Hopefully, by the time E&MJ readers receive this edition, rescuers will have freed the 33 miners from the San José mine near Copiapó, Chile. The moment the news broke, the story went viral. Then, when people learned it might take months to get them out, they paused to reflect. The man in charge of the rescue took a few minutes of his time to brief E&MJ technically about what happened and the rescue strategy (See San José Rescue, p. 24). In many cases, stranded miners can usually do nothing but sit and wait for help to arrive. These enterprising individuals, however, showed remarkable discipline before a world stage and demonstrated initiative when it came to survival as well as working to clear cuttings from below the boreholes. When they finally see daylight, they will surely celebrate in fine Chilean fashion.
Do you remember when you had to explain mining every time the subject surfaced among people not directly involved in the business? Gold at $1,350/oz has a lot of people paying attention to the mining business these days. I now find myself at the nineteenth hole explaining Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and speculative mining plays to people whose eyes glazed over when we had similar discussions at $750/oz and $900/oz.
In the last 10 years, mining has transitioned from obscure to ubiquitous. No matter where in the world, business news is tracking developments with mining and mine suppliers. Market analysts can’t make it through a session without talking about the strength of commodities and companies such as BHP, Vale, Freeport, Rio Tinto, Peabody Energy, PotashCorp, etc. The mining business is gaining almost daily coverage in the Wall St. Journal, the Financial Times, Bloomberg and CNBC. Who would have ever thought a few years ago we would see the talking heads connecting the dots on potash and fertilizer or lithium as a strategic metal?
The press coverage is not limited to business news; miners have regained some clout. Politicians are finding that more of their constituents support the mining business and the shovel-ready jobs the business brings to the table. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd found that out the hard way when he proposed a massive resource tax. U.S. President Obama and the Democratic Party are bracing for a landslide in the upcoming mid-term elections at the hands of the growing Tea Party movement. To say the current administration has been hostile toward mining would be an understatement. As of press time, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who is running for the senate seat of the late Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) and faces fierce competition from Republicans, filed a lawsuit against Obama’s EPA over mine permits. Yes, another state is suing the federal government.
The news from the mining sector is not always good. Already this year, several mines have experienced tragic explosions and loss of life. As the red sludge from a Hungarian alumina plant spills toxic metals into the Danube, much like the fish kill from the Zijin spill in China earlier this year, we are reminded that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Our job as engineers and scientists is to strive to attain the best performance, minimize the risk and take appropriate action when something does go wrong. The mining business has the world’s attention and it will win future loyalty by leading by example.
Steve Fiscor, E&MJ Editor-in-Chief,