Infrastructure is an industry of its own, but it also represents a huge area of opportunity for mining operations. From mine development to closure and from trading to obtaining the social license to operate, infrastructure development should be a crucial priority for miners. Industry leaders share their perspectives on the role that infrastructure has to play in the growth of mining. Mexico Mining Review asked the industry leaders what operators’ main infrastructure considerations should be when developing a mine and how the public sector can help.
Like any other country, we must show economic and fiscal discipline through a well-structured model that relies on infrastructure and security. This has been the main priority during the administration of President Peña Nieto and we are prioritizing the trade negotiations to make sure that all the treaties are accurate in reflecting the interests of our industries. We strive to broaden the number of companies we support and to provide them with the training and the additional services that we offer. This would help those that do not currently have enough access to fund their expansion projects. We are continuously working on our ability to support companies and to find ways to do this better. FIFOMI also helps finance projects related to Corporate Social Responsibility as when they are for a mining community located close to an active project, such as an infrastructure development.
Water management systems are fundamental in mine operations as most processes require this resource. Permits for extracting water are ever more restrictive and careful, so companies are looking to seawater as an alternative for water sourcing. But desalinization demands important infrastructure given the need to pump water to desalinization plants and to the mines. Tailings dams are also important to consider as rainwater generates leachates with high mineral concentrations. These liquids need to be treated to prevent spills. Veolia offers solutions and technologies to implement for each case, not only to treat wastewater but also to recover some minerals.
Mining infrastructure plays a great role in the attractiveness of a country to operators. Of course, mineralization obviously is the number one requirement. Copper mineralization in Chile, for example, is more or less on par with that in Mexico, but the industry in Chile is much more developed. This can be attributed to a focus on installing the relevant infrastructure and implementation of regulations that may make mining easier in one jurisdiction over another. If the private sector wants efficient, effective infrastructure, it should not leave the responsibility in the hands of the government. It is also the private sector that benefits from mining projects, so it should balance this by contributing infrastructure and connectivity to the communities in which it is working.
The country has made great strides when it comes to its ports and exportation options. Tampico used to be the only port in the country but Manzanillo became more popular when it was built as it offers greater access to China and Asia. Guaymas is also a strategic port but it has limited infrastructure. Altamira is also a good option for those that need to export to Europe. Despite the advancement, Mexico could take greater advantage of its coasts. Other countries have more domestic vessel traffic while Mexico depends on trucks and railways to move goods. Increasing the internal use of ports would make them safer, cheaper and would also attract more investment to ports in the south that greatly need it. It could strengthen the country’s economy by making it better-connected.
A project needs to undergo a thorough CSR and due diligence process before it is developed. It is becoming increasingly important to collaborate with all the people involved, including stakeholders, communities, the government and businesses. Companies need to realize that they need a high level of responsibility to obtain social license and the government should facilitate communication with surrounding communities. The authorities should visualize and support these aspects. The development of infrastructure plays an equally important role. There are also many areas in the state with high geological potential that require large investments in infrastructure that companies must provide. The government should prioritize improving these areas.
José Antonio Berlanga
We are not greatly impacted or worried about whether the US or Mexican administrations will be able to meet their infrastructure promises. These two markets are quite minimal for us and as mentioned, our main priority is China. Even if these countries were able to fulfill all their infrastructure commitments, the rise in demand for us would not be significant. The development of these projects will mostly benefit transportation and logistics companies. Logistically, the infrastructure in Mexico is adequate. Of course, it can always improve but it is good enough. Ports like Manzanillo are quite limited in size thanks to urban sprawl and cannot expand. Our job is to analyze the different options and find the most cost-effective method for exportation.
Miguel Andres Rozo
In my opinion the main challenges that mining companies are facing in terms of mine design and planning are in how to incorporate new technologies in mines. Geosynthetics have been proven to be an economical and technical solution for the projects in waterproofing, paved and unpaved roads, erosion control solutions, mechanically stabilized walls, embankments and foundations. We want to help companies that have issues in mine design or are considering an expansion. We have a system called TecWeb that is a new TDM product that can facilitate mine closures and reforestation as well. We have had many success cases already.