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The Future of Mining Insights from PDAC 2024

April 24, 2024
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The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) was home to mining professionals from around the globe in March, and more than 26,000 people attended the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada's (PDAC) 2024 Convention.

The convention offers intriguing insights into the future of the metals and minerals sector, including the presentation of the Mining Industry Outlook by The World Bank by Mining Lead Michael Stanley, who has more than 40 years of experience in the mining sector. Stanley offered attendees insights focused mainly on the years 2035 and 2050.

He discussed major disruptions to the sector, including the world's quickly growing population, expected to surpass the 10 billion milestone within the next quarter century, and the trend towards higher urbanization rates.

"As cities build up, in the early years, they have fantastic consumption of metals and minerals," Stanley said.

With record numbers of cities reaching the 10-million, 15-million and 20-million population marks, the growing need for infrastructure will drive up demand for the mining and energy sectors.

"The key to growth and economic opportunity starts with energy. Energy is the kingpin that ensures that we move forward as a society. It allows us to improve our places of work, our housing, and our hospitals. It allows for better delivery of education. It all starts with energy. And it also, in the urban environment, allows governments to deliver health education and care for children and the elderly," Stanley said.

Stanley also discussed the energy transition, another major disruptor for the mining sector. As countries look to replace aging electrical infrastructure with more efficient options, demand for certain metals and minerals, such as copper, will spike.

Copper demand:

  • Expected to increase by 2.3 times over the next 25 years
  • Major demand is expected to occur in approximately 11 years
  • Average industry time from discovery to production: 14.9 years

"We are already inside a fantastic transition, and the demand for metals is starting to climb," Stanley told the crowd.

Another major challenge the mining sector is currently experiencing in increasing its production of highly sought-after metals and minerals is a lack of access to capital.

"It's very difficult to move money into a lot of these mining sector projects. I want to say the reason for that is there's a perception of risk that did not exist before," Stanley said, adding that demand-side risk related to adequacy and security is now a significant factor.

At the PDAC 2022 Convention, the U.S. and Canada signed a joint action plan on critical minerals with objectives and policy measures designed to improve the supply of minerals where they come from, Stanley explained.

"It's to ensure that the mineral production supports economic growth, competitiveness and job creation. It promotes climate action and environmental protection, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, fostering diverse and inclusive workforces, and ensuring global security partnerships. Metals have become a very strategic, important asset for national governments on the demand side as we advance," Stanley said.

He added that for the joint action plan to be successful, there are a couple of caveats to this program.

"The first is that for these to work, you have to have a level playing field where all mineral producers will play by the same rules and all comply without exception. Two, governments must remain committed to this and can't have reversals. They can't have step-outs or exceptions for certain places. And thirdly, it's the responsibility of The World Bank and other development partners to work with those governments where the supplies come from, to ensure we have good governance, and we meet those objectives as was laid out by Canadian policy," Stanley said.

Building trust in communities

Another well-attended session at PDAC 2024 was "Where exploration meets operations: Sustainable value chains for critical minerals," which was a panel discussion focused on ideas for creating capacity in First Nation communities and implementing green energy transitions across the value chain.

Discussion panel:

  • Chair Kirsty Liddicoat, COO of Northern Graphite (Laval, Que.);
  • Geneviève Morinville, Vice-President of Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs for Winsome Resources (Val-d'Or, Que.);
  • Valerie Taggart, Project Coordinator for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (Pikwakanagan, Ont.);
  • Blair Way, CEO of Patriot Battery Metals (Brisbane, Australia); and
  • Stephen Crozier, Vice-President of Sustainability for Wyloo Ring of Fire Metals (Toronto, Ont.).

Crozier discussed some impediments to building robust, trusting relationships with governments and communities and delivering on promises once the geology is there that development can follow on terms that all parties can accept.

"The Ring of Fire has been talked about for a long time. Amongst many important themes, I think a compelling one that dominated our early analysis of how we might define a path forward is trust. It's about the lack of trust," he said.

Based on his experience working in the industry over the past 15 years, Crozier said, speaking in broad strokes, the sector has challenges regarding how it handles information.

"We tend to handle information in a highly compartmented fashion. Information does not freely flow between relevant functions internally. It doesn't freely flow externally. And that creates some significant issues in terms of governance, in terms of ensuring relevant expertise can address problems for which that expertise is required, and it impairs building trusting relationships," he said.

Morinville said that when it comes to mineral development today, the industry needs to have very high environmental performance and performance with Indigenous relations, government relations, and the general public.

"We sat with our local team in Quebec and thought about what are the key values that we wanted to find ourselves as a company because we're the ones that are going to be on the ground, and it also means that we're building up our company locally, and wanting to make sure that who we're bringing into the company have shared values," she said.

Since companies exploring mineral production are concerned with their impact on the environment and communities, these projects should be viewed as an opportunity to work with First Nations territories and the surrounding communities to ensure proper impact assessments and community engagement is executed thoroughly. Taggart offered suggestions for ways to produce meaningful engagement with First Nation communities.

"The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan believe the earlier a First Nation becomes aware of and is engaged in a project, even as early as the conception phase, the better for all parties. The more transparent the planning and development phases, the more involved the First Nation is in various studies that aid to the outcome of a project in a real and tangible way, the better the overall outcome of a project," she said.

Taggert added that proponents need to start looking at First Nation engagement in different ways:

  • Once a site is known to be viable, even before Western science experts get involved, outreach should happen to all potentially affected First Nation communities.
  • First Nations could then be supportive in conducting a project-based land-use study.

"The study's outcome will clearly show the impact a mine could have on the people who use the land and the plants, land, waters and animals within or in proximity to a potential mine site," Taggert explained.

The bottom line:

The bottom line:

While it is perceived that many hurdles exist for the future growth of Canada’s mining sector, there are many opportunities to operate more sustainably while supporting a more prosperous future for both industry and the surrounding communities. The companies planning ahead to obtain access to capital, meet current and future regulatory requirements, and build strong relationships with Indigenous communities will be well-positioned for a bright future.

This article is part of the April 2024 edition of our Expert's Corner Monthly Newsletter. Stay in the know with the latest insights, trends, and exclusive features directly delivered to your inbox. Subscribe now to receive our upcoming newsletters and stay connected with industry expertise and innovations.

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