Mining – how it works
Very simplified, a mine’s life can be divided in to three phases: exploration, production and decommission/restoration.
Exploration is about collecting information. Extensive investigations are required to determine whether a deposit can be financially profitable to mine. It usually is not. In order to start exploration activities, a so-called exploration permit is required according to the Mineral Act, which is granted by the Chief Mining Inspector at the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden. However, the permit does not in itself mean that you can start working. Before that can happen, you need to get a work plan approved. The plan must describe what you intend to explore, and how and when you intend to perform the exploration work.
The work plan is sent out to all concerned parties in the area. In this case, the concerned parties are for example the landowner to the land itself where it is desired to prospect, the affected village and if there are any other known holders of special rights in the area.
Small impact on the environment
Exploration involves a very limited impact on the environment, often none. In practice, it is about geophysical measurements such as electromagnetic measurements and gravimetric measurements. All to understand the geological history of the area and thus mineralogical composition.
When exploration has progressed, exploration drilling may become relevant. That does not mean much intrusion. The drill rigs are small mobile units that usually leave no lasting traces behind. In sensitive areas, drilling is carried out on frozen ground with transport on top of the snow to minimize any impact. After drilling, the visible result may be a roughly five-centimeter coarse borehole with a red plastic sleeve marking the site.
Exploration is only the first step in a long road leading to a possible mining. If the investigations show that there is a valuable mineral deposit in the area, several major decisions and trials remain before a mine could become a reality. The whole process, including any land issues, can take anywhere from 5 to 15 years and sometimes longer than that. Established mining companies are usually exploring in the vicinity of existing mines, purely exploration companies are smaller and are exploring discoveries in new areas to a greater extent.
Read about exploration and its different methods at Boliden here.
The active life of a mine varies, in Malmberget, iron ore has been mined since the 18th century and in Garpenberg the mine has produced zinc ore since the 13th century.
A heavily regulated business
To be able to mine a deposit, the Chief Mining Inspector at the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden must issue a permit called a processing concession. This is also regulated in the Mineral Act. In addition, permits according to chapter 9 and 11 of the Environmental Act are also required. Such a permit is granted by the Land and Environmental Court. Other permits may also be updated depending on the environment of the deposit. More about the regulations regarding exploration and mining activities can be found on the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden’s website or in Geological Survey of Sweden’s (SGU) guidelines.
Already during the exploration phase, plans are being made for how the mining area will be taken care of when production is over. Today, there is a requirement that the company allocate funds for the post-treatment. A total of almost SEK 3.5 billion is available today in financial collateral.
When the production phase is over, the traces after the mine should be as small as possible.