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The 5 Stages of the Mining Life Cycle

Mine Rehabilitation - Decipher
Mining & Resources

The 5 Stages of the Mining Life Cycle

Mining operations are complex.

They aren’t your run-of-the-mill type projects. These billion dollar complexes consist of various interconnected projects, operating simultaneously to deliver refined commodities like gold, silver, coal and iron ore. While every new mining project has its own requirements and needs an individual, tailored plan to take it from discovery into production, virtually all miners follow the same general process that forms the backbone of mine development.

We’ve broken this five stage process down using GIFs.

 

1. Exploration and prospecting

The beginning of any mining project begins with the exploration stage; it’s where the magic happens. Companies enlist geologists and others to understand the characteristics of the land and prospect remote areas in search of mineral deposits. Methods such as geological surface mapping and sampling, geophysical measurements and geochemical analysis is often applied at an early stage to pin out potential deposits.

Water, oil and soil is tested and firms start to consider the socio-economic effects that a new mine would have on the area. This is then followed by prospecting which includes more detailed surveys including airbone or ground geophysical surveys that read the Earth’s magnetic field, radiation and electrical conductivity underground. These surveys help identify possible targets and allow a company to start drilling to find out more about what lies underneath. The drilling and sampling work usually provides the first glimpse of the type of ore being mined and the grade it could yield; this allows miners to draw up a very preliminary outline of the potential size of the deposits found using 2D or 3D models of the geological ore.

 

2. Mine-site design and planning

Once mapping and mineral resource data is collected, and the miners are confident that there is an opportunity, the project can move forward to the design and planning stage. This typically consists of companies evaluating various options with multiple plans that could be used in order to identify the best available one.

For example, a company may draw up one plan proposing to mine all the estimated material in the ground over 20 years and one plan over 10 years to estimate different financial implications. This allows the miners to outline the possible profitability of its future project and to determine how the project an be carried out in a safe, environmentall sound, economically viable and socially responsible manner.

 

3. Construction 

Once the miner has addressed all the regulatory, funding and technical aspects of the project it can finally start construction; this process can be different depending on the mineral being mined and the size of the project, and will often take longer than exploratory and design stages. Construction of mining sites invovles building roads, processing facilities, environmental management systems, employee housing and other facilities.

 

4. Production

Eventually the project is constructed and ready to begin producing. The two most common methods of mining are surface and underground mining. The method is determined mainly by the characteristics of the mineral deposit and the limits imposed by safety, technology, environmental and economical concerns.

  • The first step in the production stage is recovering the minerals; this is the process of extracting the ore from rock using a variety of tools and machinery.
  • The second step is processing; the recovered minerals are processed through huge crushers or mills to separate commercially valuable minerals from their ores.
  • Once processed, the ore is then transported to smelting facilities.
  • The final step in production is smelting; this process involves melting the concentrate in a furnance to extract the metal from its ore. The ore is then poured into moulds, producing bars of bullion, which are then ready for sale.

 

5. Closure and reclamation

The fifth and final stage in mining operations is closure and reclamation. Many mines may be capable of producing economically for decades, but mining is still a temporary activity. The vast majority of companies now have to formulate their plan on how to close their operation before they event build it, as governments require assurances that operators have a plan and the funds needed to close the mine before they are willing to issue permits.

The detailed environmental studies that are conducted during the process form a major part of the plan on how the mine site will be closed and rehabilitated.

A comprehensive mine rehab (rehabilitation) program has many clearly stated objectives which may include:

  • ensuring public health and safety
  • minimizing environmental effects
  • removing waste and hazardous material
  • preserving water quality
  • stabilizing land to protect against erosion
  • establishing new landforms and vegetation

 

Mine closure plans can aim to renovate the site to varying degrees:

  1. Remediation. Cleaning up the contaminated area, including water.
  2. Reclamation. Stabilising the terrain, landscaping and topsoil replacement to make the land useful once again.
  3. Restoration. Rebuilding any part of the ecosystem that was disturbed as a result of the mine such as flora and fauna.
  4. Rehabilitation. Rehabilitating the site to a stable and self-rejuvenating state, either as it was before the mine was built or as a new equivalent ecosystem.

Some of the major steps that are common for companies to follow when shutting a mine are as follows:

  1. Mine shutdown. Production is halted, equipment is taken offline and the workforce is scaled back.
  2. Decommissioning. The operation and equipment is taken apart, waste is disposed of, buildings are demolished or repurposed and the site is cleaned.
  3. Remediation or reclamation. Returning the land, trees, topsoil, water and wider ecosystem to a satisfactory state while removing contaminants or hazardous materials.
  4. Post-closure. Monitoring programmes initiated to ensure shut down is effective and highlight any further work that needs to be completed.

Learn about 5 extraordinary examples of repurposed mine sites


FAQ:

What are the 5 stages of the mining life cycle?

There are five stages of the mining life cycle, these include: exploration, mine-site design and planning, construction, production, and closure and reclamation. 

What is mine rehabilitation?

According to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, mine rehab (rehabilitation) is “the process used to repair the impacts of mining on the environment. Mine rehabilitation can also be referred to as coal mine rehabilitation, land rehabilitation, mine site rehabilitation or mine site restoration.

What are the different types of mine rehabilitation?

According to the Minerals Council of Australia, there are several different types of mine rehabilitation including: cropping, conservation, grazing, and native restoration.

Why should a mine be rehabilitated?

According to the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, there are four key factors that make up the business case for mine rehabilitation. They are:
1. Project approval
2. Compliance risk
3. Financial liability
4. Reputational risk


How to drive progressive mine rehabilitation

 

Decipher’s Rehabilitation & Closure Solution

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Armed with Decipher’s Rehabilitation & Closure solution, including GIS, remote sensing, monitoring and management tools means you can easily capture and analyse a wide range of environmental monitoring data, manage risks and issues around put backfilling, rapid flooding, slope instability and acid generation, and ensure you’re meeting your environmental obligations and compliance with alerts and notifications of exceedances.

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