Editor’s note: The Geology and Mining series, edited by Dan Wood and Jeffrey Hedenquist, is designed to introduce early-career professionals and students to a variety of topics in mineral exploration, development, and mining, in order to provide insight into the many ways in which geoscientists contribute to the mineral industry.
The role of geology in advanced mining studies, such as feasibility studies, is commonly dwarfed by the technical inputs from mining, metallurgical, and social license issues. Understanding and planning for geologic risk in the feasibility process is often overlooked for the higher-profile aspects required to establish an ore reserve. If the geologic model of a deposit cannot be reliably forecast, then there will be lower confidence in many of the modifying factors (which include mining, processing, environmental, social, governmental, and economic factors that influence the conversion of identified mineral resources into economic reserves). Understanding geologic risk requires characterization of all the chemical, physical, and spatial properties of mineralization and waste that form part of the mined material. It is essential to understand the scope of the professionals who use geoscientific data in order to assist the outcomes of the study, with the data types first identified, then collected in a comprehensive manner, and finally interpreted at the appropriate time to contribute to the outcomes of the study. If the study is not comprehensive, remedial collection of data is required at a cost to development timeline and budget; a worse scenario is that the development fails economically after it is built.
Developing projects to a construction stage after a mining study typically involves international standards of assessment and verification, although the standards of geoscientific data collection differ between companies and countries. For this reason, recent efforts by international bodies such as the Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) are assisting many countries to work toward a standardized terminology in a feasibility study. There are many examples where the mining outcomes have not met the feasibility study forecast, with variable causes for a failure to deliver to plan; geoscientific data shortfalls often contribute significantly to these negative outcomes. Examination of case histories, knowledge of international standards for risk reporting, advances in measurement technology, and an understanding of the end users of geoscientific data will help geologists to better prepare the scope of a feasibility study for a potential mine, in order to deliver a product with lower risk related to geologic uncertainty.