cross-cutting theme weaving
together with the other cross-cutting themes and quite frankly with some of
the traditional programs in SMI which are so strong? Well here’s here’s an
example I guess of how we’re trying to do this, so as the complex or bodies
programs continued to to to progress I’ve formed the opinion that that the
sort of technological aspects of improvement in or reduction in tailings
risk is a very important thing to do so that’s one thing but clearly for
mine life cycles tailings is a very important thing as well
and for the Center for Mined Land Rehabilitation tailings a very important
thing. In fact they’re the ones who’ve been active and have a have you know an
enormous kind of reputation and achievement in that tailing space
already and there are a whole series of touch points from various different
groups around the University and tailings. You know as I was sort of
talking to all these people or doing all these different things I said well
let’s all get together for a day and everybody talk about their their skin in
the tailings game and and let’s try to do something that will that will not
double up effort that will actually take advantage of everybody’s experience in
that space but I think that that’s what cross-cutting programs are all about, is
to try to is to try to identify those key issues and then to bring to bear all
of the capability that we have in every different area so that we can find a way
to then come up with a program that everybody
owns. Rick thank you very much. The issues that, ore bodies are complex, the
issues you’re dealing with are far from trivial. Thank you very much. Thanks very
much Tony.

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