Mining 101: Understanding the Different Phases of Mine Operations
Evidence suggests that as far back as prehistoric times people were aware of the minerals that lay beneath the Earth’s surface.
Although the science and technology behind mining have evolved over the millennia, the recovery of minerals from the earth remains complex.
Depending on the size and location of a mineral deposit, a mining project will advance through a number of different phases and can take as few as 10 or as many as 100 years to complete. Taken together these phases are referred to as the mine lifecycle.
Through every phase of mine development, Newmont works to achieve industry-leading environmental performance while creating shared value with the people and communities that host our operations. The following is an overview of the mine lifecycle, including a description of each phase and Newmont’s approach to sustainability.
Lifecycle of a Mine
- Exploration Phase: Find It.
The mine lifecycle begins with the search for minerals and for answers to the questions: What is it, where is it, how big is it and what is its value? These answers are often found on paper through mapping and modeling, and also in the field through rock and soil sampling. It’s a lengthy process that can take anywhere from one to 10 years and, often times, does not lead to the development of an actual mine. In fact, most of the sites explored by gold mining companies do not meet the criteria for progressing beyond the Exploration Phase.
Newmont begins forging relationships with local communities right from the start. Perceptions and attitudes toward mining can be formed early in the mine lifecycle and transparent communication helps set expectations and shape positive, long-term relationships with host communities.
- Design Phase: Plan it.
If the data generated during the Exploration Phase is strong, a mining project may progress to the Design and Development Phase. Generally lasting two to three years, this phase involves studies that help mining companies determine if and how a project can be safe, environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible, while meeting or exceeding regulatory requirements.
In addition to planning for the work, Newmont uses this time to plan with local governments and communities on how best to ensure the proposed future mine delivers sustainable value and opportunities.
- Construction Phase: Build It.
Once the research, permitting and approvals in the previous phases are complete, construction of the mine can begin. This may take two years or more and involves building roads, processing facilities, environmental management systems, employee housing and other facilities.
During construction more people are needed than at any other phase of the mine lifecycle. While this creates additional jobs and helps fuel the economy, this period of intense activity must be carefully managed to mitigate strain on local communities.
- Production Phase: Dig It.
Once construction is complete and systems have been tested, mineral production can begin. The work during this phase involves recovering, processing and transporting the minerals. The Production Phase can last anywhere from approximately two to 100 years, depending on the size and type of the mineral deposit.
In addition to around-the-clock operations at the mine site, Newmont invests in community development, infrastructure and economic empowerment programs. Many of these programs are designed to continue yielding benefits long after mining operations cease so local communities continue to thrive.
- Closure Phase: Close It.
While reclamation occurs throughout the mine lifecycle, a mine has a finite life span, and each site has a mine closure and reclamation plan. The plan – which is developed and agreed upon by the mining company, government and community early in the mine lifecycle – includes dismantling the facilities and returning the mine site to a safe, stable and reclaimed state. Mine closure takes, on average, one to five years.
Because Newmont makes sustainability a priority from the early on, by the time the mine reaches this phase, efforts to support a community’s long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability are well underway.
- Post-Closure Phase: Improve It
Upon closing operations, measures must be taken to address environmental impacts that include water, vegetation and erosion. Reclamation and environmental protection efforts are monitored anywhere from five years to an indefinite period of time.
Newmont’s work in the local communities continues after the mine has closed. Reclamation also may include reforesting land or improving water sources. It may also include building and funding infrastructure, schools and most importantly, creating opportunities for new economic growth.
From the discovery of a buried mineral resource to reclamation of the land after mining has ceased, the lifecycle of a mine may span decades. To secure and maintain acceptance of our activities by stakeholders, we must perform to high environmental and social standards, while creating sustainable value and opportunity for our host communities and shareholders.