Mining Innovation at the 2018 SME Annual Conference & Expo

When people think about “innovation,” they usually think of the tech companies on the West Coast with their apps and their gadgets. They don’t usually think about the mining companies. Instead, people often think that miners are out with pickaxes and shovels digging up ore and panning for gold –  and frankly, shows like “Gold Rush” have not helped our industry with those perceptions.

In reality, mining is a high-tech industry that requires innovation in several operational aspects – from water treatment to ore processing to dispatch systems and beyond. The mining sector craves the opportunity to optimize processes and controls to maintain a predictable quality of product while remaining profitable on the market. How does the industry progress? How do we learn about innovative technologies that are being used halfway around the world? Where do we see the latest and greatest equipment that has the potential to change the way we operate?

The 2018 Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) Annual Conference and Expo, that’s where.

This year’s conference was in OUR backyard for the very first time – held in Minneapolis during the last week of February.

Innovation was evident with technical sessions and short courses that focused on recent research, progressive technologies and the social aspects of mining. Mining is a way of life in northeast Minnesota as well as in many countries around the world. Just like at home, many communities thrive due to mining. However, there are pockets of the world with valuable mineral resources where these minerals are extracted without regulation. These instances are key opportunities for well-established mining companies to make a significant difference in the lives of the people in the region.

A Closer Look at Illegal Gold Mining in Ghana

Ghana is a perfect example of an area that would benefit from the expertise of a legitimate mining company. As presented in a technical session (one of more than 600 sessions), a practice called “galamsey” (the illegal gathering and selling of gold) commonly occurs in Ghana. Gold mining may be illegal, but many still mine because it is a way to make a living and support their families. Heartbreakingly, this work is unregulated, dangerous and an ecological disaster in the making. Rivers and streams are becoming polluted with mercury (used to extract the gold from the ore) and sediment. The lack of regulations has caused mercury poisoning and led to dangerous working conditions. Although much work is being done to combat this issue, there is a long way to go. Mining companies working in conjunction with government officials will be key drivers in helping bring these illegal practices to an end.

This particular technical session was a great reminder of where we were as a country more than 45 years ago when the Clean Water Act was passed in the United States. It was also a good indicator of the positive influence an established mining company can bring to a mining project.

Strict Regulations Make Mining in Minnesota Strong and Sustainable

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and then some), our state has chosen to take environmental rules a step further, having some of the most progressive water quality standards in the nation. We have also supported successful mining operations for more than 130 years. These operations continue to advance by leaps and bounds with modern technologies that keep our process running in a safe and environmentally-conscious manner.

There is an energy and motivation that comes from being surrounded by more than 5,500 miners, suppliers, educators and regulators who are all engaged in ensuring that our industry progresses responsibly and sustainably. The 2018 SME Conference & Expo allowed attendees to recognize that we are part of a larger community who all have the same end goal – innovation, wise use of technology and a sustainable future for both the industry and the communities that support mining.

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