The world’s top five mining companies are becoming more sensitive to environmental and social risks, according to a report from S&P Global.
The data provider analysed information from Anglo American, BHP, Glencore, Rio Tinto and Vale. It found that environmental and social risks were becoming increasingly important for the companies’ credit quality, citing the January 2019 failure of Brazilian company Vale’s Brumadinho dam in Brazil as a turning point.
The Brumadinho disaster, which occurred when a tailings dam failed at Córrego de Feijão iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, killed at least 237 people and caused extensive environmental damage.
It was the company’s second major dam breach in just over three years, following the November 2015 Mariana dam breach in the same region that occurred at the Bento Rodrigues mine owned by Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP.
According to S&P Global, the Brumadinho disaster highlighted the severity of such risks in the mining sector, not just for dam failures, but longer-term risks such as greenhouse gas emissions, wastewater, air pollution, employee injuries and community impact.
“Importantly, in our view, a second dam failure in just four years involving Vale leaves the company highly exposed to any failure or underperformance in the environmental and social domains,” the report said.
“We also believe that BHP and even miners that have not been involved in any disasters in the past five-to-10 years will face higher pressure, scrutiny, and potential sanctions related to environmental and social risks from regulators and investors.”
The report added that while such environmental concerns were unlikely to have a material impact on the top five miners’ ratings over the next couple of years due to financial cushions, their overall importance was growing in line with regulators’ and investors’ increased focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies.
The five majors in S&P Global’s report have reduced their annual emissions per copper equivalent production by an average of six per cent from 2014–18, which S&P Global mostly attributed to disposal or offloading of assets, such as BHP’s creation of spin-off company South32.
Glencore was cited as the miner with the highest overall level of scope one (direct) and scope two (indirect) emissions of the top five miners, as well as the highest intensity of emissions.
Rio Tinto achieved a “meaningful reduction in emissions intensity” over the 2014–18 period, with 56 per cent of emissions attributable to the company’s aluminium production. Additionally, the company was found to consume 71 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources such as hydro.
BHP achieved the greatest overall reduction in absolute emissions and emissions intensity, but this was mostly due to shifting its assets to South32, while Anglo American’s emissions remained relatively flat in the same timeframe.
Despite the issues related to the two dam breaches, Vale’s scope one emissions were found to be the lowest of the five miners overall.
When both scope one and scope two emissions are taken into account, Vale’s remained the lowest until 2016, at which point BHP’s figures became lower. It is important to note, however, that the report did not include 2018 figures for Vale.
“BHP is now on par with Vale and well below other peers due to the notably high share of iron ore in its commodity mix,” the report said.
New South Wales mining royalties are at record levels and forecast to keep the state budget in surplus over the forward estimates to 2022-23, despite the sector having no major impact on the 2019-20 state budget.
Mining royalties in NSW are estimated to deliver almost $8 billion, or an annual average of $1.97 billion, to the state over the next four years.
In the same period, NSW budget surpluses are expected to average $1.7 billion.
Mining communities across NSW will also reportedly welcome the Treasurer’s move in keeping his pre-election commitment to not increase royalty rates.
“Strong royalty revenue is being delivered without increasing royalty rates, unlike other states where royalty increases have been proposed,” NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said.
“Keeping this pre-election commitment will help to protect mining jobs across regional NSW and make NSW a more attractive destination for global mining investment.”
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet in his ‘heartfelt tribute’ recognised a miner in the public gallery at the Parliament, saying, “He knows, as we do, just how much we depend on our miners for their contribution to our economy, and just how much they depend on us to do the right thing by them with policies that help, rather than hurt.”
Galilee pointed out that there are around 25 mining projects in the NSW planning system, which could use an approval to generate more royalty revenue.
“Approving these projects would deliver significant benefits for mining communities, for the NSW budget and for the NSW economy more generally,” he concluded.
Newmont Goldcorp has awarded a $6 million construction contract to Valmec for the second expansion project it has proposed at the Tanami gold mine in the Northern Territory.
The contract is the second Newmont has presented for the next Tanami expansion this year, following an engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services contract award to WorleyParsons in February.
Valmec expects to start work on the contract immediately, with the majority of the infrastructure to be developed by November this year.
Newmont was reported to have advanced its studies for Tanami’s second expansion at the beginning of the year. It launched production following the completion of the first site expansion in 2017.
The world’s largest gold company is anticipated to reach its full funding decision on Tanami’s second expansion in the second half of this year.
“We are pleased to be able to announce our latest awarded contract with Newmont Goldcorp’s Australian operations and look forward to supporting them on their proposed Tanami expansion two project,” Valmec managing director Steve Dropulich said.
“Having recently completed gas construction and pipeline testing works on behalf of AGIG on Newmont Goldcorp’s Tanami power project, Valmec looks forward to continuing its relationship with Newmont and its Tanami operations.”
This latest contract is the first step in Valmec’s strategy for future growth in gas and infrastructure sectors within the Northern Territory region, according to the contractor.
Coal is forecast to almost completely disappear from Australia’s electricity system by 2050 if governments do not attempt to keep plants online with subsidies, according to the latest economic analysis in the BloombergNEF (BNEF) New Energy Outlook 2019.
Coal-fired capacity is predicted to fall from 25 gigawatts in 2018 (generating 63 per cent of the country’s electricity), to 18 gigawatts in 2030, and just six gigawatts in 2040.
Power stations will instead be powered by lower-cost renewables, paired with flexible technologies like batteries, pumped-hydro and gas.
These technologies will ensure the power sector does its part in keeping global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, at least until 2030.
Renewables are already the cheapest source of new generation in Australia, and their costs will continue to fall, according to BNEF.
“Australia’s existing fleet of ageing coal plants, which have been the backbone of the electricity sector for years, will be the last coal generators in the country,” BNEF head of Australia Leonard Quong said.
“Cheap renewables, firmed with a variety of storage technologies, have set Australia on a path to achieve low-carbon electricity by 2050. The future grid will be underpinned by cheap wind and solar, with batteries and pumped hydro to smooth variability, while gas and long-duration storage will provide additional backup to the market.”
“Our analysis suggests that governments need to do two separate things – one is to ensure their markets are friendly to the expansion of low-cost wind, solar and batteries; and the other is to back research and early deployment of these other technologies so that they can be harnessed at scale from the 2030s onwards,” BNEF’s New Energy Outlook director Seb Henbest added.
Consumers also play a key role in this transformation, according to Quong. Households and businesses buying solar, batteries and increasingly electric vehicles represents “an economic tidal wave” that will reshape the market.
They have installed around 10 gigawatts of solar on their rooftops today, with the figure set to surge to 38 gigawatt by 2030 as the costs of solar continue to fall and new business models make solar even more accessible to consumers, according to the report.
By 2050, rooftop solar capacity will increase to 61 gigawatt, enough to supply nearly one quarter of the country’s electricity demand. At the same time, Australia will invest $US107 billion ($155.6 billion) into renewable energy generation, with coal receiving almost no new capital.
New Energy Outlook 2019 is the result of eight months of analysis and modelling by a 65-strong team at BNEF, based on the announced project pipelines in each country, plus forecast economics of electricity generation and power system dynamics.
It assumes that current subsidies expire and energy policies around the world remain on their current bearing.
Surging iron ore prices have driven Strike Resources’ decision to restart work on a number of its iron ore projects in Australia and Peru.
The company holds three iron ore assets, the Apurimac and Cusco iron ore projects in Peru and the Paulsens East iron ore project in Western Australia, alongside its lithium and graphite prospects.
Strike plans to build off the foundation of work conducted between 2006-2008 on its Paulsens East project, which focused on the potential for an operation of up to a one million tonnes per annum.
The site showed promise for transportation of direct shipping quality iron ore (DSO) by truck to an existing port nearby.
In a statement explaining the company’s plans, Strike stated that the lack of previous development was principally driven by “the significant decline in the iron ore price.”
The commodity’s price plummeted from over $US180 ($261.7) per tonne during 2011 to lows of less than $US50 per tonne in 2015.
However, the recent rebound in iron ore prices to a current level of approximately $US100 per tonne has encouraged Strike to recommence work at its sites.
The initial Paulsens East works will involve resource modelling to define a JORC minerals resource statement for the iron ore mineralisation previously identified in surface sampling and two extensive drilling campaigns.
Upon completion of the resource statement, it will examine the potential for undertaking a direct shipping ore small scale mining operation using contract mining, crushing and transportation by truck to port, then shipping to China.
Doris Engineering Australia has been awarded contracts with tier-two oil and gas operators based in Perth.
The first contract involves providing multi-discipline engineering support to enable the operator to progress with field development options.
The second, will capitalise on Doris’ local knowledge and experience in Western Australia, through evaluating the technical and economic feasibility associated with a number of development concepts.
These contracts follow the recent completion of another oil and project that involved providing pre-front end engineering design (FEED) evaluation for process modifications and the impact of the operation on gas export quality, unit operations and plant corrosion rates.
Doris is also continuing its provision of support to Inpex operations on the Ichthys liquefied natural gas (LNG) project offshore Western Australia.
The company will also be involved in the next phase of Ichthys through the delivery of technical assistance to the Inpex execution team for the design, fabrication and installation of the umbilicals, risers and flowlines.
According to Doris managing director, Asia Pacific, Benoit Lamoureux, the company is “witnessing a marked increase in project activity in Asia Pacific, especially in Australia, resulting in recent new contract wins and invitations to tender.”
“In line with increased activity levels, we have considerably expanded our Perth team with several recent new hires bringing our headcount to ten and further extending our local regional knowledge and skills base,” he said.
Boral is a leading provider of construction materials and building products in Australia. Products include cement, aggregates, concrete, asphalt, bricks, roofing, masonry products and timber.
With an extensive network of concrete, asphalt and manufacturing sites across Australia, Boral’s leading position is underpinned by around one billion tonnes of quarry reserves strategically located close to key markets.
Boral’s Charlton quarry is located in Victoria, almost half way between Melbourne and Mildura. It is one of the few hard rock quarries in the region with the capability to produce notable volumes. The quarry produces a range of quarry products and supplies product to infrastructure projects in the region.
With a commitment to delivering high-quality building and construction solutions, Boral Quarries holds Quality Management System Certification to ISO 9001:2015 for its operations.
Boral works to maintain an engaged and reliable workforce and minimise environmental impact. In keeping with this mission, Boral recently invested in an industry leading motor control solution for their Charlton quarry to improve uptime and leverage the longevity and compliance provided by the latest motor control technology.
Productivity and Reliability
Boral engaged SS Electrics, a progressive electrical contracting business based in Ballarat, Victoria, to implement a solution to modernise the electric equipment at the quarry.
“We have worked with Boral on projects at their other quarries previously and therefore understood the importance of minimising downtime onsite during commissioning.
“The Rockwell Automation MCC was the most appropriate choice for this application because it is a fully designed and integrated system that is essentially 75 per cent commissioned upon arrival. This really helped reduce engineering time and helped meet the tight commissioning timeline for this project,” explained Chris Nunn, director, SS Electrics.
The Allen-Bradley Centerline 2500 motor control centres (MCCs) offer optimal safety, performance and reliability to help quarries meet their production requirements.
The Allen-Bradley Centerline 2500 MCCs offer optimal safety, performance and reliability to help quarries meet their production requirements. Modern motor control solutions need to be able to integrate with existing systems and provide advanced diagnostics capabilities.
The Centerline 2500 meets these requirements with premier integration and reduced engineering time.
“The quarry required a MCC solution that would meet the highest standards and also one that would be cost effective as well as adopting some of the integration benefits,” explained Matthew Treeby, account manager, Rockwell Automation.
SS Electrics worked with Rockwell Automation and their distributor NHP Electrical Engineering Products to select the smart components which are at the heart of the 12 column MCC including the E300 Electronic Overloads, SMC Flex soft starters, Point I/O modules, Guardmaster safety relays, Stratix switches, ControlLogix control system and PowerFlex 525 variable speed drives for the crushers, conveyors and processing equipment.
“The MCC provides a reliable solution for motor control in Boral’s Charlton quarry. The MCC is a ‘best of both worlds’ solution because it is not only high quality, fully tested and compliant, as would be expected from a global supplier, but the customer was also able to customise the solution to meet their unique requirements because the design and project management is done locally,” explained Treeby.
Intelligent Software and Safety
With a strong commitment to employee safety, Boral chose to include ArcShield Technology in the MCC. ArcShield helps to reduce arc flash hazards and provides increased protection against internal electrical arcing faults.
Offering a scalable safety solution, the MCC’s Guardmaster safety relays (GSR) address both the compliance standards and functional safety requirements for the quarry.
Boral’s MCC also features IntelliCenter technology, which enhances the intelligence of the MCC by using built-in networking to capture information that can be used for predictive maintenance, process monitoring, and advanced diagnostics. Connecting motor control devices over Ethernet allows operators and maintenance to realise the benefits of the connected enterprise by monitoring and analysing operations from anywhere at any time.
The MCC was pre-built in a portable room prior at SS Electrics’ facility prior to being shipped to site.
Hassle-free installation and commissioning
To help reduce engineering time, the MCC was assembled in the Rockwell Automation Shanghai manufacturing plant. Boral and SS Electrics took the opportunity to visit the plant and assess the MCC’s capabilities prior to shipping to Australia.
The smart motor control solution was programmed using Studio 5000 software and wiring was connected at SS Electrics’ factory. This provided the opportunity for further testing and programming, therefore reducing the engineering time required for commissioning on site in Charlton.
By providing consolidated programming, device and system configuration, operation and maintenance within the Studio 5000 engineering environment, complexity and potential errors can be minimised.
In addition, the requirement for onsite engineering work was reduced significantly as the MCC had a complete set of electrical drawings, allowing SS Electrics to start the commissioning process from their facility in Ballarat, even before the MCC arrived in Australia. Upon arrival, commissioning was completed at SS Electrics’ facility where it was pre-built in a portable room prior to being shipped to site. This also allowed the MCC to be customised to meet the site specifications of the quarry.
The new smart motor control solution provides key diagnostic information that optimises performance with real time access to operation and performance trends.
Improved uptime and compliance
Boral’s Charlton quarry is now benefitting from the new smart motor control solution which provides key diagnostic information that optimises performance with real time access to operation and performance trends. As the quarry moves towards a more connected enterprise, this increased visibility into the system and real time diagnostic data can be transformed into actionable and insightful information.
“A key focus of the Charlton project was to replace end of life electrical equipment for improved compliance and safety, while minimising any required downtime at the quarry,” explained Jake McClellan, asset manager, Boral Australia.
“This was achieved with the new solution and the help of SS Electrics and Rockwell Automation. It was a very smooth project, and thanks to the increased visibility into the system, fault-finding time has been reduced from hours to minutes and what was previously a very manually controlled process is now completely automated.”
“In addition, the plant manager can now monitor production trends and energy consumption in real time, which assists with plant optimisation. With the new MCC, the quarry can confidently service customer demand well into the future. As a result of the success of this project, we have plans to implement similar systems in our other quarries,” said McClellan.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is taking its Going for Gold gold recovery technology out of the trial phase and into the real-world market.
Cyanide leaching is the most popular gold leaching reagent in many countries, but CSIRO’s method — which took 20 years of research and around $10 million in investment — proposes a non-toxic alternative.
The research body’s Going for Gold initiative is based around the notion of designing alternative extraction reagents that “don’t cost the Earth”.
“Cyanide is used in about 75 per cent of global gold production, and while the industry works to manage the associated risks, there have been recent toxic spills overseas that have caused great concern to communities,” said CSIRO research program leader Chris Vernon.
“Developing an alternative process, which eliminates hazardous chemicals while maximising gold recovery, meets industry and consumer demands for more sustainably-produced gold.”
CSIRO’s method, which eschews the use of cyanide and mercury in the gold leaching process in favour of non-toxic thiosulfate, was used to create its first gold ingot in August 2018 following extensive trials. Now, the system is set for rollout at Western Australia-based company Clean Mining.
The environmentally-focused company is in negotiations with Northern Territory-based ICA Mining Services and WA-based Nu-Fortune Gold to commission the technology.
Clean Mining plans to distribute CSIRO’s method to a global mining market, offering licences, equipment, product support and turnkey processing plant options. Clean Mining managing director Jeff McCulloch said CSIRO’s method was useful for new greenfields sites, existing mines looking to upgrade, and regions where cyanide use is banned.
“This technology provides gold miners with an opportunity to proactively evolve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards,” McCulloch said.
BHP has completed a heap leach development trial it says confirms the technology’s viability to extract copper, uranium, gold and silver at the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia.
The company produced 19 tonnes of ‘good quality’ copper during the trial, most of which went back into the smelter and off to customers, though the company “kept a little to ourselves to commemorate the achievement.”
“The promising results from this trial supports our positive outlook for Olympic Dam, given forecast demand increases for copper and the optionality we are building for this world-scale resource,” BHP Olympic Dam general manager of surface processing Chris Barnesby said.
“Whether we deploy heap leach at Olympic Dam is a matter for future consideration, as there are many factors involved including passing through our capital allocation framework.”
The seven-year research trial was run by international testing agency Bureau Veritas under the direction of BHP, with support from the South Australian Government.
Olympic Dam’s test work progressed from lab scale columns and bench tests, before culminating in a “world class” testing facility at Wingfield, according to Bureau Veritas manager of major projects Clint Bowker.
Heap leaching works by drip-feeding acid through a large stockpile (or heap) of ore to leach out metals. The technology has the potential to deliver lower costs, increased scalability, reduced portable water use and the ability to process lower-grade ores.
BHP uses heap leaching at its copper operations in Chile, however, Olympic Dam’s polymetallic properties require a different approach.
“The test work showed how BHP and Bureau Veritas could partner to develop and deliver technology-driven innovative solutions to greater South Australian resources, proving that organisations can work collaboratively to resolve challenging ore bodies,” Bowker said.
“The facility will remain available as a resource to the mining community for further research as the facility will be in care and maintenance for the future.”
Separate to the heap leach trial, BHP continues to progress studies for the brownfield expansion project (BFX), which seeks to potentially increase Olympic Dam’s production to between 240,000 and 300,000 tonnes a year.