Mine Development Cycle
Click on the diagram below for information on the stages of the Mine Development Cycle.
Available Land Resources
Unlike other natural resources, mineral resources are commonly hidden. Finding a deposit worth mining is very difficult. It is because of this unique challenge that access to large areas of land is necessary for mineral exploration. The location of deposits is dictated by the geology of any given area and these potential areas can sometimes be directly below sensitive areas and ecosystems. This is the reason why we have to carefully consider the benefits and detriments of extracting natural resources.X
Exploration (8-10 years)
Finding a new ore deposit that can be mined is not quick or easy and is not accomplished with a pick, shovel, gold pan and donkey. Junior mining companies secure investment dollars to carry out most mineral exploration. They employ geologists and prospectors to gather geological data out in the field, and utilize satellite imagery, geophysical surveys, and innovative technologies to help make a discovery.
Exploration work relies on many others besides geologists, many workers are involved: pilots, drillers, assayers, equipment operators, surveyors, mechanics, camp cooks, and many others all play essential roles in the discovery of viable mineral deposits. Various equipment suppliers and contractors provide their various specialized expertise throughout the entire process (from exploration to closure, reclamation and monitoring).
*Note that operating mines also commonly carry out exploration programs to identify viable deposits adjacent to existing ones that could extend the life of the operation.X
Environmental Assessment and Approval
The process of environmental assessment and permitting is an extremely complex one that can take years to complete. It is at this stage that a company proposing a mine project includes a complete reclamation, satisfactory land-use end goal, and monitoring plan.
The proposal must be submitted to government agencies (the Environmental Assessment office) at the provincial and federal government levels for approval. The company must also go through rigorous processes to involve the community in which the project is to take place, and do it in a manner that respects the needs of that community.
The company makes every effort to consult in a fair and balanced manner to establish strong relationships and to represent the benefits and trade-offs of approving the project. It is only after these permits and community approvals are received that construction plans can proceed.X
Construction (several years)
After the necessary permits and licenses are obtained, the physical construction of a mine can begin. Suppliers of transportation, utilities, building materials, equipment and hundreds of other goods and services are brought in to take the project into production. Depending on the size of the mine, construction may require more than 1000 people and cost over $1 biilion.
Responsibility for mine design, planning and construction is usually taken by a mining company's engineering department, which works with the various contractors and consultants to build the mine. It is at this stage that all equipment is purchased, tested and calibrated to work at optimal levels for the greatest efficiency.X
Operation (10-30 years or more)
Surface mining methods are used to extract ore close to the surface of the Earth. Large-scale equipment - drills, shovels and trucks - are used to make operations efficient and economical. The ore is dug up and sent to the mill for processing and reclamation procedures are initiated.
Underground mining methods are used to extract ore that is deeply buried. They require specialized equipment to move people and material and carry on work underground in restricted space.
Mines are industrial operations and businesses. They require the full complement of personnel to run safely, efficiently and profitably. Mining engineers, geologists, equipment operators and miners, play essential roles, but mining operations require a much broader, highly skilled and well trained workforce that includes accountants, heavy duty electricians, welders, and everyone in between. Today's market is global and extremely competitive.
These are the steps required to change raw, broken ore into useable material or to liberate and separate valuable minerals from waste rock.
For granite rock mined for crushed stone aggregate, only crushing and sizing are done prior to selling it.
Metallic ore deposits, in contrast, are conveyed to a mill complex on site where the ore is pulverized to fine sand which is directed through one of several separation processes: froth flotation, density separation, gravity separation, magnetic separation. The recovered valuable mineral material, called concentrate, is shipped offsite to smelters for further refining.
Mineral process engineers are responsible for safe and efficient processing, and require a well-trained crew to run, maintain and repair this industrial complex (e.g. mining technologist, welder, electrician, plumber, millwright, pipefitter, metal fabricator, and others). Mine personnel are involved in on-going research to develop faster, more cost-effective processing methods. Efficiency is the key.X
Closure of a mine doesn't necessarily mean that ore has been exhausted or completely taken out of the ground. More often than not, closure of a mine is brought about by a variety of factors related to market prices and demand. Anything from rising production costs to a crash in commodity prices can make a mine uneconomical and mine closure is imminent. Whatever the reasons for closure, the operation cannot be shut down immediately. Closing down a mine can take months and lots of careful planning.
There is a transition period that needs to be observed so that the company can make sure everything is in place for reclamation and monitoring and can extract the last few tonnes of ore that had already been extracted prior to the decision of permanent closure. The company also has to ensure the community in which they operate will also have a smooth transition into life after the operation is shut down. At this stage, there are a lot of job transitions.X
Environmental management is an essential part of all mining operations from start to finish. Bonds are posted with the provincial government before mining begins to insure that reclamation and monitoring of the environment will continue long after the mine has closed. Baseline studies to evaluate vegetation, wildlife, air and water quality are also carried out prior to mining, as is the design of a complete mine site reclamation plan.
Workers in this department at a mine carry out long term monitoring, and design and implement plans to prevent deliberate harm and to minimize or remediate impacted areas. Environmental engineers work with biologists, chemists, ecologists, wildlife specialists, and ranchers, along with equipment operators, nursery staff, and agronomists so that when mining is over, the site is left in a safe and productive state, as similar in appearance to the surrounding landscape as possible.X
View Life of a Mine, an animation of a proposed mine.
View Building the Éléonore Mine, Quebec.