2010 was a big and sometimes turbulent year for the mining industry, punctuated by two terrible coal mining disasters and one miraculous rescue effort. But beyond these headlines, mining faced challenges on many other fronts. This post takes a look back at the key events and hot mining topics from the year just gone.
One point to make first up - this summary of 2010 is naturally Australian biased, as that’s where I’m located. And despite my best attempts to keep track of mining news from all over the world, if I’ve missed anything important, or there’s topics or events from other regions that we should discuss, please make a note of it in the comments section below.
Safety and Mine Accidents
The Upper Big Branch mine explosion (April) in West Virginia was the worst mining accident in the USA for 40 years. Much news was made of the safety standards and tolerance of poor management at the mine, but none-the-less 29 men lost their lives, and kicked off a terrible year for US mine safety. 2010 was the worst years for deaths in coal mining since 1992, with 48 fatalities across the country.
Mid year (August) a seismic event caused a roof fall and failure of a mine shaft which led to 33 miners being trapped underground for 68 days in the San Jose copper mine in Chile. Again managements approach to safety and installation of enough escape equipment was called into question. The story of the rescue was watched worldwide, their president praised as a hero, and the country given a fresh appreciation of the value and also the conditions of mining in their country. Stay tuned for the movie…
Their rescue was a great feet of engineering and hard work, but what left more of an impact on me is what it must have been like for the first 17 days, stranded underground, not knowing if you would ever be contacted or rescued. The feeling of isolation and confinement must have been overwhelming.
The coal mining year ended as tragically as it had begun, with 29 men losing their lives when an explosion destroyed the Pike River Coal Mine is southern New Zealand (November). Just as the West Virginia disaster rocked the US mining community, this tragedy hit particularly hard for the Australian and small New Zealand mining industries.
Just as in Chile, experts from around the world rushed to assist wherever they could, but I fear that unlike Chile, the men at Pike River never stood much chance of rescue. It was painful to watch ill-informed media rush to the mine as quickly as possible to be in poll position when the “miraculous rescue” would eventually take place. In some ways it is fortunate that the second explosion ended that circus and left the mine management to get on with the terrible job at hand – recovery and investigation.
June saw the dangers of mining revealed in a different light when eleven Australian and African mining executives died when their plane crashed in thick jungle in the Congo.
Mine safety has attracted major focus from the industry, the public, and politicians. MSHA continues to review its role in the industry, and what the goal of their inspectors should be.
Mountain top removal coal mining methods continued to gain significant bad press and generate lots of debate.
In Canada mergers and acquisitions in the industry pulled the headlines as the boom began to return. Most notable of these moves was BHP Billiton’s approach on Potash Corp, which made headlines around the world. This move prompted much discussion about how far a government should go ensure control of national significant industries does not leave its own shores.
Mining was front page news in Australia for much of the year when the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, proposed a huge tax on mining profits hot on the heels of high commodity prices and even higher company profits. There was much talk of two-speed economies with mining-related industries and areas booming ahead while the rest of the country lags behind.
The Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) as it was then known (now the Mining Resource Rent Tax - MRRT), generated huge debate and disagreement in public forums, including both sides taking out major television and print media advertising campaigns.
Eventually the mining companies seem to have won, and convinced the Australian people of the value they bring to the country. The Prime Minister lost his job largely as a result of the tax proposal, and his government were lucky to retain office. The tax reviews continue, but the Australian public is now far more aware of the benefits the industry brings to the country than they were before.
China was the other major story in the global mining industry for 2010, both because of activities and accidents in their domestic industry, and for their increasing hunger to buy or open mines in Australia, Africa, and other Asian countries. Mine safety in China continues to be a weakness, but many programs are underway to try and improve this as rapidly as possible. The ability of Chinese authorities and industry to get things done will hopefully see improvements come rapidly. Meanwhile the Chinese government’s hunger for resources has see significant expansion and acquisition activity overseas by Chinese companies
BHP Billiton saw two ambitious deals fall apart in 2010 – firstly their joint venture with Rio Tinto in the Western Australian Iron Ore operations, and secondly their intended take-over of Canada’s Potash Corp, which would have been the biggest deal of the year. Both deals ran into resistance from various regulators, and mean trouble for Marius Kloppers, who entered the CEO office with big plans for expansion and buying other companies.
The year started with a hesitant optimism that good times were returning, and the bust would not be what everyone expected. Consulting and contracting companies started to report much increased workloads as mines brought production back on line and recommenced shelved projects. By the end of 2010, it appears the up-cycle has well and truly recommenced. Gold continued to power ahead, and with that came the continued resurgence of small and large gold mining companies. Other non-ferrous metals and steel had a more volatile year, but mostly prices ended higher than they began the year, some significantly so, even coming close to gaining back the ground lost in the GFC.
Where to Now?
The events of the year leave us questioning whether we’ve taken our eye off the ball on fatality and disaster prevention, but also gives us a time to reflect on what an important but sometimes hazardous industry we work in. 2010 was a year when the industry attained new levels of public exposure, for a mix of reasons.
And so we look to 2011, and new week we’ll discuss what the hot topics look like being for the coming year. Signup to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out.
Now I’d love to hear from you – what were your mining high-lights and low-lights from 2010, and what major news have I missed? Please leave a comment below!
Click here to read our follow up post on the Outlook for Mining in 2011 and the Hot Topics we expect to hear more about.
- Jamie Ross
Mining Man - Great Safety, Leadership and Productivity Ideas for the Mining Industry
The Most Influential People in Mining in 2010 (not surprisingly Marius Kloppers and Tom Albanese top the list): http://thebusinessofmining.com/2010/12/30/the-most-influential-people-in-mining-2010/
If you’re interested in the performance of mining companies worldwide on the stock market, here’s a summary of the top 100 mining companies and their performance in 2010: http://www.internationalpathfindersolutions.com/worlds-top-100-miners-2010-was-a-breeze-now-what.html
Mining Chronicle's review of mining in 2010: http://activepaper.smedia.com.au/Default/Scripting/ArchiveView.asp?skin=MiningChronicle&AppName=1&BaseHref=TMC%2F2011%2F01%2F01&PageSize=5&Page=8
Freehills Top Ten Trends in the Australian Mining Industry for 2010: http://www.freehills.com.au/5843.aspx