The media hype surrounding the coronavirus was starting to build during the annual meeting of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME). By the time the annual meeting of the Prospectors and Developers of Canada (PDAC) opened the follow week, concerns were reaching a fever pitch. Some companies were banning unnecessary travel, especially to large international gatherings. Organizers were canceling other small conferences as this edition of E&MJ was going to press.
Both events were disrupted by protestors. SME took place in Phoenix this year during late February and a labor union picketed the entrance demanding concessions from Grupo Mexico’s local Asarco division. Anti-mining protestors attempted different disruptive activities at PDAC, but failed to gain much traction except with the local press that day. People don’t seem to care for their misinformed, in-your-face approach.
This year, SME had an overwhelming amount of information related to tailings management. It was discussed in the keynote session, The Executive’s Role in Tailings Management, and in at least three or four other technical sessions. The keynote speakers included Mosaic’s Nancy Case, Freeport-McMoRan’s (FCX) Red Conger, Newmont’s Dean Gehring and CONSOL Energy’s Daniel Connell. It was nice to see that SME gave coal (i.e., CONSOL Energy) a seat at the table instead of treating the industry like lepers. All four talked about management’s responsibility for active tailings storage facilities (TSFs) as well as inactive, legacy TSFs. The general consensus was that anytime a mine experiences a spill anywhere, the entire mining industry suffers the consequence, and mining companies were treating TSF education and management openly like it has with safety over the past decade or more.
PDAC is different from SME. SME predominantly serves engineers working at established operations, while the PDAC convention is geared more toward mining investment and exploration, and it has a huge international draw. The PDAC keynote, Discoveries of the 21st Century, included Barrick Gold’s Mark Bristow, Pretivm’s Joe Ovsenek and Ivanhoe’s Robert Friedland. Showing a map of Tier 1 gold assets in less-than-desirable locations, Bristow urged mining explorers to return to their pioneering roots. A protestor interrupted Bristow and the crowd booed until security dragged her from the room. Bristow warned the audience that, if they intend to keep doing business, they need to create a dialog with these people. Ovsenek walked the delegates through the Brucejack project’s timeline from permitting to operations. In his speech, a Stars Wars parody titled Revenge of the Miners, Friedland discussed how a greener society as well as the coronavirus will ultimately benefit miners worldwide. He cited anti-bacterial copper as the alternative to stainless steel. He told the audience that the underinvestment in mining has never been this high, saying the world will need to invest $250 billion in mining in the next five years to meet future metals demand.
FCX is based in Phoenix and Conger welcomed SME attendees to Arizona and copper country. Less than a week later, Friedland thanked people for having the courage to gather in a room to listen to his presentation. That’s how quickly this virus is impacting business. While travel and face-to-face meetings may be curtailed for the near term, E&MJ will keep the mining industry informed through its print and digital products. Enjoy this edition of E&MJ.