Mining matters brought to the fore

Materials World magazine
,
1 Nov 2008
Channel sampling from Ana East in Turkey

Finex 2008 lived up to its eponymous title by highlighting the advances made in exploration and the financial support that has led to London, UK, regaining its role as one of the world’s great mining capitals.

The timing of the two-day conference, held from 23-24 September in the capital, was not planned to coincide with the current economic crisis, but served to emphasise the generic link between exploration and finance. Since 2006, junior companies have accounted for more than 50% of the global exploration expenditure (US$10.8bln in 2007), according to the Metals Economics Group’s annual survey.

Investor confidence is paramount and a number of presentations from junior companies reflected the new financial difficulties with raising credit, including equities. According to Christopher Goss of the International Finance Corporation, 72% of AIM-listed explorers are trading within 25% of a 52-week low.

Richard Chase, Head of Mining at Ambrian Partners, in London, reiterated the problem and predicted that the present crisis would trigger further consolidation within the sector, offering those with cash the opportunity to acquire good assets from companies that are unable to raise additional finance.

However, the difference this time, according to John Meyer, of investment bank Fairfax IS plc, London, is that a lack of credit is not reflected in the demand for copper, nickel, iron ore, or gold. With the high demand from India and China continuing, the positive demand/supply will ensure a buoyant market for commodities and those mining companies strong enough to weather the storm.

Technology talks

Meanwhile, despite some commentators decrying the lack of recent major finds, new technology is on hand. Kitty Hall, CEO of surveying company ARKeX, based in Cambridge, UK, illustrated the advances made in airborne gravity surveys. They can distinguish minute differences in the earth’s gravity field caused by geological features such as buried kimberlites.

Bob Foster, CEO of Stratex International plc, in London, explained how his company is developing a model of gold mineralisation in Turkey by emplacing the Tertiary-dated collision of the African plate with the European and Asian continent in definitive time zones that can be isotopically dated.

Skills shortage

The final session focused on the skills gap. John Thompson, Vice President of Technology and Development at Teck Cominco in Vancouver, Canada, illustrated the effects within the industry caused by poor career prospects in the 1990’s and low salaries. In that decade metal prices were low.

Consequently we have a demographic profile of many at or near retirement age. There are few in the 30-40 age bracket who will be future managers.

According to Thompson, the Canadian industry currently employs 85,000. The boom in the Athabasca oil shale industry will require another 55,000 employees over the next ten years. There are therefore plenty of jobs for graduates in mining engineering and geology worldwide, and the above demographics will mean fast promotion.

Chris Carlin, of Anglo American, agreed. The gap may have to be made up by returning retirees ‘on the hill not over it,’ he said. One point he made was the lack of field experience in today’s graduates, caused by a combination of funding and health and safety concerns at universities.

Further information: All the presentations, including sound recordings, are available on www.londonfinex.com. The event was organised by the Applied Earth Science Division of IOM3 in association with the Association of Mining Analysts, the Irish Association for Economic Geology and the Mineral Deposit Study Group of The Geological Society.