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Visualizing the Size of Mine Tailings

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VCE Mine Tailings V2

Mine Tailings

Visualizing the Size of Mine Tailings

On January 25th, 2019, a 10-meter tall wave traveling 120 km/h, washed 10 million m3 of mining waste from the Brumadinho tailings dam over the Brazilian countryside killing somewhere between 270 and 320 people.

This was a manmade disaster, made from mining the materials we use daily. Every copper wire in your house, steel frame in an EV, or any modern appliance comes from mining.

Mining leaves behind waste in the form of tailings stored in dams or ponds around the world. This infographic takes a look at the estimated size of one part of this waste, tailings, visualized next to the skyline of New York City as a benchmark.

Quantifying Mining’s Material Impact

In the wake of the Brumadinho tailings failure, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) began a review with institutional investors and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to survey tailings facilities around the world.

The Global Tailings Review tracked a total of 1,743 unique facilities containing 44,540,000,000 m3 of tailings. This dataset represents only 30.2% of global commodity production.

However, the review estimated the total number of active, inactive, and closed facilities is around 8,500. If we use the assumptions for the 1,743 estimate to calculate for the 8,500 facilities, a total of 217,330,652,000 m3 of tailings are in storage globally.

What are Tailings?

Not all rock that comes out of the ground is metal. Miners find, remove, and refine rocks that carry a small amount of metal we need.

According to the USGS, 72 billion tonnes of material produced just over 10 billion tonnes of ore. Only 14% mined material makes it to processing for metals.

Waste rock (tonnes)Material Sent to Mill (tonnes)Ore Produced (tonnes)Tailings (tonnes)
72,000,000,00018,800,000,00010,180,000,0008,850,000,000

Tailings are what is left over after mills separate the metal from the mined rock. The processed material “tailings” comes from the “tail” end of a mining mill and comprise fine particles mixed with water forming a slurry. Mining companies will store this waste in dams or ponds.

Not All Minerals Are Equal: Tailings Contribution by Commodity

Not all minerals are equal in their contribution to tailings. The grade, quantity, and the process to extract the valuable metals affect each metal’s material impact.

Mineral% Contribution to Global Tailings
Copper46%
Gold21%
Iron9%
Coal8%
Phosphate4%
Lead and Zinc3%
Nickel2%
Platinum Group Elements1%
Bauxite1%
Uranium<1%
Chromium<1%
Molybdenum<1%
Tin<1%
Vanadium<1%
Manganese<1%
Niobium<1%
Rare Earths<1%
Lithium<1%
Other minerals1%
Total100%

A renewable future will be mineral intensive and will inevitably produce more mining waste, but growing awareness around mining’s true cost will force companies to minimize and make the most of their waste.

Turning a Liability into an Asset

While tailings are waste, they are not useless. Researchers know there remains economic value in tailings. Natural Resources Canada estimated that there is $10B in total metal value in Canadian gold mining waste.

Rio Tinto has produced borates from a mine in the Mojave Desert which has left behind more than 90 years’ worth of tailings. The company was probing the tailings for gold and discovered lithium at a concentration higher than other U.S. projects under development.

According to UBC’s Bradshaw Initiative for Minerals and Mining professor Greg Dipple, the mining industry could help society store carbon. For over a decade, he has researched a process in which tailings naturally draws CO₂ from the air and traps it in tailings.

A Material World

While the majority of mining companies manage tailing dams safely, the issue of the material impacts of mining on Earth remains.

Mining of metal has grown on average by 2.7% a year since the 1970s, and will continue to grow. The importance of the size of tailings is critical to address proactively, before it comes rushing through the front door, as it did in Brazil.

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Visualizing the Genealogy of Exploration Success

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Mineral Exploration Success

Visualizing the Genealogy of Exploration Success

In the last decade, 63% of all mineral discoveries in the Western world were made by junior explorers. These small companies are the vision of a dedicated few.

It is the people that make a great company, and it is great explorers that make great discoveries. This infographic sponsored by SKRR Exploration shows the incredible experience and knowledge of two leaders in mineral exploration brought together in one new venture.

Two Paths to Exploration Success

According to the common adage, overnight success stories take a long time. Ron Neolitzky and Ross McElroy have traveled two different paths but along their route, they have uncovered vast amounts of mineral wealth in Canada.

Ronald Netolitzky Ross McElroy
  • 1964-67: Graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.Sc and M.Sc. in Geology.
  • 1985: Became President of Delaware Resources and acquired the Snip property.
  • 1986: Struck a gold discovery at the Snip property, which produced 1Moz of gold over its lifetime.
  • 1988: Invested in Consolidated Stikine Resources and drill-tested Eskay Creek, which would go on to produce 3.3Moz of gold and 160Moz of silver over its lifetime.
  • 1990: Sold Eskay Creek stake to International Corona for $67/share as part of an acquisition.
  • 1990: Received the Bill Dennis Prospector of the Year Award.
  • 1993: Purchased 100% of the Brewery Creek property as president of Loki Gold.
  • 1996: Transformed Brewery Creek into a heap-leach operation.
  • 1996: Merged Loki Gold with Baja Gold and Viceroy Gold to create an entity with an annual production of 200Koz of gold.
  • 1996: Received AME’s E.A. Scholz Award for discovery and development achievements.
  • 2003: Acquired the Galore Creek property for Spectrum Gold, later merged with NovaGold Resources and partially sold to Teck Resources for $275M.
  • 2007: Oversaw Yamana Gold’s $577 million acquisition of Viceroy Resources as chairman.
  • 2010: Oversaw Osisko Mining’s $372 million acquisition of Brett Resources as chairman.
  • 2015: Inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
  • 1987: Graduated from the University of Alberta with B.Sc. in Geology.
  • 1987: Joined uranium giant Cameco and worked on the McArthur River discovery in Saksatchewan’s Athabasca Basin, which is now the world’s largest uranium mine.
  • 1989: Worked with French nuclear Company Cogema (now Orano) on the Shea Creek uranium discovery in Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • 1990-99: Managed the Hope Bay Gold Project with BHP Minerals, discovering three high-grade gold deposits.
  • 2007: Joined Fission Energy as VP of Exploration before rising to the rank of COO.
  • 2009: Led the technical team that discovered the high-grade J Zone uranium deposit at Waterbury Lake and sold to Denison Mines.
  • 2012: Used airborne radiometrics and radon in-lake survey technology to discover the Triple R uranium deposit on the Patterson Lake Property, with an indicated resource of 102M lbs of U3O8.
  • 2013: Received the Mining Person of the Year Award from the Northern Miner.
  • 2014: Received the Bill Dennis Award for a Canadian discovery.

This combined experience is coming to bear in one company to uncover Canada’s next mineral frontier.

Bringing Experience Together: SKRR Exploration

SKRR brings together the experience of two great explorers to uncover the next mineral frontier, Saskatchewan. This junior explorer is working on the next great discovery with 6 projects in the Trans-Hudson geological corridor

  • Father Lake Nickel Project: Copper, Nickel
  • Ithingo Project: Gold
  • Irving Project: Gold
  • Cathro Project: Gold
  • Leland Project: Gold
  • Olson Project: Gold
  • Manson Bay: Gold

With a proven location and legacy of exploration success, SKRR is ready to unlock the next mineral frontier in Saskatchewan and continue the tradition of a dedicated few uncovering the next great discovery.

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The World’s Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

Together, the world’s top 10 gold mining companies account for roughly 22% of the share of the total gold market.

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Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

The World’s Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

Unlike paper currency or many other types of assets, gold has maintained its value throughout the ages.

First used by cultures in modern-day Eastern Europe in 4,000 BC to make decorative objects, the metal today represents a global business with operations on every continent, except Antarctica.

The industry is dominated by a select group of majors.

Together, the world’s top 10 gold miners produced 27.48 million ounces (Moz) in 2020, worth approximately $48 billion, according to data from Mining Intelligence.

North America Leading

At a country level, China is the largest producer in the world accounting for around 11% of total global production.

However, no Chinese company appears among the top miners.

RankCompanyHeadquartersCountry2020 Production (Moz)
1Newmont DenverUSA 🇺🇸5.88
2Barrick GoldTorontoCanada 🇨🇦4.84
3PolyusMoscowRussia 🇷🇺2.87
4AngloGold AshantiJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦2.81
5Kinross GoldTorontoCanada 🇨🇦2.38
6Gold FieldsJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦2.13
7Newcrest MiningMelbourneAustralia 🇦🇺2.06
8Agnico EagleTorontoCanada 🇨🇦1.73
9Polymetal InternationalSt. PetersburgRussia 🇷🇺1.40
10Harmony GoldJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦1.38

At the top of the gold mining companies list, Colorado-based Newmont has ownership of mines in Nevada, Colorado, Ontario, Quebec, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Ghana, Argentina, Peru, and Suriname.

As the only American company on the list, Newmont produces 21% of the yellow metal poured by the top companies.

Canada, which is known for its mining industry, has three companies on the list; Barrick Gold, Kinross Gold, and Agnico Eagle, producing 32% combined.

Russia, which is expected to become the world’s top producer by 2029, has two companies ranked. Together, Polyus and Polymetal represent 15% of the top miners’ production.

The top 10 players account for ~22% of the total market share, which is anticipated to grow due to increased merger and acquisition activities.

Wealth and Luxury

Over six and a half thousand years after its discovery, more than 90% of the gold mined annually is destined for jewelry, bullion, and coins.

  • Jewelry: 36.83%,
  • Investment: 46.64%,
  • Central banks: 8.58%,
  • Technology: 7.95%

The metal is also used in dentistry, as it is the best material for fillings and crowns since it is easy to insert, and is non-reactive with the human body.

Golden Future

Global production fell by 1% in 2020, the first decline in a decade, according to the World Gold Council.

Some analysts argue the world has reached “peak gold” – which means that the maximum rate of extraction has passed and the production of the metal will continue to fall until, eventually, mining for it shall cease entirely.

Demand, however, shows no sign of slowing down as the golden metal remains firmly synonymous with security, stability, and longevity.

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