January 17, 2018

End of commodities downturn promises better days for West African mining – SRK

John Kwofie, country manager, SRK Consulting Ghana

A number of ‘green shoots’ are appearing in countries in West Africa including Mali, where two new mines are to be commissioned this year. There have also been positive signs in Burkina Faso where an indication of the optimism in Burkina Faso is the work SRK has been conducting there in the recent past – including open pit slope design for half a dozen different mining sites. This is according to Accra-based John Kwofie, Ghana country manager for global consulting engineers and scientists, SRK Consulting.

He said while gold appeared to be the main area of growth, he expected the current downturn to end this year in favour of a more bullish approach driving activities in a range of minerals – some of which SRK’s Ghana office have already been involved in investigating. SRK has been engaged in aspects of iron ore projects in Cameroon, bauxite in Guinea, and diamonds in Sierra Leone and Guinea in recent years.

“Gold has remained the dominant focus, where we – together with our affiliate offices worldwide (SRK Global), have provided mines with technical support ranging from mineral exploration and environmental assessments to operational input and mine closure,” he said.

Activities in Ghana have recently been mainly in tailings dam management, where the local SRK office has conducted independent quarterly audits. The team reviews the operations at these dams, making recommendations where required, to ensure compliance with international best practice. Earthworks-related quality assurance has also been provided for tailings dam raises.

“We also draw on the capacity and expertise of other SRK affiliate offices from around the globe, and have collaborated with our SRK colleagues in Australia last year to complete a study into the possible expansion of tailings dams at another gold mine in Ghana,” he said. “The study considered different options for increasing storage capacity at existing tailings facilities.”

A country that has raised interest recently is Guinea, where SRK is involved in a geotechnical feasibility study for a new gold mining project involving a borehole-drilling and laboratory-testing programme that provides data for the design of open pits and waste dumps. The office has also been involved in a slope stability project in that country.

In countries like Sierra Leone and Mali where mining operations are underway, SRK has provided open pit slope stability studies and mine planning support where open pits are being optimised. As conditions in Ivory Coast have resumed normality, this has also opened doors for mineral development there; earlier this year, SRK was able to support a gold mine with a prefeasibility study to provide a client with optimum slope design parameters. The study involved mapping of selected pit walls, geotechnical core logging, rock mass classification studies, slope stability analyses and hydrogeological studies.

Kwofie highlights that mining companies will need to focus on ensuring more constructive relationships with governments and communities.

“The question of mines’ ‘social license to operate’ has recently become an issue with mining communities feeling robbed and cheated of their non-renewable resources,” he said. “This may in part be due to the absence or ineffectiveness of mining operators’ corporate social responsibility programmes, but it will certainly need more attention in future.”

This trend – not just in West Africa but globally – has led to social impact assessments and stakeholder engagement becoming one of SRK’s fastest-growing areas of expertise and involvement with the mining sector around the world.

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