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A mining resurrection [opinion]

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For about the last year we've heard mining constantly declaimed as dead.

"The boom is over, mining is dead and buried," many in the media, and especially the opponents of the industry, decried.

Not half smugly in some cases.

ANZ dealt a strong, if not confusing blow to the industry, claiming that within three years about 75 000 jobs would be lost - or approximately a third of all direct and indirect workers in the resources industry.

And to be entirely honest, it definitely looked that way as the commodity prices fell (dramatically in the case of coal), projects were put on hold or cancelled, major infrastructure was shelved, and thousands of jobs were lost.

It didn't help that this was coupled with a lingering hangover from a continuing decline in productivity (which I've delved into further in this edition).

Poor practices, poor prices, and poor performance coupled to create a perfect storm for the industry, which had previously weathered it out under the protection of a once in a lifetime runaway commodity market.

Speaking to Honeywell's Darren Wyllie he summed up the attitude of the boom perfectly: "It used to be about getting as many tonnes out the door as quickly as possible, as that was the best way to make money off the back of the high commodity prices."

Schneider Electric's head of mining and metals, Diego Areces, said much the same, stating "it used to be about being the biggest, pushing out the most tonnes", but now that has all changed.

"The focus is no longer on being the biggest," he said, "it's on being the best, the most efficient".

Wyllie agreed: "It's now about how we actually get those tonnes out the door that is much more important."

Mining is returning in strength, albeit slowly, and it's on the back of greater efficiency and the push for productivity.

Remote operations, automation, more intelligent use of technology - these are all the building blocks of the next stage of mining, a stage that we have just begun to enter.

Miners are no longer being dissuaded as they are going to mine smarter, not harder.

There is optimism in the industry, albeit cautious.

In New Zealand Bathurst Resources has begun work on its Escarpment coal mine in preparation for a rise in the coal price, and Anglo American is expecting its reduced Drayton South mine to be approved soon as well.

However some are much more optimistic about the immediate future.

Despite an extremely heavy backlash and low coal price Whitehaven Coal is charging ahead, Rio Tinto is still going through with its plans for a massive 70 million tonnes per year pit at its Yandicoogina mine, and BHP is expanding in the Pilbara.

Mining is coming back, stronger, but still subdued. 

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