Mining in Australia has provided a huge opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Australian workers over the past century.
Will underground mining of the future mean a new wave of high-paying mining jobs for Australians?
Mining Jobs Australia
When mining jobs in Australia were at their peak, everyone who could get themselves over to Western Australia and up into the Pilbara, stood a pretty good chance of landing a high-paying mining job.
Queensland also had its fair share of good fortune as the wealth of the coal reserves in the Bowen Basin meant boom times for the local communities, and thousands of local workers found a mining job in Australia was an opportunity to earn a lot of cash.
Working above ground in open-cut mining operations was where many people found employment in the mining sector in Australia. Huge machinery was developed to allow bigger loads of coal to be mined, sifted, crushed, washed, loaded and freighted to the busy sea ports where it was fed into massive ocean-going coal ships.
“thousands of highly skilled and well-paid operators needed”
Open-cut mining still plays a huge part in the resource sector and to this day there are still thousands of highly skilled and well-paid operators behind the wheel and controls of all manner of machinery.
Mining technology evolves
Engineers and manufacturers of specialised mining equipment have created a suite of mining equipment that rivals anything dreamed of 20 or 30 years ago. Advances in engineering have produced haul trucks, draglines, shovels and mineral processing equipment that defies logic in terms of sheer size, carrying and loading capacity.
“a new era of boggers and jumbos”
As open-cut mining technology developed, so did the need for underground machinery ““ especially the type that could work efficiently in confined spaces and long narrow tunnels. A new era of boggers and jumbos were developed to cope with the extra demands from increased production schedules and higher tonnage expectations.
Longwall mining and block caving techniques have been used for a long time to extract coal from deep beneath the earth. The search for underground coal, gold and other precious metal seams meant mining machinery had to evolve to meet the needs of a new era where the focus is on productivity and profit.
Mining jobs Australia – the future
With open-cut and underground mining competing with each other ““ plus the advances in engineering and mine machine design ““ where is Australia headed in terms of above ground or underground mining and where are the Australian mining jobs of the future?
Owing to the vast mining activity in open-cut Australian mines, it`s becoming more and more apparent that the quality of resources is reducing and depths of the mineral seams are getting harder to reach. For instance, at the proposed Olympic Dam Project in South Australia, BHP had envisaged 5 years of overburden removal, just to get at the gold, uranium and copper that lay beneath.
Would it be fair to assume mining jobs in Australia in the future could be found underground? New evidence just released seems to offer some new insights which are valuable to people who are considering building a career in the mining industry in Australia ““ especially underground mining.
Rio Tinto shows the way underground
One of the world`s largest mining companies and one of Australia`s largest providers of mining jobs is Rio Tinto. Let`s look at copper mining and see what Rio Tinto had to say.
Only a few years ago Rio Tinto underground operations totaled 26 per cent of all copper production, however Rio made a prediction that by 2025 underground mining operations would represent about 40 per cent of global copper production.
That`s a bold statement, especially now we are in 2014, as the copper price has plunged again in March plus Rio Tinto and BHP announced a 100 million dollar loan from the Australian government to head off to Chile and develop the massive open-cut Escondido mine.
Open-cut mining can be a lot more cost effective and safer than mining underground. However, with most of the world`s major ore bodies having been discovered and exploited ““ it`s time to head beneath the surface in search of new resources.
In 2014 the mining industry is witnessing a resurgence and upward trending towards underground contracting, and mining techniques are getting better and better as new technology evolves.
Underground mining block caving methods
Looking at the mining operations of Rio Tinto in Australia, it has been one of the most prolific developers of the underground mining block caving method. At its former Northparkes mine and the Argyle Diamond mine, Rio Tinto had great success and made media announcements that block caving is a very attractive mass mining method.
The trend to develop underground mines is not isolated to Australia as we can see from the noticeable trends in Indonesia and South America. The Codelco copper mine in Chile is a huge mine that is almost entirely dependent on block caving techniques.
The Indonesian mine, Freeport Grasberg is another fine example of how surface mining can head underground in search of even more resources.
Mine lifetimes can be extended dramatically when the focus of mine site development heads underground. Mining jobs can be created for decades as new discoveries are made and the demand for precious resources like coal, gold, copper and silver increases.
Methods of accessing underground resources
One of the most cost-effective methods of `going underground` for many of the world`s mining companies, including Australian mining operations, is to use the decline method, where a natural gradient is used to sink a roadway/tunnel into the earth to reach the resource rich seams.
Once the main access tunnels have been constructed, development of the internal mine infrastructure can take place. Depending on the size of the resources to be mined, the excavated materials can be transported to the surface using underground mining trucks. In the case where longer access to the resource is required, large networks of conveyor systems can efficiently transport the ore to the surface.
Sinking large shafts into the earth to get to the untapped resources can be expensive and a lot more involved owing to the sheer enormity of the challenges of mining, extraction and processing. The engineering work is complex and involves developing a labyrinth of vertical and horizontal tunnels to access the resources.
Underground mining jobs Australia – big rewards with high risk
Underground mining jobs are specialised and require extensive training in machinery operations and heightened safety awareness. The engineering and technology demands on underground mining operations are much higher than for surface mining.
When we look at training and qualification for underground mining jobs, the selection and training of the workforce means more time learning and developing practical skills to safely operate machinery, as well as maintaining a risk-free working environment, are high on the agenda for these workers.
Underground mining is not a particularly easy field to get into, although as with most mining jobs, for those people who have the ability to work in a subterranean environment, the rewards are great – although the risks are higher.