Why is developing a new mine so difficult?
John P. Sykes
Centre for Exploration Targeting
Department of Mineral & Energy E...
By contrast, Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde (2010) question the economic viability of the resource itself. As large
and grow...
To begin answering the question of why new mines are so difficult to discover and develop, the author draws
from his exper...
recognised periods of value growth during a mine project’s development – one during exploration, and another as
the projec...
The Alchemy of Growth (Baghai, Coley, and White 1999) describes these horizons and then attributes names to
failure on eac...
This area of development then becomes the most tricky with companies from both ends of the industry trying to
avoid doing ...
Figure 9: A ‘progress bowtie’ for global
copper mine projects, extended from the
‘progress triangle’ in Figure 8 showing
t...
industry as possible, the ground and type of deposit has important implications on the nature, cost and viability of
waste...
may be dealing with the “exploration search space” better than the minerals sector (Hronsky 2009b, 30-31;
McCuaig et al. 2...
Sykes and Trench 2013; Trench 2012a; Kreuzer, Etheridge, and Guj 2007), so the corporate risk is high at all
stages. Simil...
Footnotes
1 American author (1883-1970) who wrote “Think and Grow Rich” (Hill 1937) one of the first and best selling self...
Coyle, Jackey. 2013. Resources: Stay or Go? The Strategic Super Investor, 74-76.
Crowson, Phillip. 2012. "Some Observation...
———. 2009d. "Our Prosperity Depends on Finding Fresh Resources." The Australian, 12 October. 26
Hronsky, Jon, and Jeff Wel...
Moore, Geoffrey A. 1999. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream
Customers. New York, ...
———. 2012a. "Class of 2011: A Continued Focus on Australian Gold for Ipos. ." Centre for Exploration
Targeting Quarterly N...
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Why is developing a new mine so difficult? - Oct 2013 - John P. Sykes - Centre for Exploration Targeting / Curtin University / University of Western Australia

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Globally there are problems in bringing new mine capacity on stream. With little new ‘greenfields’ exploration taking place at this time, the pipeline of high-quality mine projects is not being replenished. The problem for the mining industry is that minerals exploration takes place over long timescales, however, “success” is judged along much shorter timescales. Addressing this paradox is a challenge for all in minerals exploration management. This study has sought to address this topic by building on the author’s tacit knowledge, gained through experience in the mining industry, combined with a review of the business management and strategy literature. Emergent from this research are multiple ways for examining mining industry problems and a new approach to developing high-level strategies for facilitating minerals exploration.

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Why is developing a new mine so difficult? - Oct 2013 - John P. Sykes - Centre for Exploration Targeting / Curtin University / University of Western Australia

  1. 1. Why is developing a new mine so difficult? John P. Sykes Centre for Exploration Targeting Department of Mineral & Energy Economics Curtin Graduate School of Business Curtin University of Technology Perth, Western Australia and School of Earth and Environment University of Western Australia Perth, Western Australia Email: johnpaul.sykes@postgrad.curtin.edu.au Abstract Globally there are problems in bringing new mine capacity on stream. With little new ‘greenfields’ exploration taking place at this time, the pipeline of high-quality mine projects is not being replenished. The problem for the mining industry is that minerals exploration takes place over long timescales, however, “success” is judged along much shorter timescales. Addressing this paradox is a challenge for all in minerals exploration management. This study has sought to address this topic by building on the author’s tacit knowledge, gained through experience in the mining industry, combined with a review of the business management and strategy literature. Emergent from this research are multiple ways for examining mining industry problems and a new approach to developing high-level strategies for facilitating minerals exploration. Keywords: mining industry, minerals exploration, management strategies Background Over the last decade, several mineral commodity prices have reached real term historical highs not seen in half a century (Jacks 2013), as shown in Figure 1. The high prices are due to rapidly increasing demand from China as the country undergoes an industrial revolution (Crowson 2013; Meilton 2013; Larkin 2013; Tilton 2013; Trench 2013b; Schodde 2011; Sykes 2011; Banks 2010). A limited supply-side response has also helped support prices, with several sources highlighting weaknesses in mine supply as a contributing factor (Coyle 2013; Meilton 2013; Mudd, Weng, and Jowitt 2013; Crowson 2012; Schodde 2011; Sykes 2011; Cook 2010; Duckworth et al. 2009; Duckworth and Sykes 2009; Duckworth et al. 2008; Duckworth and Sykes 2008). Figure 1. Cumulative Changes in Prices Relative to the Long-Run Trend Commodity Cumulative change in price from 1950 Copper 24.04% Nickel 39.00% Chromium 206.01% Iron Ore 34.80% Manganese 77.11% Potash 26.72% Gold 206.05% Silver 123.68% Metal and mineral commodities with half century real price highs selected from Jacks (2013) In response to higher prices there has been substantial growth in “mineral resources” both globally (Mudd, Weng, and Jowitt 2013) and within Australia (Geoscience Australia 2010; Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde 2010). Despite substantial resources growth, very limited new mine capacity has started up. Most production increases have come from brownfields projects (expansions of currently operating mines) or the scrap market (ICSG 2012). Only a few new medium or large mines have entered production in the last decade for the majority of commodities. Several authors now state that there are sufficient mineral resources for decades of production (Mudd, Weng, and Jowitt 2013; Tilton and Lagos 2007), as summarised in Figure 2. These authors hypothesise that the restraint of new mine supply is not a lack of discoveries, but problems in development. Mining as an industry is thus, ‘development constrained’ rather than ‘discovery constrained’. Mudd, Weng, and Jowitt (2013) for example, state “social, economic and environmental” factors will determine the successful development of copper mine projects, whilst Tilton and Lagos (2007) highlight the importance of new extraction technologies, again for copper mine projects.
  2. 2. By contrast, Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde (2010) question the economic viability of the resource itself. As large and growing as it is; substantial portions of it may not be “economic under current or immediately foreseeable circumstances”. They contend that the concept of “mineral resources” may “provide a potentially misleading perspective on the future health of Australia’s precious and base metals mining industry”. This may partly be due to fact that the various reporting codes do not require economic studies on “mineral resources”. For example, the JORC code (2012) that governs minerals companies in Australia only requires “reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction”. These rules are based on the global CRISCO (2013) template, so are also seen in other countries reporting codes, such as NI 43-101 in Canada (Canadian Institute of Mining 2011). Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde (2010) therefore conclude that the mining industry is ‘discovery constrained’ rather than ‘development constrained’ – the exploration industry has failed to provide suitably ‘developable’ projects for the mining industry. They highlight the “disconnect between the very short term focus of the risk capital market compared to the longerterm gestation period required for well-conceived greenfields exploration programmes” as one of the most “significant contributing factors” to the “decline in greenfields discovery rates”. A challenge presents itself to help the exploration industry discover deposits that are more ‘developable’ – that have a greater chance of being economic within timescales acceptable to the wider financial industry. This paper attempts to develop a high-level strategy for approaching minerals exploration, with a focus on discovering deposits, which can be developed rapidly. Research philosophy and methodology Figure 2. Years of reserves until depletion based on current mine production Commodity Years until depletion Copper 40.0 years Nickel 35.7 years Chromium >19.2 years Iron Ore 56.7 years Manganese 39.4 years Potash 279.4 years Gold 19.3 years Silver 22.5 years Calculations based on USGS 2013 estimates of global reserves and mine production, from Edelstein (2013), Kuck (2013), Papp (2013), Tuck (2013), Corathers (2013), Jasinski (2013) and George (2013a, 2013b) The clash described in the background, between the technical part of the mining industry and financial part is covered by the field of mineral economics. Although mineral economics is an applied area of economics, it has its roots in engineering economics (Maxwell and Guj 2013b) so draws from applied techniques of both economics and the technical industries. This has previous been described as mineral economics with an ‘M’ drawing from the technical industry and with an ‘E’ drawing from the field of economics (Trench 2012b). Both groups therefore bring their techniques to field. Similarly, mineral economics research is usually completed by those within academia and those from industry, often with a consultancy background. The two foremost textbooks on mineral economics thus come from each of these camps, Maxwell and Guj (2013a) from academia (and Curtin University) and Runge (1998) from the mining engineering consultancy industry. Again then, techniques from both academia and industry are brought to bear in mineral economics. Both economics and the science of the minerals industry have their roots in narrative (observational) and hermeneutic (interpretative) research. The combination of narrative (observational) research combined with hermeneutics (interpretation) is common across academia. It parallels with geology, which is described as a “historical science” (along with palaeontology and cosmology), rather than one driven by the scientific method (Frodeman 1995). Geology is founded on natural history and the mapping and observations of Enlightenment and Victorian geologists (Frodeman 1995) such as James Hutton (Repcheck 2004) and William Smith (Winchester 2002). Usually such work forms the basis of the subject upon which quantitative modelling is then completed, which employs the hypothesis driven scientific method (Frodeman 1995; Comet 1996). This approach is similar to that in economics, where the earliest works focused on narrative and hermeneutic research into economic history, such as Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776) or the “political-economy” (Ricardo 1817), before more quantitative approaches where eventually developed (Samuelson 1947), which became “economics” (Dasgupta 2007) as opposed to “economic history” (Allen 2011). Comet (1996) highlights the power of narrative and hermeneutic research methods in understanding complex systems. Such an approach is therefore also likely to be fruitful in the investigation of the ‘mine system’ and best strategy for explorationists to navigate it. From an industry research perspective, this methodology is also the philosophical underpinning of the standard approach of management consultancy, whereby historical trends are analysed and interpreted, before completing modelling on this most important components and presenting conclusions (Linneman and Kennell 1977). Generally, the practice of disaggregating a problem and focusing on the most important components is an important tool in understanding the general theoretical relationships across a problem and beginning to tackle it (Trench 2013a; Sykes 2013b; Friga 2009; Linneman and Kennell 1977).
  3. 3. To begin answering the question of why new mines are so difficult to discover and develop, the author draws from his experience as a geologist and a management consultant and attempts to disaggregate and then build a theoretical framework of the problem, based on observations of the industry and interpretations of it and the literature about the industry. Wasting assets and limited exploration search space The first aspect of the problem is defining the area in which it exists. The mining industry has some unusual economic and strategic constraints in comparison to other industry sectors. Firstly, the industry’s assets waste over time, mines become depleted and exhausted, therefore a new supply of mines is constantly required to replace those that become exhausted. This is in addition to the new mines that would be required to grow the industry. Secondly, the mining industry is drawing from a limited pool of potential assets. All the mineral deposits available to mankind have already formed and exist on earth. New deposits cannot be made, no more than mines run for infinity. The exploration industry therefore constantly needs to discover deposits amongst this finite number. Jon Hronsky defines the space available for the exploration industry to explore in as the “exploration search space” (Hronsky 2009c). This “exploration search space” is enormous. It transcends not just three dimensions (go further, go deeper) but further non-physical dimensions, such as changes in scientific understanding, commodity prices or new technology, which change which deposits can and cannot be discovered and mined. With such a large conceptual volume explorationists can become overwhelmed with choice, resulting in ‘reactivity’ rather than ‘proactivity’. Having the industry act upon them, rather than the other way around – chasing the next ‘hot commodity’ or latest ‘new frontier’. This is one of the two broad exploration strategies: hunting in “elephant country”, following the industry into areas where major mineral deposits have already been discovered (Hronsky and Welborn 2013). In chasing the pack it can appear there are only limited options, as all the ‘best ground’ has been taken. With such apparent limited options, decisions become ‘opportunity driven’. Strategy is dictated by opportunity, rather than the other way around. Explorationists can find themselves exploring for a given commodity in a given region not because of their confidence in the economic fundamentals of the former or the mineral prospectivity of the latter, but because these were the tenements they were able to acquire and their investors are compelling them to do something. This tendency to do something rather than being seen to be doing nothing is known as “active inertia” (Sull 1999). This is a problem in an industry with so much “misfortune disguised as opportunity” to misquote Napoleon Hill1. To avoid this situation, Hronsky and Welborn (2013) advocate a second exploration strategy, which has a greater chance of discovering major mineral deposits – to be a “first mover”. The “exploration search space” concept means that you have to be amongst the first in a new space to be successful, as the best mineral deposits in any given space are usually discovered first (Hronsky 2009c). Importantly, by definition, this new deposit will not yet exist on a map so will have to be derived conceptually. So how might the minerals industry go about opening up new search space for more developable, high quality mine projects, rather than reacting to industry trends? Beginning with the end in mind This situation of reactivity rather than proactivity is seen well beyond the minerals exploration sector, affecting people in all aspects of business and in their daily lives. So how does one deal with the situation? This subject is perhaps most famously addressed by Steven Covey, with his second habit in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989) being to “Begin with the End in Mind”. In this book, Covey infamously asks you to imagine going to your own funeral three years into the future and listening to the eulogies of four mourners: a family member, a friend, a work colleague and someone representing your voluntary interests. He asks you to imagine what they would say about your life and values, and then suggests using these to shape your decisions going forward in life. So perhaps exploration managers should be envisaging the end of their exploration campaign and considering what four stakeholders might have to say about it – perhaps an investor, an employee, a government official and someone from the local community? Loosely this could be interpreted as asking, do all stakeholders believe value has been added by the exploration programme? But what does “beginning with the end in mind” look like in minerals exploration? An exploration project itself ultimately has only one successful outcome: development into a mine. However, there are generally two
  4. 4. recognised periods of value growth during a mine project’s development – one during exploration, and another as the project comes into production (Cook 2010), as described in Figure 3. This means from the point of view of the owning company it actually has two options, developing the project itself: ‘Explore and Develop’ or to sell the project onto another company, that will then develop the project, or at least believes it can: ‘Explore and Sell’ (often known as ‘project generation’). Figure 3: Life-cycle of a mine project showing two periods of value adding: The first during exploration and the second as development is completed and mining begins (Cook 2010). Either way the project must be ‘discoverable’, ‘developable’ and ‘mineable’. This space is best envisaged as a Venn diagram, where the circles overlap for a successful project (Figure 4). Figure 4: A successful mine project must pass through discovery, development and into mining. It must therefore be “discoverable”, “developable” and “mineable”. Other projects may then only have two overlapping success spaces and are then not viable:  Discoverable & developable: but not a viable mine. These projects unfortunately tend to be identified only at the mining stage. At its extreme the entire mine project can fail and the owner can collapse. More usually the project fails to perform as planned and never makes the expected financial return. Major issues with socio-political strife or environmental damage would also count as a failure of ‘mineability’.  Discoverable & mineable: but not developable. Such projects tend to get stuck in the ‘economics’ phase, being too tricky to push into production. Problems can involve sourcing the finance, market entry issues, hiring enough labour or professionals or gaining government permits.  Developable & mineable: but not discoverable i.e. you cannot find these type of projects. This may refer to theoretically desirable mineral deposits, that do not exist in the real world, or deposits with parameters that no longer exist anymore as they have all being mined. This three-stage theory has some business parallels with the “Three Horizons of Growth” (Figure 5) that was the core of “Alchemy of Growth”, an influential strategy bestseller by McKinsey consultants Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley and David White (1999). The three horizons are essentially short, medium and long term, with Horizon 1 (short) extending core businesses, Horizon 2 (medium) building new businesses and Horizon 3 (long) creating viable options. One of the important aspects of the theory is that businesses must be active and successful on all horizons (Coley 2009).
  5. 5. The Alchemy of Growth (Baghai, Coley, and White 1999) describes these horizons and then attributes names to failure on each horizon. Allan Trench (2013c, 2007) has converted this into mining industry terms by describing the minerals business processes involved in each horizon. The failures and mining processes are summarised below:  Horizon 1: Operating mines – investing in and optimising mines; as well as acquiring other mines. Companies that fail on this horizon but are nonetheless good at horizons 2 & 3 have “lost the right to grow”.  Horizon 2: In-house project pipeline – developing new mines (and acquiring advanced mine projects). Companies failing on this horizon can be described as “running out of steam”.  Horizon 3: Portfolio of options – including the exploration portfolio, joint ventures, minority interests and secret acquisition targets. Again, companies failing in this area can be described as “lacking significant upside”. Figure 5: McKinsey’s “Three Horizons of Growth” outlined in “The Alchemy of Growth” (Baghai, Coley, and White 1999). A mining industry version of these horizons was created by Allen Trench (2013c, 2007) In essence the “today” is mining, “tomorrow” is development projects and the “long term” is greenfields exploration. Miners are perhaps most commonly accused of not considering the latter – long term greenfields exploration (Schodde and Guj 2012; Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde 2010), as the long temporal horizon is the least conducive with an ever shorter quarterly outlook by investors (Hronsky 2009b, 2009d, 2009a). bringing us back to the paradox of the very short term pressures of the finance industry and the long-term approach needed by the exploration industry (Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde 2010). Differing incentives of industry actors The result of this situation is perhaps that mining companies believe the ‘exploration’ side of the industry can do the long term, as their “Horizons of growth” are the opposite – first explore (today), then develop (tomorrow) and then mine (future). This way focus is going into both ends of the industry’s horizons. However, this raises two problems. Firstly, the explorers suffer the same lack of long-term vision as the miners. From a business perspective, even though it may appear exploration companies are ‘long-term’ by nature, they are just as short-term as the miners (if not more so, as they lack steady cash flow from mining operations). Exploration companies are focused on ‘exploring’, not the ultimate mine. In the short-term, it does not matter if an exploration project can viably become a mine, as long as it can be used to raise equity, or sold to a company that ‘thinks’ it can develop the project (or perhaps just raise even more equity). In the end, there is a risk that explorers end up looking for projects the miners do not want and the miners end up waiting around for a project that no one is trying to find. In this case the ‘explore and sell’ model essentially breaks down (Guy et al. 2012). The solution appears to be for explorers to develop their own projects, or for miners to do their own exploration. However, explorers are generally financially constrained so this will not lead to the development of new major world class mines. Similarly, major mining companies may be less interested in exploring marginal areas or considering innovative new search space, both of which ultimately are important to the mining industry. Perhaps the solution is for the industry as a whole to develop an understanding of what ‘discoverable’, ‘developable’ and ‘mineable’ actually are. Companies at one end of the industry (explorers) can then understand how to discover and either develop or sell such deposits, and companies at the other end of the industry (miners) can understand how to discover them or just recognise and buy them. The second problem with the idea of explorers focusing on Horizon 3 and miners on Horizon 1, means that both are less focused on Horizon 2, the medium term, development stage. This can only make what appears to be the most challenging stage of mining growth more difficult as a lack of focus combines with the highest levels of corporate risk (Trench and Packey 2012), as described in Figure 6.
  6. 6. This area of development then becomes the most tricky with companies from both ends of the industry trying to avoid doing it. This means that the theoretical ‘development’ space in the Venn diagram is much smaller than either the ‘exploration’ and ‘mining’ spaces (Figure 7), as companies have less flexibility to operate with. Figure 6: The evolution of risk during mine project development. As the project is advanced it is technically de-risked. However, during the development and construction stage there is a high level of corporate risk, as project debt is acquired for construction, but cash flows from mining have not yet begun (Trench and Packey 2012). Figure 7: Over time the ‘spaces’ for ‘mineable’, ‘developable’ and ‘discoverable’ will increase and decrease in size, as the industry itself changes and external factors affect the industry. In this situation the ‘developable space’ has shrunk, increasing the number of ‘undevelopable’ projects. The principle of “Barriers to Entry” (Hindle 2008, 13) means that it is more difficult to bring a mine into production than to operate one, thus there are many different versions of successful mining strategies, but much more limited development options. Similarly, from the exploration end of the industry, there are many exploration projects that have no real chance of ever being developed into a mine. Few projects will exist merely as a ‘development concept’. This is represented by the industry project data, which is frequently shown as a triangle or arrow, with many exploration projects, grading into just a few projects a construction stage, be this within a company’s portfolio or across the whole industry, as demonstrated in Figure 8 for the global copper industry (Infomine 2013). Figure 8: A ‘progress triangle’ for global copper mine projects, demonstrating how many projects are each stage. Generally there are far more projects at an earlier stage of development, as the development and de-risking process eliminates uneconomic projects. Focusing on Horizon 2 What is commonly not shown is the next part of the triangle – representing operating mines. The number is much larger than those in development. To continue the temporal evolution, by definition there are more mines that have operated, than are operating, represented by a substantial cohort of closed mines. One environmental activist, Richard Manning estimates some 557,650 abandoned mines in the USA alone (Manning 1998, 146; Ali 2010, 187). This turns the triangle in to a kind of ‘bowtie’ (Figure 9). The development point is therefore a niche point and is the difficult point through which all properties must pass. The point exists in only a small period of space-time, reflecting the how and when of successful project execution.
  7. 7. Figure 9: A ‘progress bowtie’ for global copper mine projects, extended from the ‘progress triangle’ in Figure 8 showing that there are far more projects at the exploration and ‘post-development’ stages. Thus the ‘development’ stage is a kind of niche point, with very few projects in that space at any given time. This then is one way of very rapidly narrowing down the conceptual “exploration search space” (Hronsky 2009c) as described in the opening paragraphs. By trying to consider what sort of project can be viably developed into a mine the conceptual exploration search space narrows quickly. This also partly explains the mining industry’s frustration when it comes to trying to find viable projects to purchase, as the ‘mineable’ space is much larger than the ‘development’ space, and thus by just looking at today’s viable (and even world class) mines you will not necessarily understand what makes a viable development project. Both because the success factors for development and mining are different and because the success factors themselves change over time, as mine projects may take decades to develop (Sykes and Trench 2012; Kettle, Sykes, and Staffurth In press). More interestingly the technique can be used to guide innovation and policy change in the minerals exploration sector. If the ‘developable’ and ‘mineable’ space does not plot back onto the current exploration search space for a given commodity or country then, no progress in minerals development can be made. One solution to this would be to open up new search space upon which the ‘developable’ and ‘mineable’ space plots, through innovation in exploration technology (or mining or processing technology) or policy change in the regime. Figure 10: How the theoretical ‘development space’ plots onto the theoretical ‘exploration space’ and ‘mineable space’. As the ‘development space’ is the smallest, minerals explorers should try and explore in space that is ‘developable, explorable and mineable’ whereas buyers needs to focus on projects that are ‘developable and mineable’. Innovation and policy approaches should try and open up new ‘development space’. This development paradox has been recognised in other aspects of business. Geoffrey Moore (2007) has for example addressed McKinsey’s 3 Horizons of Growth and highlighted the ‘medium term’ as the most difficult horizon based on previous experience in the marketing of high technology products (Moore 1999). Moore, in discussion with the one of the original authors of the idea highlighted that this stage probably has at least one more extra stage and that this stage usually involves a significant change in geography, technology of corporate focus (Baghai 2007). Similarities with the multiple stage gating of mine projects (scoping, prefeasibility, feasibility etc) and the new geographic, technical and corporate challenges that are presented to their owners are clear here. Sustainable mining? The discussion of the large number of abandoned mines brings a further horizon to the mine life cycle that has to be considered at the exploration stage – closure. The philosophy of “beginning with the end in mind” would mean finishing with the successful closure of the mine. Whilst this may seem about as far from the exploration
  8. 8. industry as possible, the ground and type of deposit has important implications on the nature, cost and viability of waste management and closure options of mines, and thus the ‘mineability’ of a project. There is a paradox in the mining industry when it comes to the closure of mines. Whilst there are many hundreds of thousands of closed mines around the world, there are very few successfully closed mines around the world – at least in part because a major consideration of the importance of mine closure was only introduced in the mid20th century, yet mines have operated throughout human history. The US mine clean-up superfund being evidence of this, where billions of dollars are spent cleaning up old mine sites (Ali 2010, 187). From an economic point of view there are two fundamental anomalies with mine closure that have made it tricky. Firstly, closed mines do not provide any financial return so are not an attractive investment, and secondly because mine closure is the only part of the mine life cycle that is not dictated by its own economics. Deposits are discovered because they can be found, projects are developed because they can be built and mines are operated because they can be run, however mines are not closed because they can be, but because the mining has finished. Mining will cease even if it may not be the most opportune time to ‘close’ the mine. This issue has been recognised by industry, governments, environmentalists and local communities; and increasingly mines are designed so they can be ‘closed’ essentially wrapping them into the ‘mining’ stage, where cash flow is still available for works related to closure. From an engineering point of view though, this has created its own unique challenge. Mines have to be closed in such a way that their future impact on the environment is limited “in perpetuity”. To emphasise the point, mining engineers Todd Martin and Kimberly Morrison (2012) compare closed mines to the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Several thousand years later, only one of these unique feats of engineering is still standing (The Great Pyramid of Giza) – closed mines will have to last much longer than this, and they will require considerably more stewardship than is currently given to the Great Pyramid! This essentially infinite period of time places great restraints on what can be done with mine waste and tailings following closure, which in turn will increasingly affect the concept of what a viable mine project is and thus where one should be exploring for deposits. Figure 10: A modification of the Venn diagram in Figure 4, including sustainability. This sees sustainability as a “stage” i.e. creating a sustainable economy post mining. Further adding to the temporal dimension of mine closure is the concept of “sustainability” (Hindle 2008, 179), which has become a major issue in mining (Eggert 2013; Eggert 2001; Marker et al. 2005; ICMM 2003; MMSD 2002; UNECA 2002; Otto and Cordes 2000). This may seem an oxymoron in the context of a non-renewable extractive resource, however the term refers not so much to the sustainability of the local resource itself, but the economy around the mine, during operations and after the mine has closed. The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development defines such “sustainability” as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (1987). Increasingly society will not tolerate post-mining ghost towns and long-term environmental disasters (Ali 2010). To a certain extent though this offers a solution to the problem of closing mines “in perpetuity”, as a viable economy after mining ends can sustain these maintenance costs, whereas an unviable economy will not be able to sustain these costs, outside help will be required and the mine will become a net drain on the future. In the end then an explorer must then look for a deposit that is not only ‘discoverable’, but ‘developable’, ‘mineable’ and ‘sustainable’. Changing value drivers with development stage So how do we begin to address this issue of changing factors over the development timeframe and attempt to plan on all three (or four) horizons at once? The literature on the subject from within mining is fairly limited, however this kind of ‘explore-develop-market’ scenario does exist in other industries, most obviously in the petroleum sector. For example the Centre for Exploration Targeting has previously highlighted petroleum as a sector which
  9. 9. may be dealing with the “exploration search space” better than the minerals sector (Hronsky 2009b, 30-31; McCuaig et al. 2009, 20-21). Further from the extractive sector similar paradigms exist in other industries, most notably in the research and innovation intensive pharmaceuticals (Hronsky 2009c) and high technology industries where much of the more recent work has been completed (Moore 2007, 1999; Nagji and Tuff 2012). Unsurprisingly though some of the most detailed work available in the public domain on changing success factors with development, comes from development economics. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competiveness Report (Schwab 2013) categorises “Twelve Pillars of Competitiveness” that apply to all countries, of which each is made up of further sub-factors (totalling 100 in all). However, whilst the WEF believes all the pillars are important it recognises that some are more significant than others, dependent on the development status of a country. The countries are divided into three development stages and in turn the “pillars” are divided into the areas where they are more influential. For example, “Institutions” are more important in early stage “Factor-driven” economies, whilst “Business Sophistication” is more important in advanced “Innovation-driven” economies. This changing importance of the “factors” or “pillars” through the development period is then translated into each country’s competiveness profile by adjusting the weighting of each pillar dependent on the development stage of the country. For example, basic requirement pillars make up 60% of the weighting for early stage “factor-driven” countries but just 20% for advanced “innovation driven” countries. By weighting countries in this way you can begin to compare the competiveness of countries at different economic development stages, so whilst a country may be less developed than another, if it is more competitive at its stage, it will begin to catch-up with the other country. Such a comparative technique would be useful for exploration portfolio managers considering many different assets, at different stages of development at one time. The WEF report also addresses an issue raised earlier that there might be several development stages rather than just three (Baghai 2007), by classifying transitional economies that are transferring between the three development stages and highlights these countries of particular economic interest. Finally, the WEF also addresses the ‘fourth’ horizon of sustainability highlighted earlier by providing sustainability-adjusted competiveness rankings. As well as understanding how the success ‘factors’ change with development stage, the original authors of the “Three Horizons of Growth” and other business strategists have begun to tackle the issue of how to consider all the horizons at the same time. McKinsey suggests differing performance metrics for each horizon (Coley 2009) financial return for Horizon 1 (short), Net Present Value (NPV) for Horizon 2 (medium) and real options for Horizon 3 (long). The changing assessments of risk and value over the development timeframe are reflected in the shapes of the diagrams in Figures 3 and 6. To a certain extent because the a mineral deposit is a fixed entity that is physically the same at the discovery, as it is at the beginning of mining, much value adding in mine project development is actual de-risking. The two periods of value adding in Figure 3 represent the major periods of de-risking seen in Figure 6 – firstly the geological de-risking during exploration – essentially proving the deposit is physically there. Trench and Packey (2012) refer to this as “technical risk”, whereas Guj (2013b) refers to it as “endogenous risk”. The second period is that “corporate de-risking” to use the terminology of Trench and Packey (2012), requiring the successful use of large amounts of capital to bring the deposit into production. Dealing with the “exogenous risk” (Guj 2013b) or “modifying factors” (CRISCO 2013; JORC 2012; Canadian Institute of Mining 2011) that determine the difference between a mineral deposit and a mine. Horizon 1 or exploration can be seen as ‘probability driven’, about increasing the odds of discovery. Horizon 2 or development would then be ‘corporate risk driven’ – about keeping the company solvent during development. Guj (2013b) therefore recommends two advancements to the standard use of Net Present Value or NPV (Guj 2013a) for evaluating mine projects that deal with these two types of risk. Firstly Expected Monetary Value (Guj 2013b), which factors in the chances of success and the entry cost to the standard NPV calculation and is recommended by Hronsky and Wellborn (2013) at the exploration stage, where probability of discovery is the most important value driver. Guj (2013b) then recommends the use of “Preferred Value” techniques to factor in a company’s ability to handle the risk of progressing through each development stage. This would seem most useful at the development (Horizon 2) stage, when corporate risk is very high. In reality though, corporate risk is present at every stage as although the capital expenditure is low at the exploration stage, most ‘explorers’ are very small – a few million dollars of market capitalisation (Sykes 2013a;
  10. 10. Sykes and Trench 2013; Trench 2012a; Kreuzer, Etheridge, and Guj 2007), so the corporate risk is high at all stages. Similarly, not all projects successfully make it through the development stage (McCarthy 2013), so probability remains important at this stage. In conclusion then it appears that contrary to the view of McKinsey, a “Preferred Value” technique is ‘preferred’ throughout the mine development process. What will occur though is that different components of the “Preferred Value” will become relatively more or less important during project development (probability earlier on, corporate risk later on, present value in between), whilst the calculation remains the same and all components are at least important enough to consider. This matches with the World Economic Forum’s (Schwab 2013) weighted factors discussed earlier for countries at different development stages. Whilst all factors are always under consideration, their relative importance changes at each development stage. Conclusions and further research: Towards a second dimension of time This paper has outlined a high-level strategy for dealing with the paradox that minerals exploration takes place on long timescales, however, ‘success’ is judged along much shorter timescales (Cairns, Hronsky, and Schodde 2010). A review of the business management and strategy literature suggests a number of ways of framing the problem and developing a high-level strategy for moving around and opening up the “exploration search space” (Hronsky 2009c) to more “developable” mine projects. With so many possible ways of moving around and opening up the exploration search space explorationists risk falling into Donald Sull’s (1999) “active inertia” trap of doing the same old thing, just more aggressively. An interpretation of Steven Covey’s (1989) work suggests that in order to narrow the search space and perhaps open up new areas, explorationists should “begin with the end in mind”. By trying to understand what a successful mine project looks like at the exploration, development and mining stages and focusing on the exploration of deposits that are not only exciting at the exploration stage, but also viable at the development and mining stage. This multi-timeframe issue has been addressed by McKinsey through its “Three Horizons of Growth” (Coley 2009; Baghai, Coley, and White 1999), where it advocates attacking on all three horizons at once. The ‘development’ stage is highlighted as a particular area of concern with success dependent on a unique point in space-time and thus this stage acts as a bottleneck for the whole industry. This bottleneck has also been seen in other industries, as highlighted by Geoffrey Moore (Moore 2007, 1999). Further complicating the horizons is that as public awareness of the environmental and socio-political footprint of mining rises, increasingly the sustainability of mining operations will have to be considered in mine design (Martin and Morrison 2012; Ali 2010). Ultimately, this will have an effect on what a viable development and exploration project will look like. Explorationists must therefore seek projects that are ‘discoverable’, ‘developable’, ‘mineable’ and ‘sustainable’. Ultimately, however the tools for navigating the risk and value evolution (Trench and Packey 2012; Cook 2010) along the mine project development stages already exist within the mineral economics fraternity in the use of “Expected Monetary Value” and “Preferred Value” techniques (Guj 2013b). Gratifyingly both conceptual and more analytical explorations of the problem seem to arrive at the same conclusion. Returning to Covey, this is however only the beginning of the end, as two critical areas not addressed in this paper seem to add to the problem of discovering, developable, mineable and sustainable mineral deposits as recommended by this paper. Firstly, the development stages for any given mine occur over different time-periods and thus the factors for success, and therefore the required parameters of the deposit will alter over time. What is ‘mineable’ today may not be tomorrow, so some idea of the future is required. Explorationists must therefore seek projects that are ‘discoverable’, ‘developable’, ‘mineable’ and ‘sustainable’ in the future at ‘some point’. Secondly, work is required on understanding what the factors that affect risk and value in mine project development. What is it that changes the ‘value’ of a project or probability of success or the corporate risk tolerance of a company? Finally, once the observation and interpretation is completed and the conceptual model is in place, empirical data needs to be generated to ground the concept in the real world, in line with the philosophical view point of using observation and interpretation as a foundation for analytical work. Thus, what are the real world parameters (probabilities, capital and operating costs, ore grades etc) of the risk and value modelling techniques? What are the real-word geological parameters of the “exploration search space” (Hronsky 2009c)? In conclusion then perhaps the best metaphor for our mine project development strategy is that of a series of strings that all have become knotted in the middle. A number of starts are known, as are a number of ends, as such there are likely to be several routes to success, however seeing through the knot of problems in the middle, will require a lot of untangling, and perhaps some ideas from outside the minerals sector.
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