What is SMD’s history in the mining industry?
SMD was founded in 1982 by Ron Guill, who had a strong vision for mechanized underground mining. Since then, our focus has always been on mechanized, lateral mining. A group of senior managers purchased the company from Ron in 2011. We recently embarked on our third chapter of ownership by creating a 100% ESOP, which means that SMD is currently employee-owned.
Can you provide some insight into SMD’s service offering?
Our mission is to be the leader in safe, productive and innovative mining solutions, specializing in underground, hard rock mining. We carry out underground work in support of exploration efforts since companies sometimes require underground platforms for exploration drilling. Following exploration, our services are also relevant in the development phase as we create the various ramps and accesses to facilitate production mining. We also offer production mining including drift and fill, longhole open stoping and other mining methods for full-scale production. Finally, we maintain engineering, geology, and surveying capabilities in the company so we can assist with those disciplines as required.
Underground mining services are currently a significant revenue generator since there is considerable expansion in the gold sector encouraged by favorable prices. We also see nearby growth prospects for battery metals.
What are some of the current projects you are working on in Nevada?
One of our main clients is Nevada Gold Mines, who we work with on several operations, including Leeville and the Meikle-Rodeo complex, Turquoise Ridge, and the Vista underground mines, which are part of the Twin Creeks complex. We also have two operations with First Majestic, at the SSX and Smith mines. Some of our smaller clients include i-80 Gold Corp at Granite Creek, and Sabre Gold’s Copperstone mine in Arizona. Finally, we are also starting up the Idaho Cobalt Operation with Jervois.
Cemented backfill was first used by SMD in 1984 and is now standard practice in Nevada. Can you elaborate on this method?
The cemented backfill method is particularly widespread in areas where ground conditions are not ideal. Consolidated rockfill allows us the flexibility to mine challenging areas from a ground support standpoint. It allows typically 100% extraction of the resource, assuming the resource is of sufficient value to support that. It is currently a standard practice in northern Nevada.
Can you share some of SMD’s initiatives to minimize diesel particulate emissions (DPM)?
In 2007, we pioneered the use of diesel particulate filters in Nevada on our prime fleet. The majority of our prime fleet runs on these filters, which reduces emissions by 70% or more. As Tier 4 emission standards have been implemented, the use of bio-diesel has decreased dramatically. However, in certain instances, it can be a very effective way to reduce DPM.
We also have a DPM program as part of our preventative maintenance. The program involves using exhaust gas analyzers and measuring specific engine performance parameters. If certain indicators are out of compliance, we can then troubleshoot the machines, fix the specific problem, and get them back into compliance. We see this program reducing emissions substantially.
Additionally, we do operator training to ensure operational practices reduce DPM. This includes things like proper operation of the equipment to prevent lugging the engines or shutting them down when not in use to reduce idle time.
How do you see the future of underground mining?
Underground mining will continue to increase as surface resources become harder to find and companies drill deeper on the hunt for higher grades. This will be complemented with innovations in equipment and automation. Operating machines autonomously underground from the surface will rise. However, I do not think we will be able to completely remove personnel from the underground environment, because machines break down and they need monitoring. There are also jobs underground that simply cannot be performed from a remote area.
Electrification is another trend that will continue to gain traction. There have been some issues in implementation of battery technology since the energy density required for certain applications is very high. Petroleum is extremely energy-dense, and it has some inherent advantages with our energy intensive industry. Over time, as technologies evolve, electrification will continue to develop. There are areas where its application will make commercial and economic sense, but others where it will be more difficult to implement.