Outlook 2012: Exciting times for mining – CEMI: 10 questions for Douglas Morrison, president of the Centre for Excellence in Mining

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Q: What exactly is CEMI?

A: The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation is a not for profit organization of about 10 people that was established to help bring innovation in the areas of exploration, deep mining, integrated mine engineering, environment and sustainability to the mining industry of Northern Ontario by directing industry funding to universities and colleges, existing research groups, and the supply and services sector.

It is widely recognized that the era of cost-cutting to survive low commodity prices is gone and the present challenge is to meet the continuing demand of the global economy for metals given the demographics of the industry.
Companies such as Xstrata Nickel, Vale, and Rio Tinto fully recognize that this can be accomplished only by implementing new ideas that will redefine how the mining industry of the future will operate.

Q: What is its mandate?

A: Well, it is the centre for excellence because the mandate is to deliver solutions that can be implemented in the fields of mining operations, exploration, and sustainability. Most metal mines in Canada are underground mines that are getting deeper and hotter, and this presents huge challenges.

Although mining is already one of the top two or three safest industries in the country, safety and health is, of course, a constant concern. But we also have to make mines more cost-effective and more environmentally benign, beginning with the exploration phase through to final closure.

Q: How long have you been with CEMI?

A: I have been at CEMI for just more than a year, but I have been involved with many of the mining research groups in Sudbury for many years.

Q: What is your background?

A: In the 1980s and ’90s I spent about 15 years working in the ground control department of the Sudbury mines. Then I had another 15 years or so as a consultant working for mining clients around the world, including Australia, Brazil, southern Africa and Europe.

In the last five years of my consulting career, I was in business development for all aspects of the mining process from resource evaluation to operations, to waste deposition and finally mine reclamation and closure.

Q: What are “holistic mining practices” versus regular mining practices?

A: There is much discussion about sustainability and sustainable development, and the mining industry has been working towards this for many years. But to improve the overall performance of the mining industry, the industry has to develop procedures — holistic practices — that are specially designed to connect the whole production system together in a way that minimizes the negative impacts of mining and maximizes the positive effects.

This would mean improving mine productivity, but also making better use of water resources, finding more uses for waste products, recovering more value from mine production, all of which contribute to limiting the negative physical impact of mining.

But it also means developing practices designed to improve the social fabric of local communities and to help remote communities share in the benefits of the modern economy while securing the aspects of their traditional lifestyle that are most important to them.

Q: Did you attend PDAC? If so, what was the highlight of the PDAC for you?

A: The scale of PDAC and the level of interest and enthusiasm there was quite amazing. Despite the economic problems in many parts of the world, it is very clear that the demand for metals and minerals remains very high. The age demographics of the workforce means that the prospect for employment in all aspects of the mining business is still very strong — and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Q: What did you hear about development of the Ring of Fire and Sudbury?

A: The Ring of Fire is a very important development in Ontario and for Canada and the Ontario MNDM is focused on helping bring this potential into production. But the remote location alone presents huge challenges and will require many new ideas to be implemented.

However, the PDAC also showcases the many, many prospective mining projects all across the country and, taken together, they demonstrate just how important the North can be in terms of the future development of mineral wealth.

Q: Are there figures on what mining contributes to the economy of Northern Ontario?

A: Yes, the mining industry in Ontario spent just over $1 billion last year, and the average mine adds more than $250 million to Canada’s GDP. Most of this stays in the local economy.

Q: How attractive is a career in mining for today’s post-secondary students?

A: Very attractive. Every aspect of the mining industry is short of trained people. No matter what technical subject you are interested in at high school, there will be a job waiting for you in the mining industry when you complete your studies at college or university.

The mining industry will undergo a revolution in how it operates in the next 10 years, and the technology and the skilled people it employs will be dramatically different. It also offers the possibility of working in almost any part of the world you can imagine.

Q: Is Sudbury making progress toward becoming a hub of mining excellence, as your name implies?

A: Sudbury, and Northern Ontario in general still has one of the highest concentrations of mining expertise anywhere in the world. The level of technology we use and the potential to attract highly educated people to the industry here is unparalleled.

Given the demographic changes we face, the industry will have to draw on highly educated and trained people from diverse technical disciplines and personal backgrounds. The rate at which the industry accepts and embraces new ideas will be the limiting factor for the growth of mining companies.

There are still too many companies that think current practice is good enough. But young people today want to work for companies that are striving to be the best — not just the biggest or the most productive — but those that are committed to improving performance through innovation which, in turn, creates interesting and challenging careers.

Given our location, the potential for mineral development in the North and the human resources we can draw upon from across Canada, Sudbury, and Ontario as a whole has the best chance of creating a hub of mining excellence that will be recognized around the world.

But CEMI will only be the hub, the excellence will come from the people who can convert their ideas into practical solutions and from the companies that have the vision to invest in the development of solutions and the courage to implement change — both are essential for innovation to happen.

Doug Morrison is president of CEMI.