Mining is currently undergoing a progressive expansion into novel environments (such as the deep ocean), commodities (such as tantalum, rare earths, and other ‘green economy minerals’), and new methods (such as the autonomous underwater cutting machines required to operate in the deep ocean environment, or the use of expanding grouts to deliver a blast-free mining method).
The advent of novel mining, environments and commodities heralds an era that will undoubtedly start with much discomfort on the part of regulators and stakeholders, due to a feeling of overwhelming uncertainty. These proposed mining scenarios have few precedents, few examples of successful implementation, short baseline monitoring periods, and few examples of legacy sites that may assist with understanding long term risk and exposure.
The evolution of the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) process in many regulatory environments recognises stakeholder engagement in a formal and facilitated manner. This is a positive step, and allows stakeholders to be much more meaningfully involved in the permitting process than they historically were. However, with this advance comes the challenge of identifying and communicating with stakeholders; sharing information in a meaningful way, fostering relationships with what can be an extremely large group, and delivering on commitments that inspire confidence to permit operations that have never been permitted before.
In order to meet this challenge, it is suggested that changes to collection of data, communication of data, the nature of commitments, and the reporting of performance need to be made in order to effectively communicate management of new technologies, and the impacts that mining may have in new environments (such as the deep ocean). The communication challenge is necessarily greater when describing technology that has never been used, or environments that have never previously been accessed by humans on an industrial scale.
Grogan, R L, 2018. Permitting in the face of uncertainty – how to deliver confidence to regulators and investors, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2018, pp 46–48 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).