The most intriguing paper from the 2009 SME conference is entitled Climate Change Risk and Impact Assessment for Global Diversified Mining Group. You can probably get a copy of this paper from SME's OneMine site.

The paper describes “a project undertaken for a multinational mining company to examine the physical risks from climate change across its international business operations. The study addresses 163 components of the business including operating sites (mines, smelters, and refineries), key transportation routes (road and rail) and port links.” Almost sounds like Rio Tinto, although the paper does not tells us which mining company commissioned the study.

We can argue (and I do not wish to) about the reality or causes of global warming, but it is interesting that a multinational mining company is already thinking about the implications. Maybe the guys in the mining company that commissioned the study and the folk in the consulting company that did the study are just friends.

The conclusions of this study:

Examples of key risks identified included: (1) Flooding of key transportation networks; (2) Loss of glacial melt water in South America. and (3) Loss of permafrost. A considerable proportion of the risk was found to be borne by the transportation networks and ports…as they generally present much larger targets for extreme weather events than individual facilities.”

Ekati and Diavik loose their ice roads, Antamina runs out of water, the rail lines in Australia get washed out by flash floods, the ports need to raise their piers, and those mining-impacted glaciers that everybody is fighting about in South America simply disappear.

With uncanny prescience, the report notes these risks to mining in Australia resulting from global warming:

Greater incidence of water stress; increased risk of wildfires; increased incidence of extreme events, i.e., hurricane, tornado; greater incidence of disease; increased risk of flash floods.

What we do not learn from the paper is what the mining group will do with this information. Maybe their consultants will have to design for longer recurrence interval floods, provide more freeboard, create more rock-gardens in place of indigenous vegetation stands, go for thickened paste tailings, drill deeper into groundwater aquifers, and find a new way to get equipment to diamond mines in the far north of Canada.

Some how these challenges seem very minor and trivial by comparison with the immediate issues of layoffs, no credit, takeover by the Chinese, and heavy snow blanketing London and Vancouver. I am sure that miners will find ways to cope with the small problems imposed by global warming, for they seem to be far less challenging than the day-to-day challenges miners deal with successfully all the time. Now if only we could prove beyond doubt that carbon capture in fresh tailings is practical.