How to avoid project failures

4 min read

Want to expand or build a mine site? The odds are that your plans will fail – very likely in the permitting phase. But it doesn’t need to be that way. With the right experience and an integrated approach to planning and permitting, you can dramatically increase your chances of success. Here’s how.

Mining execs and investors know that permitting for a mine is risky business. The odds are stacked against you. Consider this―over the past 10 years in Canada, around 160 permit applications of all types have been logged into the British Columbia Environmental Assessments site. Forty-three are still in progress. Of the remainder, 43 percent were either refused, terminated or withdrawn. Just 22 percent were ultimately successful.[1] And our experience suggests these odds are fairly typical across Canada and around the world.

For many, failure to secure an EA Certificate will be the end of the road. For those willing to persevere, it will likely lead to increased costs in the form of reworked designs, delayed commencement and new requirements. It will increase the project risk, particularly in terms of reputational, regulatory and financial risk. And it adds to the overall complexity. Nobody―not investors, owners, operators or regulators―wants a mine to fail at the permitting phase.

So why do they fail?

The irony is that most failures are largely avoidable. In some cases, it comes down to a gap in holistic thinking and information continuity. The engineers that are designing the site aren’t talking to the permitting and environmental professionals who are responsible for getting the designs approved. More often than not, there’s one firm managing the design and another supporting the permitting. Both are focused on their own part, not seeing the bigger picture.

In other cases, it may be a misalignment between the reading of the rules and the application of them. The reality is that most EA reviewers today are purpose-driven and community-focused. They interpret the rules and regulations through a somewhat different lens than most mining executives and investors. And their concerns can be fairly easily identified very early on in a development lifecycle.

Don’t let it happen to you

To be fair, no mining executive expects to fail in the permitting phase. Most believe their applications are robust and with merit. If they expected to fail, they wouldn’t have applied. Yet fail, they do.

These avoidable errors have led to massive disruption and complexity for mine owners and investors. Projects have been delayed for so long that they eventually require entirely new financing terms due to changing market or commodity prices. Others have simply withdrawn their applications and cancelled the project outright.

Put the odds in your favor

At Ausenco, we believe there is a better way―one that puts the odds in your favor. A better way starts with a more integrated relationship and deeper collaboration between engineering, environmental and permitting, with everyone working cohesively as one team. You want to encourage your permitting leads to speak up early in the design process about potential risks. You want them working side-by-side with the engineers to embed existing and future environmental requirements. The sooner the team identifies risks and addresses them―together―the better.

The team should be stacked with experienced professionals capable of seeing the bigger picture. You want people who understand the nuances of the location, design and the permitting process. You want individuals who look at the lifecycle holistically, and those who understand how their particular piece of the puzzle fits into the bigger picture. You want professionals comfortable with collaboration, interested in iteration and focused on a common end goal.

Get the support you need

We are so committed to this integrated approach that we have built our business around it. At Ausenco, our engineering, permitting and sustainability teams are deeply integrated―on job sites, across processes and across markets. On client projects, they work as one team, collaborating together to ensure our clients’ projects are delivered successfully. Across our offices, they work side-by-side―literally and metaphorically―to share ideas and best practices.

Our approach has delivered significant benefits to our clients. Our integrated and holistic approach helps them improve their risk management by eliminating delays, identifying risks early and reducing complexity. It provides better accountability to our clients with a single team and a single point of contact from end-to-end. It means projects are better designed, better planned and more sensitive to local considerations. And that makes projects more investable and delivers higher valuations.

You already know that permitting for a mine is risky business. Why not improve your odds of success by taking an integrated approach to design and permitting?

To learn more about Ausenco’s integrated approach or to discuss your own project, contact your nearest Ausenco office.