RST starts programme to treat dust and particulate matter

Australian mining and civil solutions company Reynolds Soil Technologies (RST) has unveiled an expanded service and solutions programme to treat particulate matter in mines.

The ‘Plant to Port’ programme combines specialised mechanical equipment, such as dust suppressors for haulage and transfer points, and environmental services, including soil stabiliser aids and moisture absorbents to address the cause of dust build-up.

Operations and technical director David Handel said: “Our Plant to Port material-handling solutions address the production of excessive fine particles from the mining process upstream through to haulage and transfer stations.

“Operational challenges and environmental conditions are different for every mine site, which is why we customise our products and packages to suit different mine requirements for materials-handling, often including mechanical devices for distributing of our products.”

The announcement comes following an increase in the number of dust-related illnesses in Australian mine workers, particularly pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung. The first cases of black lung in Australian miners in 30 years were reported last year, and at least 23 of the cases have been confirmed. Four mines owned by Glencore and Anglo American also faced closure last year due to inadequate monitoring of dust levels.

A relaxation of regulation has contributed to the resurgence of black lung, as has impractical policies; since 1993, all Queensland mine workers have been required to undergo chest X-rays every five years, but enforcing this policy has been difficult in an industry that employed over 180,000 people as of June 2016.

RST aims to improve safety by tailoring its services for individual mining operations, based on project site conditions and local regulation. The company offers a range of water-based services, which eliminate dust when sprayed onto materials or convert water and air into foam to take fine particulate matter.




Underground ventilation system unveiled at WIPP

US Department of Energy officials and community leaders have unveiled a new underground ventilation system for the government’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The WIPP is the US’s only deep geologic waste repository and permanently isolates transuranic waste, often produced by nuclear reactions, 2,150ft underground. The new safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS) will enable more shipments of waste to be deposited underground by allowing mining, waste emplacement, rock bolting and maintenance to take place simultaneously.

Assistant Secretary for the Office of Environmental Energy Anne White said: “The new system provides WIPP state-of-the-art air handling capabilities, which will be a significant improvement to WIPP in support of its critical role in our national mission.”

The SSCVS provides around 540,000ft3 of air per minute to underground areas of the WIPP, and is designed so that filters can be easily replaced in case of damage. Maintenance teams have also been encouraged to take a preventative, rather than reactive, approach to works by replacing and repairing parts ahead of complete breakdowns. The system is expected to be completed by early 2021 and cost $288m.

Bruce Covert, the president of Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that manages and operates the WIPP, said: “This is a significant improvement for WIPP in support of its important national mission.

“I am appreciative of the unwavering support from our local, state, and federal elected officials and stakeholders who ensure we have the proper funding to make infrastructure improvements, like the new ventilation system.”

The WIPP was constructed in the 1980s following the build-up of transuranic waste produced by the American nuclear defence programme which began in the 1940s. The first waste shipment arrived from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1999, and the WIPP has treated transuranic waste since.




US appeals court upholds lease of federal land for coal mining

Judges on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit have unanimously rejected an argument made by environmentalists that the Trump administration has to consider the environmental consequences of leasing federal land for coal mining.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils and Friends of the Earth argued that, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the government was required to update its environmental impact statement in light of new scientific evidence on the role of coal in climate change. As NEPA was adopted in 1979, the groups argued that the government’s assessment of the environmental damage of leasing more land for coal mining was based on out-of-date information.

The three judges ruled against the appeal, however, claiming that NEPA doesn’t obligate the government to conduct a new environmental impact assessment.

“The fact that actions continue to occur in compliance with the program does not render the original action incomplete,” wrote Judge Harry Edwards in the ruling. “Appellants have failed to identify any specific pending action, apart from the program’s continued existence, that qualifies as a ‘major federal action’ under [the] NEPA.”

While the Obama administration ended new coal mining leases in 2016 and started work on a new environmental review, the Trump administration reversed on these policies in 2017. The government issued new coal mining leases as early as March of last year and the same month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stopped the environmental review process.

Interior spokesperson Faith Vander Voort said: “For the second time, a federal judge proved that the environmental special interest groups are only interested in wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous litigation. The department will continue to run a responsible coal leasing program that supports jobs and economic vitality for rural communities.”

Around 40% of US coal is produced on federal land and the ruling could open up yet more land to coal mining operations. According to Resources for the Future, coal mining contributes to 13% of the country’s greenhouse gases, equivalent to 769 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.




Volvo and Boliden unveil remote-control wheel loader

Volvo Construction Equipment and mining company Boliden have developed a remote-controlled wheel loader that is operated by an individual 1,312ft away, in an effort to improve mine safety.

The companies tested the vehicle last month. An operator worked from an office above ground and used WiFi and 4G networks to control the loader. Operators observed the vehicle through six cameras, illuminated by 16 lights, and an inertia measurement unit that received transmissions of the loader’s movements.

The above-ground station also featured seven monitors, one for each camera plus an additional monitor displaying information on loader functions such as machine articulation, cylinder pressure and bucket tilt angle.

Boldin project manager Fredrik Kauma believes that physically removing individuals from mines, but still enabling them to work, will improve mine safety without reducing productivity.

“The best way to avoid accidents is to take the operator away from a dangerous situation,” said Kauma. “We believe that remote control is a critical component of removing the human element from the production face.”

Remote-controlled vehicles will improve the quality of life of operators, who will work in offices above ground rather than in cramped mineshafts, and productivity, Boldin added, as mining vehicles can be sent to work immediately after blasting is completed, instead of having to wait for humans to be evacuated following blasting, as happens currently.

The vehicle was completed as part of the pilot for the Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining (PIMM) project, an initiative organised by the Swedish Institute of Computer Science to develop mobile communications networks to improve safety and efficiency in mining operations.

Mining fatalities in Sweden have fallen considerably from an average of 15 per year in the 1960s to four per year by the 1990s, and PIMM aims to continue this trend by incorporating remote-controlled technology into mines.




Savannah confirms positive scoping for lithium project

Savannah Resources has announced the results of a scoping study on the Mina do Barroso lithium project in northern Portugal, which confirmed the region’s potential to be a major spodumene lithium producer.

The company is targeting a mining inventory of 14.4 million tonnes grading at 1.1% lithium oxide for a mine life of 11 years from the project, of which it owns 75%. Average annual production at Mina do Barroso is expected to be 175,000t of spodumene concentrate per year at 6% lithium oxide.

Construction is scheduled to commence in the second quarter of next year, while production is slated for early 2020.

Savannah Resources CEO David Archer said: “The scoping study highlights the robust features and outstanding investment appeal of the Mina do Barroso lithium project with a very high internal rate of return (IRR) and strong cash generation, even with a conservative spodumene prices.”

The study outlined an initial capital expenditure of $109m for the project, which has a pre-tax net value of $356m and IRR of 63%, as well as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of $805m across its lifetime.

Through the development of the project, the company aims to leverage the growing demand for lithium-ion batteries from the automotive and energy storage sectors.

Archer added: “We are committed to maintaining this pace as we continue to fast-track towards production, and believe significant further upside exists, with excellent potential to increase the mineral resource estimate and the mining rate, schedule lower strip ratio ores in the latter years of the project and optimise site operational features to further lower the cost of production and increase the value of the project.”




BHP approves $2.9bn investment in South Flank iron ore project

Multinational mining firm BHP has received approval from its board to make an investment of $2.9bn for the development of the South Flank iron ore project in the central Pilbara, Western Australia (WA).

The company owns an 85% interest in the project, while the remaining 15% is owned by ITOCHU and Mitsui. The total cost of the project is expected to be $3.4bn, with the remaining share of the investment to be made by BHP’s partners.

BHP Minerals Australia operations president Mike Henry said: “South Flank is a capital efficient project which offers attractive returns, and which was approved following a thorough evaluation under BHP’s Capital Allocation Framework.

“The project will create around 2,500 construction jobs, more than 600 ongoing operational roles and generate many opportunities for Western Australian suppliers. It will enhance the average quality of BHP’s Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) production and will allow us to benefit from price premiums for higher quality lump and fines products.”

With an estimated mine life of more than 25 years, the project will enable the company to fully replace production from the 80Mtpa Yandi mine, which is anticipated to reach the end of its economic life in the early-to-mid 2020s.

Through the South Flank project, the company intends to expand the existing infrastructure at Mining Area C, with construction of an 80Mtpa crushing and screening plant, an overland conveyor system, a stockyard and train loading facilities.

BHP will also procure a new mining fleet, and conduct mine development and pre-strip work as part of the expansion. The company expects to commence production at the project in 2021. South Flank will allow the company to lift the average iron grade of its ores from its WAIO iron ore operations from 61% to 62%.

The decision to proceed with the project development comes after BHP approved an initial funding commitment of $184m last June for the expansion of accommodation facilities at the project to support workforce requirements.

Separately, the company has selected CIMIC’s affiliate CPB Contractors to deliver the construction of bulk earthworks, concrete and underground services for the South Flank project.




South32 to buy interest in Arizona Mining for $1.3bn

South32 has signed an agreement to acquire the remaining 83% of issued and outstanding shares of Canadian mineral exploration company Arizona Mining, in an all-cash deal valued at $1.3bn.

Arizona Mining owns the Hermosa project, which is located 80km south-east of Tucson, Arizona and contains the high-grade base metals Taylor deposit.

Under the terms, South32 will offer C$6.20 ($4.69) per share to Arizona Mining; company directors have backed the proposed transaction and recommended that shareholders accept the offer.

The transaction is expected to allow South32 to optimise the design and development of the Hermosa project.

South32 CEO Graham Kerr said: “We have been a major shareholder in Arizona Mining since May 2017 and an active participant in the Hermosa project with representation on the operations committee and a nominee on the board of directors.

“Our deep understanding of this high-grade resource and surrounding tenement package, and extensive experience at Cannington, makes us the natural owner of this project and ensures we are well positioned to bring it to development, delivering significant value to our shareholders.”

The Taylor project is estimated to have measured and indicated mineral resources of 101 million tonnes, at 10.4% zinc equivalent grade and is open at depth and laterally.

In connection with the deal, South32 has agreed to provide a C$70m ($53.03m) working capital facility to Arizona Mining, which comprises an initial tranche of C$40m ($30.3m) following signing and a further C$30m ($22.72m) in multiple tranches.

The facility will be used for working capital and capital expenditure purposes for the Hermosa project. Subject to shareholder approval, receipt of court orders and other customary conditions, the transaction is scheduled to be completed in the September 2018 quarter.




South African mining production falls 4.3% since March

Statistics South Africa has reported that production across South African mines fell by 4.3% from March to April this year. This continues a negative trend for the country’s mining industry as production also fell 8.5% from February to March.

While there has been a slight improvement in the rate of decline, and April’s figures are lower than a Reuters poll prediction which anticipated a 5% fall year-on-year, the pattern is still concerning for an industry that provided $317.4bn to the country’s GDP last year.

“Seasonally adjusted mining production decreased by 3.4% in the three months ended April 2018 compared with the previous three months,” said Statistics South Africa. “Ten out of the 12 mineral groups and minerals reported negative growth rates over this period.”

Coal had the largest contribution to the country’s exports, comprising 29% of total sales, but sales still declined 12.6% from March’s figures. The value of platinum group metals fell 11%, and production of the resource fell 5.4% compared with March, and were down 6.5% compared with 2017.

Statistics South Africa did report, however, improvements in the trade of gold. The value of gold sold in April increased 24% from the figures from March, and the overall volume of gold production rose 12.3% over the same period.

The struggles of the mining industry mirror weaknesses in the South African economy in the first three months of the year, which has experienced its biggest quarterly shrink in nearly a decade. Manufacturing and agriculture have also hit difficulties this year.

The mining industry has also faced legal challenges surrounding the ‘Gupta clause’, a law that forces mining companies to meet a target for black ownership and shareholders, in order to tackle income inequality. Some large mining companies were not consulted ahead of the change, and the Chamber of Mines, now known as the Minerals Council, has taken legal action to protect employers for what it considers restrictive regulations.

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