The Challenges of Developing and Operating an Underwater Mine
- Steve Searle (IHC Marine and Mineral) | Hans Smit (IHC Marine and Mineral Projects)
- Document ID
- Offshore Technology Conference
- Offshore Technology Conference, 2-5 May, Houston, Texas, USA
- Publication Date
- Document Type
- Conference Paper
- 2011. Offshore Technology Conference
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The paper provides an overview of the many challenges facing prospective underwater mining ventures and an overview of processes which have been proven to be successful in overcoming these challenges. The paper is based on 15 years of practical consulting and project experience working with a diverse set of clients and client needs. The information provided will be beneficial to business and project managers involved with exploration and for new mineral resources and underwater sampling and mining systems development.
Underwater mining has been practiced for centuries, but in recent times we have seen both success and failure. As land based resources diminish and technology developments progress, underwater mining has become increasingly accepted as a viable alternative source of minerals to land based resources. Successful operations are built on sound system identification and development processes of the resource, the equipment and the management processes. It is becoming increasingly important to not only focus on the technical solutions but also the system acquisition processes and subsequent operations management of underwater mines to ensure sustainable success.
In order to initiate a sound acquisition process it is necessary to develop a comprehensive set of system requirements which will satisfy the business need. Together with these requirements it is also crucial to gather sufficient geotechnical information to enable mining tool design.
It is equally important to be aware of and manage the regulatory and environmental aspects during the development process. The process of licensing and approval can take years, and as such, it is necessary to initiate these processes very early in the mine development cycle. Mines within the exclusive economic zones are governed by the coastal nations legislation, and mines beyond that are governed by the International Seabed Authority.
System acquisition requires a structured approach to ensure successful identification, selection and development. Due to the relatively recent and progressive move into underwater mining there are few ‘off the shelf' solutions and as such it must be accepted that there will be some level of development in most if not all underwater mining projects. Challenges include clients unfamiliar with the underwater mining environment, lack of geotechnical information, ore-body variability, reliance on research and development, early investment requirements during the project cycle, and limited benchmarking opportunities. Specific project implementation and operations challenges are in many cases similar to the offshore industry. Challenges include space and weight constraints, implementation in foreign countries, and complex integration of marine, mining and beneficiation plant equipment on highly congested work sites.
Mining is by nature a harsh working environment for both people and equipment. A thorough development process of both the resource and the mining systems, and sufficient investment in personnel and equipment can however mitigate the risks and set resource license holders up for many years of profitable operations.
|File Size||2 MB||Number of Pages||7|