Mining risk is up, even as mining enjoys a global uptick in prospects and activity. That means all the more reason for explorers and miners to grasp the nettle with care, insight and all the technical advice they can get.
As technical specialists who bring innovative solutions to mining and related projects in Africa, SRK Consulting has built its reputation on helping clients manage risk, according to Andrew van Zyl, director and principal consultant at SRK Consulting (SA).
This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2020
“There has been a steady rise in the sheer breadth and complexity of risk in mining,” says Van Zyl.
“Understanding and addressing each of these risks requires not just a suite of professional disciplines; it also requires technical expertise and experience to be constantly advancing knowledge and developing best practice.”
Since its inception in Johannesburg, SRK has grown into a global network of over 40 offices on six continents – with the skills of 1 400 employees. Long respected for its integrity, independence and quality, it recently earned Mining Journal’s 2019 Consultant of the Year award.
This accolade recognised the consultancy with the highest execution rate for new mining technical, financial and business improvement studies – taking into account not just the volume and calibre of work, but also the scale and value of the projects.
“Several of the risks faced today have always been with us, like those related to geotechnical or metallurgical issues,” says Marcin Wertz, partner and principal mining engineer at SRK Consulting (SA).
“In recent decades, added attention has been paid to areas like safety, environmental, social and political risk.”
Understanding the risks – their likelihood and their potential impact – is just the start of the process, he emphasises. The real challenge is to manage them effectively, so that opportunities can be pursued.
This is where SRK’s technical solutions-driven approach gains traction – leveraging years of past experience with the most useful up-to-date technologies available.
This capability earned SRK another award from Mining Journal in 2019 – for the Best New Technical Study. Highlighting the value case for Denison Mines’ Wheeler River project, the pre-feasibility study (PFS) – with SRK Canada principal consultant Mark Liskowich as lead author – introduced a mining method never before applied to a high-grade uranium deposit anywhere in the world.
Constant innovation is a foundation of SRK’s commitment to add value, and the digital technology that underpins Mining Industry 4.0 has provided valuable opportunities.
To foster the culture of innovation, SRK Consulting (SA) hosts an annual gathering of its experts across a range of disciplines – to leverage digital and other technologies.
Among the results of this inter-disciplinary collaboration have been advances in the field of tailings storage facility (TSF) waste water modelling and assessment of liner requirements.
This has involved engineering expertise in tailings, geophysics and rock engineering, combined with groundwater modelling skills to develop tools for seepage analysis, for example.
There has also been meaningful progress in assessing the effect of earthquakes on TSFs and new work on dam break analysis.
SRK also uses photogrammetric modelling techniques for geological and geotechnical mapping and calibration of rockfall analyses.
Other innovations include a web-based water balance reporting system with quicker response times and several mobile apps have also been developed to improve efficiency and reliability of data capture – and applied in TSF monitoring, geotechnical data, hydrocensus and housing inspection in social surveys.
Closure risks are growing, according to SRK Consulting senior social scientist Jessica Edwards. While most countries have regulated closure processes to protect the natural environment, the social aspects of closure are now gaining attention.
“At the ‘tail end’ of the drive towards ensuring a social license to operate, there is now recognition of the need for social transitioning when planning for closure,” said Edwards.
“Successful social transitioning should result in sustainable economic opportunities for the region once mining has ceased.”
This usually involves the diversification of the local and regional economy so that communities are not solely reliant on mining – and thus limiting the impact of closure.
She emphasised that the future will demand more effective ‘co-production’ – in other words, intense collaboration – between mining companies and other stakeholders when planning for closure.
Mining, as with other sectors, is also under pressure to address climate change risk, according to Ashleigh Maritz, senior environmental scientist at SRK Consulting. Shifting climate zones are degrading ecosystems and landscapes, and the management of water resources is a particular concern.
With practices in major centres in South Africa, SRK Consulting (SA) maintains a strong presence across Africa – with an extensive list of projects and an office presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana.
“What drives our momentum in Africa is our clients – who may be from anywhere in the world; we go wherever they do,” says van Zyl.
“We rely on high-quality local expertise wherever possible, and apply our global best practice standards wherever we operate.”
The integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to its projects is further enhanced by SRK’s ability to draw the best expertise from any of its offices around the world. This means clients benefit from a global experience base where the best solutions are shared.
“The range of sectors we work in – from mining, infrastructure and water to energy and environment – give us the capacity to deliver a fully integrated service on projects,” he concludes.