October 2013

The mining world comes to Montreal

Extensive technical program, plenary speeches spark discussion at 23rd World Mining Congress

By Herb Mathisen

More than 4,300 attendees from 65 countries gathered in Montreal for the 23rd World Mining Congress to talk business. And there was a lot to talk about. “It was the biggest technical session, I would say, in the history of a CIM [Convention] and the World Mining Congress,” said general chairperson Ferri Hassani.

The August event marked the first time the congress had been held in Canada in its 55-year history and also the first time it was held in conjunction with the International Symposium on Automation and Robotics in Construction, Mining and Petroleum (ISARC). The technical program was truly exhaustive, with 14 streams – 20, when including ISARC sessions – running simultaneously over three days, on topics ranging from safety, sustainability and community engagement to surface mining, coal and mining economics. Hassani, a chair professor at Montreal’s McGill University, said organizers double-reviewed ab­stracts to ensure the presentations were of a high quality, trimming the roughly 1,200 abstracts received down to 550. “I’m really humbled by all the fantastic comments that have come in,” Hassani said after the event. “You usually don’t get this.”

The event brought mine operators and suppliers together with researchers and government representatives for four days of workshops, social and networking events, and technical sessions. The congress featured delegations from China, Russia, Ukraine, India, Brazil and many other countries, and was hosted by CIM along with five of Canada’s leading mining universities. At the plenary session, Rio Tinto Alcan CEO Jacynthe Côté explained her company’s approach to lowering costs as it faces falling commodity prices and Canada’s stagnating worker productivity rates, during an era where deposits are getting deeper, ore grades lower and royalty rates are rising due to governments operating in deficit. “Every rock must be turned and turned again,” she said, referencing areas that must be looked at for efficiency gains. Investing in innovation will be important to finding cheaper and cleaner ways to extract and refine minerals, she added.

Picking up on this thread, Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani delivered the most provocative speech of the morning session. He challenged mining professionals to stop thinking exclusively about the short term and pointed out that the oil and gas industry spends 80 per cent more on a revenue-to-revenue basis than the mining sector on innovation. While mining is a sector that prides itself on continuous and incremental improvement, new – or step-out – technologies are rare, said Cutifani, adding many extraction and production technologies in use today are more than 100 years old. He argued that the industry needs to improve its reputation by ameliorating communications with governments and communities and by explaining its importance to the general population. “Unfortunately, as an industry, we’re not very good at telling our story in a way that regular people can see or, more importantly, feel. There are still far too many people who simply don’t see the link between the role of mining and the indispensability of minerals and metals in a modern, industrialized and highly urbanized society,” he said. “We make life, as we know it today, possible.”

Cutifani’s speech had everyone buzzing, including Kyle Krater, a Schulich School of Business Mining MBA student. Looking toward a mining career as a liaison with communities and governments, Krater also found the technical sessions inspiring, particularly the presentation on mining, economic development and aboriginal rights by Ted Moses, president, secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance. “There’s no better way to supplement what I’m getting in the classroom than going and hearing from these groups directly,” Krater said, adding the panel question and answer period was equally thought-provoking. “People just had a huge breadth of experience that students in the classroom, at this point in our careers, couldn’t possibly have.”

The main theme Krater took away from the conference was the leadership crisis facing the industry, including its difficulties in recruiting young people. “It didn’t seem like anyone had a solid answer for how to fix that problem,” he said, adding these problems will be interesting to mull over and discuss at school this fall.

The expo featured representatives from various global jurisdictions that opened the 242 exhibiting companies – mostly suppliers – up to international exposure. “We’re pretty new in the mining market,” said Sophie Savard, marketing manager for Quebec-based Rousseau Metal, explaining her company began marketing its shelving, tool boxes and storage products to the industry in 2012. Savard said she had received leads from Indian companies, as well as representatives from mines and other North American companies.

The 24th World Mining Congress will be held in Brazil in 2016.

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