Mining by definition is a multifaceted industry with a complex chain of operations, process intensive and strongly influenced by external factors (from weather to commodities prices).
Besides these inherent challenges, I would like to point out other major challenges that are now the center of discussion within the mining industry. These challenges include attracting new skilled workers, water management, regulations, and grade & quality decline. For Part 1 of this blog, I’d like to start by focusing on the workforce and the water challenges.
Aging workforce / Skilled people attraction
According to a recent SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration)study “Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Mining Industry”, in 2019 the industry will need almost 80,000 extra replacement workers due to retirement (total of 128,000 new positions will be required by 2019).
Another study, from Professor Rick Honaker University of Kentucky – Department of Mining Engineering, indicated that universities are currently graduating 140 mining engineers per year in the US. However, considering the retirement ratio and the potential mining future demand, it will require 300 new graduates per year to meet the market need!
To attract new professionals to the industry and motivate young students to pursue an education in mining entails a simultaneous approach from different areas and partnerships ranging from technical teams, human resources, public relations, schools, suppliers, and R&D. In the end, the key objective for this industry is to present itself as an attractive and exciting industry for career development.
Water has always been crucial for the mining industry and its importance is increasing exponentially.
As volume reference, according to USGS an estimated 4,020 million gallons per day was required for mining purposes (2005). This amount represents 1% of the total industry water usage.
Here are the top concerns about water in mining:
· Availability: Some mines occur in areas under “water stress” (basically areas without plenty of access to water resources). Some mining operations under water-stressed areas are already using sea water (via desalination plants) to overcome this challenge.
· Management: A water balance and/or simulation model can be quite complex to deliver a proper water management strategy, including correct predictions. An interconnected system is needed as models should account for consideration of the sources (ground water, surface water, public supply), complete water usage (process control, dust control, recycling, potable water) and external factor patterns (hydrologic environment, evaporation, precipitation, snow melting).
· Critical areas: Subjects like tailings management and AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) deserve special attention and add complexity to any mining process with such operations.
Regulations: More strict regulations will ask for better water footprint monitoring, quality control reporting, contamination control and mine closure strategy.
The ultimate objective for any mine operation is to achieve the “water neutral mine” operation. A great place to get further information about the water neutral concept is the Australian CSIRO website.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon! In the meantime, I am very interested to hear your thoughts and opinions on these 2 challenges of aging workforce and water.