Q: How did the pandemic affect Solum’s operations in the past year?
A: The pandemic accelerated the implementation of improvements and processes that had already been planned before the pandemic. For example, half of our employees work on the supervision of construction projects that have been placed under the government’s strict health protocols in order to continue operating during the health crisis. Aside from this, most of the changes have been modifications and reinforcing certain measures that we already had in place.
Q: What services do you provide to mining companies during the exploration stage?
A: In the exploration stage, we provide oversight planning of the studies required for a mine. We plan and recommend the required studies that will be needed in the early stages of a mine’s life cycle,. Solum offers qualified personnel to support the planning phase in the field, as well as scientific experts focused on geology, geochemistry, hydrogeology, geotechnical and environmental aspects.
During the early-stage interaction with clients and shareholders, we deal with environmental engineering and permitting requirements, areas in which we have had a great deal of experience and success in the Mexican market. Permitting is an arduous process and requires a great deal of knowledge regarding documents that relate to proposed studies, project budgeting and relationship with the authorities. This documentation must be done properly or mines will lose time and money before and during operations.
Our clients are miners and they focus on the successful completion of a mining project. We guarantee our clients that the site complies with regulation and permitting necessities and that security protocols are in place, among other key issues.
Q: What are the main risk factors that must be tackled on a client’s project?
A: For Solum, the most important factor in the mine is employee safety, both of the company’s employees and those of the client. The company makes decisions to minimize risks to workers in the field. If we have a project to develop the security and safety on a client’s job, then we will always communicate with them so that we can all understand the risks and how to mitigate them before the operation begins. From those working in the field to those working in the office, each team member involved on a project must understand the risks involved. We all have to be on the same page.
Q: How does Solum’s planning offer security in dealing with tailings?
A: The planning behind tailings placement is one of our main considerations. If we have been involved with a mine from the beginning, then we will have information related to tailings management, like areas of high risks, where federal bodies of water lie and other related issues such as geotechnical/geohazard concerns. We can then set about achieving the very highest standards of safety. Knowing the type of tailings (conventional, paste, filtered) that we will be dealing with is essential because it has a large impact on the environment, technical and operational decisions behind their management.
The company is pushing hard to comply with the new global tailings protocols outlined by the ICMM. We are working with the ICMM to ensure that our clients have a clear manual of operation and deposit that complies with these protocols. It is essential that we help mining companies reach these higher standards for the safety of personnel and the environment. We provide visits from the Engineer of Record to assure this and are constantly in communication with other industry stakeholders.
The ICMM standard and the Mexican standard on tailings are two separate routes to tailings management. When both are included, companies have a robust method for high standards of management. The new global standard is focused on the training of personnel controlling the tailings dams, which helps to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic failing. The Mexican standard does not dictate how tailings dam systems should be constructed, that is left to the individual company and its consultants.
Q: How does Solum approach the planning of mine closures?
A: When we plan and design the mine infrastructure, we are also thinking about its closure. This stage is as important as any other and it is included within the plans we outline from the beginning.
The closure of a mine is a costly process for the mining company and must be considered within the overall budget of the project. We are thorough and specific in closure planning and ensure that the studies we undertake comply with regulations. We work hand-in-hand with the client and have regular checkups as the closure nears. These checkups are done at the five, three and one-year milestones until closure.
Among the most vital aspects of a successful mine closure is the chemical stability of the tailings and waste rock areas. Another is the static stability of the site. If the mine is in a zone of high seismic activity it is, of course, even more important to guarantee the site’s stability into the future.
Solum Consulting Group specializes in integral project delivery services across a continuum of disciplines and project phases, including design, feasibility, permitting, detailed engineering design, development, construction and oversight.