Mining is a technical field and requires a comprehension of many complex factors.
This includes everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method envisioned and used—and the devil is often found in these technical details.
Part 4: Evaluating Technical Risks and Project Quality
We’ve partnered with Eclipse Gold Mining on an infographic series to show you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.
Here is a basic introduction to some technical and project quality characteristics to consider when looking at your next mining investment.
View the three other parts of this series so far:
- Mistakes made when choosing a team
- Mistakes made with the business plan
- Mistakes with project jurisdiction
Part 4: Technical Risks and Project Quality
So what must investors evaluate when it comes to technical risks and project quality?
Let’s take a look at four different factors.
1. Grade: Reliable Hen Vs. Golden Goose
Once mining starts, studies have to be adapted to reality. A mine needs to have the flexibility and robustness to adjust pre-mine plans to the reality of execution.
A “Golden Goose” will just blunder ahead and result in failure after failure due to lack of flexibility and hoping it will one day produce a golden egg.
Many mining projects can come into operation quickly based on complex and detailed studies of a mineral deposit. However, it requires actual mining to prove these studies.
Some mining projects fail to achieve nameplate tonnes and grade once production begins. However, a team response to varying grades and conditions can still make a mine into a profitable mine or a “Reliable Hen.”
2. Money: Piggy Bank vs. Money Pit
The degree of insight into a mineral deposit and the appropriate density of data to support the understanding is what leads to a piggy bank or money pit.
Making a project decision on poor understanding of the geology and limited information leads to the money pit of just making things work.
Just like compound interest, success across many technical aspects increases revenue exponentially, but it can easily go the other way if not enough data is used to make a decision to put a project into production.
3. Environment: Responsible vs. Reckless
Not all projects are situated in an ideal landscape for mining. There are environmental and social factors to consider. A mining company that takes into account these facts has a higher chance of going into production.
Mineral deposits do not occur in convenient locations and require the disruption of the natural environment. Understanding how a mining project will impact its surroundings goes a long way to see whether the project is viable.
4. Team: Orchestra vs. One-Man Band
Mining is a complex and technical industry that relies on many skilled professionals with clear leadership, not just one person doing all the work.
Geologists, accountants, laborers, engineers, and investor relations officers are just some of the roles that a CEO or management team needs to deliver a profitable mine. A good leader will be the conductor of the varying technical teams allowing each to play their best at the right time.
Mining 101: Mining Valuation and Methods
In order to further consider a mining project’s quality, it is important to understand how the company is valued and how it plans to mine a mineral resource.
There are two ways to look at the value of a mining project:
- The Discounted Cash Flow method estimates the present value of the cash that will come from a mining project over its life.
- In-situ Resource Value is a metric that values all the metal in the ground to give an estimate of the dollar value of those resources.
The location of the ore deposit and the quantity of its grade will determine what mining method a company will choose to extract the valuable ore.
- Open-pit mining removes valuable ore that is relatively near the surface of the Earth’s crust using power trucks and shovels to move large volumes of rock. Typically, it is a lower cost mining method, meaning lower grades of ore are economic to mine.
- Underground mining occurs when the ore body is too deep to mine profitably by open-pit. In other words, the quality of the orebody is high enough to cover the costs of complex engineering underneath the Earth’s crust.
When Technicals and Quality Align
This is a brief overview of where to begin a technical look at a mining project, but typically helps to form some questions for the average investor to consider.
Everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method will determine whether a project can deliver a healthy return to the investor.
Visualizing U.S. Consumption of Fuel and Materials per Capita
Wealthy countries consume large amounts of natural resources per capita, and the U.S. is no exception. See how much is used per person.
Visualizing U.S. Consumption of Fuel and Materials per Capita
Wealthy countries consume massive amounts of natural resources per capita, and the United States is no exception.
According to data from the National Mining Association, each American needs more than 39,000 pounds (17,700 kg) of minerals and fossil fuels annually to maintain their standard of living.
Materials We Need to Build
Every building around us and every sidewalk we walk on is made of sand, steel, and cement.
As a result, these materials lead consumption per capita in the United States. On average, each person in America drives the demand of over 10,000 lbs of stone and around 7,000 lbs of sand and gravel per year.
|Material/Fossil Fuel||Pounds Per Person|
The construction industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy.
Crushed stone, sand, gravel, and other construction aggregates represent half of the industrial minerals produced in the country, resulting in $29 billion in revenue per year.
Also on the list are crucial hard metals such as copper, aluminum, iron ore, and of course many rarer metals used in smaller quantities each year. These rarer metals can make a big economic difference even when their uses are more concentrated and isolated—for example, palladium (primarily used in catalytic converters) costs $54 million per tonne.
Fuels Powering our Lives
Despite ongoing efforts to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions, each person in the U.S. uses over 19,000 lbs of fossil fuels per year.
Gasoline is the most consumed petroleum product in the United States.
In 2021, finished motor gasoline consumption averaged about 369 million gallons per day, equal to about 44% of total U.S. petroleum use. Distillate fuel oil (20%), hydrocarbon gas liquids (17%), and jet fuel (7%) were the next most important uses.
Reliance on Other Countries
Over the past three decades, the United States has become reliant on foreign sources to meet domestic demand for minerals and fossil fuels. Today, the country is 100% import-reliant for 17 mineral commodities and at least 50% for 30 others.
In order to reduce the dependency on other countries, namely China, the Biden administration has been working to diversify supply chains in critical minerals. This includes strengthening alliances with other countries such as Australia, India, and Japan.
However, questions still remain about how soon these policies can make an impact, and the degree to which they can ultimately help localize and diversify supply chains.
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