The mine of the future will be underground, predicts keynote speaker, Peter McCarthy, at the AusIMM Narrow Vein Mining Conference held at Ballarat, in the Australian state of Victoria.
The 20th century was characterized by the development of large open pit, low-cost mines and the general economically based theory of diminishing returns – that prices of commodities would decline over time as costs decline.
Mr McCarthy notes, however, that there is a new theory emerging, reflecting environmental, social and community constraints and volatile risks to capital, as well as low exploration discovery rates (especially of large deposits). This argument forecasts that commodity prices will remain stable, or rise, over time. It envisages mines that are smaller, and have less impact on the environment and local communities by operating underground with a small surface footprint.
The zero discharge mine of the future could be located in an industrial zone with a small surface infrastructure. The development of non-diesel trucking or monorail ore management systems allows for smaller ventilation systems, and a return to 2.5m x 2.5m headings and human-sized operations – additional, smaller operations with underground processing and increased levels of automation.
Mr McCarthy also noted that the most significant change in narrow vein mining methods in the last 50 years has been the development of the radio remote or tele-remote LHD.