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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Minerals 2002 Review

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A Report on the Professional's Day Conference

Minerals 2002 is the name given to an initiative to promote the minerals industry throughout Europe following up the success of Minerals ‘98 which will be best remembered by local communities for the large number of quarry open days. During the year, Minerals 2002 has staged a number of events including a Parliamentary reception in May and a conference on mainland Europe, now postponed until December.

The Professionals’ Day was a one-day conference sponsored by Minerals 2002 but organized by a consortium of professional bodies and trade associations which also constituted the symposium of the annual conference of The Institute of Quarrying. The organizing committee for the Professionals’ Day comprised representatives of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (IMM) (now Institute of Materials, Mining and Metals), Institute of Quarrying (IQ), The Geological Society, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Minerals Engineering Society, Confederation of British Industry, Quarry Products Association, Euromines, Confederation of UK Coal Producers and EPIC. The principal responsibility for the programme of the conference was undertaken by the IMM but the entire event was organized by IQ.

The venue for the conference was the splendid Palladian mansion Shrigley Hall, now a hotel, situated on the boundary of the Peak District within a few miles of Macclesfield in Cheshire. The hotel is unusual in that the main conference facility, a large, vaulted, octagonal room, is a converted place of worship.

More than 220 delegates registered for the conference including Ken Mawson, a former president of The Institute from Australia; Bruce Coghlan, past chairman of the Hong Kong Branch; and Sir Rupert Bromley, former chairman of the South Africa Branch, with his wife, Lady Priscilla. It was also notable that delegates were attracted from as far away as Australia and two speakers had travelled from Ireland and Vancouver respectively.

The Professionals’ Day was arranged as two consecutive sessions. The plenary session in the morning was chaired by Professor Jane Plant, deputy director of the British Geological Survey and president of the IMM. It was intended that speakers in this session would define the challenge faced by the minerals industry in demonstrating sustainability. During the afternoon, representatives of the minerals industry were given the opportunity to describe the way in which the industry was addressing this issue. Three parallel sessions were arranged dedicated to Energy Minerals, Industrial Minerals and Metalliferous Minerals, each under a separate chairman; Tom Colbert of Shell International, Cedric Hollinsworth of Midland Quarry Products, and Jeff Smith of Wardell Armstrong respectively. A final plenary session, during which the session chairmen reported back to the assembled delegates, was chaired by John Hopkins, president of The Institute.

The proceedings began with a welcome and short address by Jane Plant in which she reminded the delegates that less than 1% of land in the UK is affected by ‰ mineral workings whereas about 70% is seriously degraded by agriculture. In contrast, the minerals industry contributes 3% to GDP but agriculture only 1%. She also believed that the minerals industry was making large improvements to its environmental performance. Finally, she was very pleased to see that the industry had sufficient maturity to invite critics, such as Friends of the Earth, to share the platform.

The first speaker was Scott Houston of the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) who set the theme for the rest of the proceedings. Scott began by stating that, despite considerable improvements in environmental performance, the mining industry was still being strongly criticized especially with respect to pollution incidents, historical dereliction, interference with indigenous peoples and cultures and unsustainable activities. Although it was widely acknowledged that minerals are essential to modern society it was necessary to demonstrate the benefits of minerals and show that, wherever possible, minerals products are recyclable. It could be anticipated that the industry would be judged by the worst, not best, practice. In recognition of this situation, the chief executive officers of the major mining companies created the Global Mining Initiative (GMI) in 1999. This was followed by the preparation of the Mining and Minerals Sustainable Development (MMSD) report in Johannesburg and, most recently, the Global Policy Conference in Toronto. The ICMM had been formed especially to promote the mining industry.

Next to speak was Professor David Fisk, senior scientific advisor to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who put sustainability into context for the UK. Professor Fisk reviewed the history of ‘sustainable development’ since the Rio Summit 10 years ago until the most recent World Summit in Johannesburg. The implementation plan that was now emerging involved activities that engaged the whole of civic society rather than actions against others or arguments over definitions. He recalled that many earlier civilizations had failed to achieve sustainability, eg Roman, Mayan, so the issue must be taken seriously. It was very probable that engineering would play a key role in achieving sustainability and he congratulated the mining industry for being ‘ahead of the game’ through the GMI.

David Humphreys, chief economist for Rio Tinto, then described a new framework for sustainable development of mineral extraction. He explained that, historically, exploitation of minerals had been encouraged in poorer countries as a means to achieve economic development and growth. It had been observed, however, that not all countries, especially those in Africa, had benefited as expected. Immature economies had been distorted and society damaged. It had been concluded that economic development models should be replaced by sustainable development models. In the latter, some of the presumptions of economic development, such as ‘trickle down’ of benefits to poorer members of society, were replaced by directed expenditure of revenues, such as poverty alleviation. More notice was taken of local rather than national issues. With good management, the mining industry could demonstrate sustainability through the investment of the wealth created in infrastructure, essential services, transferable skills and a diverse economy.

Geoff Lane, partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, surprised the audience with the information that he was an environmental scientist, not an accountant. He reported on a survey of sustainability of the mining and minerals industry conducted last year. The survey showed that the industry was under a lot of pressure from regulators, employees, media, shareholders and customers to demonstrate sustainability. Insurers required a clear statement and policy on this issue and there was a plethora of indices. At present, most mining companies were concerned with environmental issues but were not fully addressing social issues, life-cycle analysis and impacts on the community. Although it was accepted that it was essential to demonstrate sustainability it was difficult to reflect these other issues in the ‘bottom line’. Generally, there was a failure to communicate the good work that was being done.

Finally, Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, defined his challenges for the minerals industry and society. Charles considered that there were three essential pillars of sustainability, each of which could be defined and implemented — social justice, environmental protection and economic wealth. The objective must be to meet all of the needs of all of the people all of the time, not the needs of some of the people all of the time.

Although minerals are essential he was concerned that developing countries have become the providers of basic raw materials. Historically, the mining industry had a poor record with respect to compliance, safety, pollution and corruption and it was necessary to develop trust. Present-day concerns included invasion of pristine habitats, low-energy efficiency, pollution and waste. In his opinion, the consumption of energy-intensive mineral products, such as metals and cement, must be reduced by between 50% and 90%.

He believed that there was a good business case for sustainable behaviour but stated that government also had the responsibility to police behaviour. More strict enforcement of regulations was necessary to create a ‘level playing field’. Taxation of environmental impact should include exemptions or credits for good performance and NGOs should not demonize the industry.

At this point in the proceedings the delegates broke for lunch and also took the opportunity to visit the exhibitions mounted by suppliers of goods and services to the mining industry.

In the afternoon, the delegates divided between three rooms to listen to speakers representing producers of power and energy minerals, producers of construction materials and producers of metals.

In the session devoted to energy minerals, David Frowd of Shell International predicted the future pattern of the supply of energy based on concerns for ‘global warming’, greenhouse gas emissions and known reserves of fossil fuels. There were two possible scenarios. In the first, the decline in use of fossil fuels, especially coal, would continue with a temporary rise in the use of gas to sustain energy supply while renewable energy sources and biofuels were being developed. A definitive choice will have to be made around 2025 between development of renewables and nuclear power. In the second scenario, a new age is introduced based on hydrogen, the fuel cell and renewables.

Dr Paul Rutter then described the measures that have been taken by BP to substantially reduce the emission of carbon dioxide by their operations. Alec Galloway, managing director of UK Coal Mining, argued that, in the face of low electricity prices and intense competition from imported gas and subsided nuclear power, the UK should maintain production of deep-mined coal. Deep-mined coal is a secure, domestic source and maintains the diversity of supply in the prospect of CO2 sequestration solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Dr Jonathan Cobb, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, made the case for nuclear power generation based on the unsustainable combustion of fossil fuels and the new generation of safe reactors.

Delegates in the metalliferous minerals session listened first to David Whitehead who stated that, despite reduced grades, substantially greater consumption and lower real prices, the mining industry has maintained adequate reserves. Today, he was concerned that mining companies were no longer maintaining reserves owing to the high costs and risk of exploration, strict environmental regulation and general opposition to the activity by society. He was followed by Allan Moss who had flown over from Vancouver to present the paper on behalf of Rio Tinto. He described the role that engineering is playing to meet the higher expectations of society with respect to environmental performance of mining companies. Next, Phil Hurley, Anglo American, described the technological development of mining equipment that was allowing the mining industry to meet increased demand for metals from lower grade ores without substantial real increases in cost.

The last speaker, Professor John Monhemius, Royal School of Mines, reviewed the methods of processing metal ores, especially copper, such as leaching, solvent extraction and electro-winning, that avoided the emission of sulphur dioxide to the environment.

The responses of the producers of industrial minerals, primarily construction aggregates, were made by David Highley, British Geological Survey; Nigel Jackson, Lafarge Aggregates; Ed Reed, Hanson Aggregates; and Alan Sheppard, Tarmac Recycling. David Highley began by showing that environmental considerations are seriously reducing the reserves of workable minerals within the UK. He argued that a better balance must be found between protection of the environment and creation of wealth from indigenous mineral resources.

Nigel Jackson pursued the same theme by asserting that the quarrying industry has been the subject of excessive, unnecessary and ill-informed regulation and taxation to the point where it is becoming difficult to sustain.

Ed Reed then described the measures being taken by Hanson Aggregates to demonstrate sustainability and the session finished with a presentation by Alan Sheppard on recycled aggregates.

In the final plenary session Tom Colbert reported that Shell and BP were agreed over the probable future scenario of power generation. Energy would be available through greater use of low-carbon fuels, new nuclear reactor technology and, in the long term, hydrogen and fuel cells. Jeff Smith claimed that the mining industry could continue to meet the demand for metals but that society may have to pay a premium for environmental engineering. Cedric Hollinsworth reported from the industrial minerals session that the industry needed a credible demand forecast and must improve its management of public relations with respect to achievements in recycling, mitigation of environmental impact and reduction of waste. It was necessary to align and coordinate lobbying and identify a ‘champion’ for the industry to counteract NGOs.

At the dinner and dance later in the evening, delegates and partners donated over £400 to the County Air Ambulance.

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