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Archive for February, 2008

The Fraser Institute issues a report each year based on interviews with miners to rank countries on whether they are good or bad places to mine.  As an investor this should be required reading. For example at SME I heard two distinctly divergent opinions about investment in mining in Africa from two equally informed people. 

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At the SME we heard lot about China and mining.  Here is a report we did not hear about from  Metal Minings News,  an interesting blog.  This proposal surely sets a new baseline for mining?

China’s biggest aluminum company, Chinalco, plans to buy up all the houses in a Peruvian mountain town and relocate 5,000 people to make space for its giant Toromocho copper project in the Andes Mountains, officials said.

Chinalco, or Aluminium Corp of China Ltd is promising to build a new house for each family it relocates and install water and sewage systems in the new town. The existing town of Morococha, situated near old mines, lacks clean water and is polluted, officials said.

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Back in Vancouver after Salt Lake City and the SME meeting, and to a lunch of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM)–a presentation on Hard Creek Nickel and why their share price has plummeted in the past twelve months.   And back to the strangeness of the news and the pronouncements of politicians on issues that may affect mining.  The news item that most alarmed me opens thus:

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday the United States should not reopen talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement as the two U.S. Democratic presidential hopefuls have proposed.  Harper warned that renewed talks would give Canada the chance to renegotiate the pact so that it is more favorable to his country.  “If any American government chose to make the mistake of reopening that we would have some things we would want to talk about as well,” Harper said.  Trade minister David Emerson said Wednesday it would be unwise for the U.S. to renegotiate NAFTA because the US has a good deal when it comes to access to Canada’s oil.

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One of the benefits to the techno-nerd of attending a conference is the view of the currents and flow of technology.  You get a unique view of what people are doing in remote laboratories, research institutes, and mine planning offices.  And hence you may perceive the future that will dominate mining in years to come.  Here are my nominees for the things that will make mining different in the future to what it is today:

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It is always fun to sit in on those conference presentations where the speakers tell tales of corruption and incompetence and reveal their successes and failures while selling their services.  Three presentations this morning emphasized these lessons learnt while telling fascinating tales:

B. Glass of Gallagher & Kennedy told us how to avoid falling foul of aggressive enforcement of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Seems mining companies have been and are falling foul of the basic provision: do not bribe foreign locals for the SEC and other enforcement agencies will get you.

E. Hiser of Jorden Bischoff & Hiser told us how to avoid the perils of the federal New Source Review regulations which illogically seem designed to force a new permitting round every time you touch a mine facility that potentially emits into the air.

K. Fabricant of Akerman Senterfitt told us who to negotiate with regulators such as those at the EPA who can make or break your mine by with-holding or granting the permits and permission you need to mine. 

These three lawyers are to be congratulated for their courage in standing before a group of miners and telling them to obey the law or else.  Regardless they impressed me enough to say that if I were faced with any of the issues they addressed, I would phone them up immediately for help. 

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The technical sessions of the SME meeting in Salt Lake City that I sat in on this afternoon perfectly capture the past, present, and future of mining.  First the future:  Kay Sever President of OptimiZ Consulting spent the whole afternoon on process optimization in mining.  She gave her mini-course at the invitation of Young Leaders group of the SME.  And her course was well packed with young mining engineers–I must have been the only person in attendance over the age of thirty.  She ably presented them the theory and practice of wringing the most profit and optimum performance out of a mine by applying the principles of quality management and control.  If the young miners in attendance are harbingers of the future of mining, things will not be business as usual as these folk take over.  Change is in the air. 

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The SME meeting in Salt Lake City kicked into top gear this morning with a magnificent and insightful Keynote address by Douglas B. Silver, Chariman and CEO, International Royalty Corporation, Engelwood, Colorado. Magnificent in that for nearly two hours he kept the filled hall enthralled with a witty, entertaining talk about the mineral supercycle, past, present and future.  Insightful in that he captured in his talk all the issues, hopes, and fears of miners, mine investors, and the public affected by mining. 

We will have to await publication of his talk as a paper in the SME magazine–and don’t miss it when it comes out.  Here are but a few of the many points he made that stuck in my mind:

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The rowdiest and most lively room this evening at the SME in Salt Lake City was the Student Mixer in the Hilton Hotel.  The future leaders of the mining industry gathered to drink–and the drink lines were long–and talk.  I wondered in as part of a small role CostMine had in supplying the students with cost data to solve the competition problem set them as sponsored by a long list of quarry operators and suppliers.  As best I can tell the fifteen competing mining schools were asked to plan the opening of a new quarry in California–and we all know what an mining-unfriendly state that is. 

The winning school was Virginia Tech and we celebrate for their success–they deserve all the good they can get.  Second was Reno and third South Dakota School of Mines.  I am told this is the first time they entered the competition and they did extra-ordinarily well. 

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Salt Lake City and a savage storm bearing down black on the city.   We are safely (we presume) esconced in the Salt Palace, another of those endless conference centers where at five pm the Society of Mining Engineers Annual Conference kicks off. 

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Holocene man (and woman and children) learnt to survive melting glaciers, a warming earth, rising seas, and the onset of agriculture, mining, organized religion, and industry. Now the Holocene is ended and we pass into a new geological age.  What an extraordinary thought that we have lived through the end of an epoch to enter another. 

It is not yet entirely clear what the new epoch is called–most likely it will be the Anthropocene.  Here is a bit on where the name comes from:

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