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:
SME has launched and is actively promoting OneMine.org. This is an invaluable effort to put online all the SME publications and other mining writing going back to the late 1800s. This ready availability of so many learned publications will change the way we do research and thinking about mining.
INAP is compiling a new comprehensive best practice guide to acid mine drainage; and this will be freely available in a wiki format. It will surely change the way we deal with acid mine drainage at mines worldwide.
Dr Will Goodall with Intellection is advocating unique methods to characterize the acid generating potential of mine wastes and facilities. This will surely place new demands on mines through permitting and public approval.
Freeport–McMoRan is leading the way with installing command centers that will monitor in real-time everything from tire pressures to vehicle exhaust chemistry and enable white-coated managers to issue immediate instructions to change operations. This will surely change the way we plan, manage, and operate mines.
But there are dangers and reasons to be concerned about these huge changes that are now moving amongst us.
First is the very image and reputation of mining and how a new mine is proposed, supported, or opposed. INAP plans to make their new acid mine drainage wiki encyclopedia freely available to all. They hope to get the support of the mining companies that are paying Golders to compile it, the governments where acid-generating mines will be located, and the NGOs who generally oppose the mines. If they succeed it will be a miracle–a true triumph of hope over reason. But they must succeed for we cannot make this vast store of knowledge a secret, cloistered, member-only accessible information data base. It they were to do that the very reputation of the mining industry would suffer. Free debate and intelligent interaction of opposing parties will be stifled.
Second is the sad fact that OneMine.org is being compiled for the wrong reason: to increase membership of SME. The right reason to compile OneMine.org would be to make freely available to all the world information about mining and hence to promote a free and intelligent debate and analysis of mines, current and proposed. Keeping this resource under raps, available to only a selected few rich people and companies will only reinforce the them-versus-us view of mining as an activity for the benefit of international (and particularly American) companies.
Third, the onset of an even more expensive, learned, technology-based mining method can only make it more difficult for the junior and mid-level mining company to actually mine. While we will all benefit from more efficient mining, restricting actual mining only to the most technologically advance companies will force others to less savory practices. Maybe the industry should join together to make such systems cheaply and readily available and understandable to all. I have not the faintest idea how this is done in a free-market economy.
Maybe the simple answer is to make information more readily available by freedom of access, conferences and more conferences, and debate on blogs like this one. OK, so you do not agree–then e-mail me your perspectives. For we need more than my perspective on this knotty issue.