Integrating Engineering & Environmental Concepts for Mine Development

Integrating Engineering & Environmental Concepts for Mine Development

Publication: Global Business Reports
Issue: March 2014
Issue Title: British Columbia Mining & Vancouver: The World's Mining Barometer 2014

Designers of modern-day mines must consider and incorporate nearly endless aspects of a project so that it is technically, economically, environmentally and socially balanced. Technical and economic feasibility continue to be the key drivers behind development decisions. However, environmental and social considerations are growing in their influence on both the design and ultimately the decision to move a project past concept and into construction and operation.

Environmental assessment of mining projects within Canada and beyond has grown in complexity in a short timeframe. Within the past few decades, data requirements to support mining environmental assessments has increased in duration, as well as the breadth of data that must be collected. Today, it is not uncommon for multiple years of comprehensive baseline studies to be mandatory across all environmental disciplines. And all this data must be collected prior to conducting an impact assessment of the proposed project on the baseline conditions at a given site. Many clients of Knight Piésold have been working to streamline development schedules by simultaneously collecting multiple years of data to support the environmental assessment application, as well as advance the design aspect of the project from scoping through to feasibility. The challenge faced by mine designers is to infuse enough social and scientific information at the scoping level design phase such that the extensive (and expensive) baseline studies are primarily focused on the eventual project that will be taken to feasibility level design. Mine developers are therefore having to take greater risks in allocating funds prior to making a formal development decision, so that projects are not stalled following a feasibility study, waiting for the baseline studies and impact assessment process to be completed.

Accomplishing a balanced review of a project requires input from geologists, engineers (electrical, mechanical, civil, geological, mining, geotechnical, etc…) and scientists (biological, social, etc…), among other specialists, to iterate the design of a mining project such that it will have the least negative effects (social and environmental) with the maximum positive effects (social, environmental and economic). This approach has required professional staff to step back from their primary area of study and consider many other disciplines that they would normally not think about when either designing a mine or assessing effects for their particular focus. A type of translation service has evolved from this level of integration, as engineers, scientists and geologists do not often speak the same technical language. Engineers focus on the practicality of a design, geologists focus on maximizing the extraction of the mineralized ore body, while scientists are evaluating effects for their particular area of interest and suggesting changes to the design to minimize such effects. Ideally, the objectives of each group come together in a balanced manner and the project can be developed such that it meets each of the technical, economic, environmental and social criteria.

 

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