Mining in West Africa steams ahead despite pandemic
With some of the world’s highest gold grades, the West African mining sector is generally producing well even under Covid-19 conditions – and is relying on explosives companies to maintain supply security and technical assistance through these challenging times.
According to Michael Klaasen – General Manager of West African Operations at explosives and blasting global leader BME, a member of the Omnia group – the Covid-19 pandemic has had minimal effect on its mining clients’ production from a blasting perspective.
“Most mine sites are locked down, with access limited to only certain essential deliveries,” said Klaasen. “Some mines were considering reducing production in the event of a shortage of raw materials, but BME has managed to keep clients blasting during this time with sufficient stocks, continued deliveries and dedicated personnel on sites.”
Borders between countries have remained open to cargo, allowing BME’s supplies to reach customer sites in Mauritania, Mali, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. Goods and raw materials are shipped into Nouakchott in Mauritania, into Dakar in Senegal and into Tema or Takoradi in Ghana.
“Our cross-border channels have allowed BME to keep three months of stock on site, in line with customers’ expectations,” he said.
A number of BME technical personnel have remained on mine sites around the region since the start of the lockdowns in the different countries. In some cases, these personnel have even been able to stand in for mine blasting staff, to ensure that blasting takes place safely. He said BME has applied all the necessary Covid-19 measures required – in line with its own health and safety protocols as well as the customer’s policies and the national regulations for that country.
“This generally includes the wearing of face masks, the use of sanitisers, regular temperature checks and ensuring social distancing,” he said. “Our emulsion trucks are also sanitised before entering mine sites to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.”
In addition to supplying emulsion explosives and electronic detonation systems, BME has also assisted customers in West Africa with blast design using its BLASTMAP software.
“This has been done on-site where possible, as well as on-line when necessary,” said Klaasen. “During the Covid-19 lockdown, this on-line assistance has made a valuable contribution to keeping mine operations up and running.”
Customers are able to send their blast-related data to the BME office in Bamako, Mali, where its technical managers assist mines with the planning of their blasts.
“BLASTMAP allows the blast designs to be conducted anywhere in the world,” he said. “It just requires the relevant information from the customer.”
BME Managing Director Joe Keenan noted that the future will see considerable changes in how suppliers support their mining customers.
“The leveraging of technological innovation to keep mine sites safe and efficient becomes an even more vital imperative for technology providers,” said Keenan.
With Covid-19 restricting access to mines by senior BME management, contact with customers has been maintained by regular cellular and internet communication with various tools such as WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Skype.
Klaasen expected that business would proceed more or less as usual, provided there was no sudden increase in infections – either in the countries where BME is operating or in countries from which it sources raw materials.
“It is important that borders remain open for cargo, as closures could impact the supply of stock to sites or to the regions where customers operate,” he said. “The three-month stock availability that we ensure for customers allows them to see through any temporary disruptions.”
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.