How We Explore, Plan, Develop, Operate and Close – the 5 stages of mining
A Primer: The 5 Stages of the mining life cycle
Teck works with our host communities through meaningful dialogue to achieve mutual benefits throughout the mining life cycle. The information communities need in order to participate in mining activity decision-making includes basic knowledge of the five stages in the mining life cycle: mineral exploration; deposit evaluation; mine planning; construction and operation; and mine closure (reclamation).
Stage 1: Mineral Exploration
Devin Harbke, geologist, mapping near the Red Dog Operations with the Delong Mountains in the background.
Mineral exploration is the search for deposits in the earth’s crust, and can take between two and four years. Stage 1 activity does not dictate that a mine will be developed; only 1 in 10,000 ‘grass roots’ projects eventually become a mine. During exploration, geologists review maps and reports, and use satellite imagery, sensors and computers to survey large areas of land. If the results are encouraging, trenching, exploratory drilling (obtaining rock samples from within bedrock), sampling and mineral assays are undertaken. If warranted, larger, more intensive drill programs are conducted. Early research on communities commences, and engagement processes ensure that information is provided to all relevant stakeholders.
Stages 2 and 3: Deposit Evaluation and Mine Planning
Exploration drilling on the Lorraine Property northern BC.
Stages 2 and 3 can span five to 10 years, and incorporate a range of studies to determine mine feasibility, as well as consultations with governments, local communities and citizen groups.
Deposit evaluations or Pre-feasibility activities include social and environmental baseline studies, escalating the intensity of geological and metallurgical studies through increased drilling, evaluating the preliminary design and engineering, and assessing the economic outlook for the resource.
Deposit evaluations usually involve on-site geologists and several large drill rig operators. Typically a camp is set up with support staff and perhaps a community relations team. This stage presents opportunities for the exploration team to engage host communities in participatory processes related to project design by: providing information on the mining cycle; possible mine development scenarios and timing; education on social, environmental and development/socio-economic needs and priorities; and understanding local concerns.
The feasibility study phase involves more detailed design, engineering and economic evaluations and decisions as to whether the mine will be open pit or underground, the infrastructure required, location of related facilities, and thorough impact and mitigation assessments of any facility. Throughout the feasibility study and mine planning stage we engage with, seek feedback from, and incorporate community input. This consultation process contributes to the understanding of the social and environmental impact assessments, and is incorporated into operating, closure and reclamation plans. After analyzing these studies, a decision about whether development should continue is made in conjunction with local and government authorities.
Stage 4: Mine Construction and Operation
Surface facilities at the Lennard Shelf operation in Western Australia.
Mine construction and operation can last from five to 100 years. Construction employs the greatest number of people in the mine cycle, utilizing numerous trades associated with building infrastructure, for example: trades helpers (carpenters, electricians, pipe fitters), heavy equipment operators, housekeeping personnel, warehouse technicians, safety coordinators, environmental technicians, managers, engineers, geologists, scientists and accountants.
Mine operation involves extracting, processing, producing and transporting the mineral product. This stage employs professionals, management and labourers in four main work areas: excavation, processing plants, waste storage and support services. Aspects such as water quality and quantity, biodiversity, human rights, wildlife conservation, wastewater management, air quality, fisheries, etc. are also considered in order to minimize/mitigate socio-economic and environmental impacts. Typically, there are opportunities to implement long-term community development programs that focus on locally-identified needs, community participation and stakeholder partnerships in program design, implementation and monitoring.
Stage 5: Mine Closure
Flourishing marsh adjacent to the polishing pond at Duck Pond Operations, Nfld. The water from the pond runs into Harpoon Creek, then the Exploits River.
Mine closure spans from two to 10 years, and post-closure water treatment and control may require perpetual management and funding. The process of converting an operating mine to a closed site involves three main phases:
- decommissioning – dismantling the infrastructure (e.g. facilities, buildings)
- reclamation – restoring disturbed areas (e.g. re-vegetating)
- post-closure care and maintenance – monitoring success of reclamation works, long-term water capture and treatment