In many new mine developments, companies can use existing infrastructure at or near their property to facilitate site construction and ship finished product to market, while making only minimal investments in new access roads. But what happens when mine sites are located in remote geographical areas?

In many of those cases, companies can still establish a traditional logistics corridor, albeit with a much more substantial investment. However, for a small percentage of projects, permanent road access is simply not practical—or even possible. To minimize the impact of these geographical challenges on the financial viability of the project, you need to think outside the box.

Fortunately, solutions can still be found to turn “trapped” resources into financially feasible projects. In Ausenco’s extensive experience, it just takes a little ingenuity to consider options like using a combination of transport modes, or seasonal access to make the difference in a project.

Overcoming obstructions to site access

The challenges to site access for mining development often include issues with environmentally protected land areas or adjacent property ownership. However, geographical features, such as mountain ranges and major water crossings, can present the biggest impediments for access to a site.

When facing a geographical challenge, human nature often impels people to find a way to get around it with conventional infrastructure—driving up costs and perhaps making the project unviable. That’s why Ausenco prefers to take a different approach by looking at ways to go over, across, or even through an obstruction. Consider these examples:

  • Using a slurry pipeline instead of roads or railways to manage steep mountainous terrain
  • Supporting pipelines or conveyors with aerial suspension cables to span wide rivers or valleys
  • Using barge or ferry crossings for major rivers or lakes
  • Building ice roads for seasonal access in Arctic climates
  • Directionally drilling access tunnels for pipelines through select mountainous terrain

Compare your options

In overcoming obstructions to site access, it’s important to recognize that logistics solutions should never be treated with a “one size fits all” approach. Whether the geography is simple or challenging, a formal trade-off study should be completed specific to the project at hand.

Just because a transport option works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for others. A trade-off study lets you compare the benefits and risks associated with various logistics options against both general and project-specific evaluation criteria. In making this evaluation, some of the quantitative and subjective criteria you may want to consider include:

  • Capital and operating costs (combined into net present value (NPV) for the life of the mine)
  • Ability to obtain environmental permits to build and/or operate the option
  • Impact of seasonality on access to market and cash flow
  • Efficiency and reliability of the system that will be used to service the mine
  • Adaptability of the system to accommodate back-haul of consumables and/or personnel
  • Labour opportunities and community perception along the route

Because every mining project has different driving factors, not every evaluation criterion selected for comparison will have the same level of influence on the decision. To address this, each criterion should be assigned an importance factor that will provide a “weighting level” to be applied against the rating of each option. By using this type of comparison matrix, you should end up with a well-informed ranking of options for further evaluation.

No barrier too great

To understand how this kind of out of the box thinking can work in practice, consider this case study:

A major mining company with a large copper resource in a remote area was struggling with mine development due to challenging geography that was limiting its transportation options. In fact, the site was so isolated that local communities could only be accessed by air, with ocean access blocked by a very large lake—prohibiting direct road access.

To resolve this seemingly insurmountable challenge, the company turned to Ausenco to optimize the project plans. Ausenco identified an opportunity to use a containerized bulk handling system to reduce the total investment costs for moving concentrate across the 35 km wide lake using a ferry. Containers would be moved by truck from the mine to a ferry terminal where they would be staged for loading to the ferry. Once across the lake, the containers would be staged at the opposite ferry terminal where they would be trucked to a new marine export terminal, where the containers would be loaded onto barges for bulk trans-shipment to bulk carrier vessels in deep water.

In adopting this multimodal system, the company realized a range of benefits. By using the bulk containers as rolling storage for the cargo, it has now minimized the potential for contamination or release of the product to the environment while in transit from the mine to the terminal site. This solution not only reduced overall project costs, it also reduced environmental impacts identified in the permit process.

Our experience

With over 90 years of industry experience, Ausenco has supported more than 500 bulk cargo operations and designed 80% of all slurry pipelines worldwide. Drawing on our extensive in-house technical expertise, we do more than provide unbiased opinions on how best to move your product from Mine to Market. We also deliver fully integrated transportation logistics systems that are fit for purpose and work holistically with both upstream production facilities and the downstream distribution network.

Looking for support on your next project? Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to Joel Shirriff to learn more.

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