Esteban Hormazabal, Managing Director – Chile,
"Mine closure requires integrated engineering, because both physical and chemical stability must be reviewed."
Can you provide examples of some of the scoping and engineering studies SRK has been involved in?
Our global experience gives expert, integrated solutions on every phase of a mining project. We have been involved from the scoping studies and conceptual engineering stages, to detailed engineering for world-class underground (UG) projects and operations globally. Some of the most emblematic projects are Anglo’s Los Bronces project in Chile, Finsch (South Africa), Resolution & Bigham Canyon UG (USA), Alpala (Ecuador) and Oyu Tolgoi (Mongolia).
At Los Bronces we have been working for over 12 years, from the construction of the exploration tunnel with TBM, to generating the basic engineering and the basis for the tender and construction, and, during the development of the underground project, from profile engineering down to the pre-feasibility stages.
What are your views on the issue of water scarcity in Chile and how it pertains to mining?
Faced with a snowballing scenario of water scarcity, the supply of drinking water will be prioritized, protecting continental waters from other uses. This will lead mining projects to search for new sources of water. The use of seawater by large-scale mining is increasingly frequent and could soon become an eventual requirement. While seawater and desalination plants may be a viable option for large mining companies, due to the associated capital costs, this would not be an option for small and medium-sized mining companies. Water supply options for these may arise through government programs, synergies between companies or other options, quite possibly generating new business opportunities. Innovation and development will be fundamental in the future for optimizing water use in mining
Can you elaborate on the main factors mining companies must consider regarding mine closure?
Mine closure is a matter that must be approached from a multidisciplinary and integrated perspective, from the design, construction, operation of a mining project to its implementation. This vision has been validated and adopted by the industry, and to date there are different internationally recognized standards and guides as well as good practices in mine closure, such as those published by ICMM, APEC, ECLAC, the World Bank, among others. SRK Consulting has a multidisciplinary team in the mine closure field. The planning of closure programs involves the implementation of scheduled, anticipated, and progressive closure activities for the optimal use of the company's resources and the possibility of facing in a timely manner the technical, environmental and regulatory challenges.
Mine closure requires integrated engineering, because both physical and chemical stability must be reviewed. It means that concepts of geotechnics, hydrogeology, geochemistry, and mine planning are necessary to determine and assess the closure measures. Regulations must be put in place during the pre-feasibility studies; from there you should already have at least a draft of a closure plan. We worked on the Gold Field’s Salares Norte project from the pre-feasibility to the detailed engineering stages, including the mine closure plan. Regulations requires you to have a closure plan prior to even moving the first stone.
To what extent do you think the environmental focus of the new government in Chile could impact demand for the services that SRK offers?
For investment projects, if requirements were to be increased, we could possibly see the following impact our business: Requirements for larger and more robust technical studies to assess impacts and risks, and to define mitigation or compensation measures; specialized technical studies with an emphasis on innovation and new technologies applied in other parts of the world. More data, new methodologies and new technologies are already becoming part of the analysis required to obtain environmental permits globally, and it is a trend we expect to continue.
What are the main themes you see impacting the Chilean mining industry in the years to come?
One of SRK’s focuses for the years ahead is to help mining companies integrate new big data technologies with new software, to have an integrated product to generate a geoscientific model. The mining industry currently uses drones to help map, for geotechnical and structural characterization, safety and mine planning purposes, radar equipment to monitor slopes behavior; all of which provide information, but often in diverse departments rather than on an integrated platform. We want to help them consolidate all that information on one platform, with the software that already exists.