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SRK celebrating 50 years of consulting to natural resource sector

SRK Consulting MD Andrew van Zyl is interviewed by Engineering News & Mining Weekly’s Martin Creamer.

26th January 2024

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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The 50 years of experience that SRK Consulting has accumulated since coming into existence in 1974 has placed it in an excellent position to outline how mining’s approach to environmental sustainability and responsible sourcing has evolved over the past 50 years.

As a South African-founded global consulting company to the natural resource industries, SRK Consulting’s focus has evolved from geotechnical and mine design services, where it is still very strong, to its current multi- disciplinary approach.

Key achievements of SRK Consulting in its five decades of activity have been the pursuit of technical excellence and independence.

Going forward, the consultancy expresses excitement at the prospect of a lot more diversity of thought, personality and approach leading to better solutions within a better industry.

“It’s a diversity not just of ethnicity and gender, but we’re seeing diversity of expertise. As we bring more people in with different social, environmental and water backgrounds who have studied social sciences, natural sciences and engineering, we’re being exposed to more ways of solving problems,” SRK Consulting MD Andrew van Zyl commented to Mining Weekly in an interview to mark SRK Consulting’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.

SRK Consulting’s progressive understanding of the externalities associated with mining has been accentuated by the industry’s continual advancing appreciation of reducing the environmental impacts as well as advancing communities.

While the commencement of environmental improvement tended to be largely functional, it has grown to a point of environment impact now being understood in considerable detail.

“It now truly is a science,” Van Zyl pointed out.

Factors such as air quality impacts, carbon footprints, groundwater, surface water and neighbouring properties are now far better understood.

“We no longer just talk about water supply and water availability. We talk about water stewardship, and we understand how, as a region, we participate in and impact each other’s water supply and quality,” Van Zyl added.

SRK Consulting’s journey through the environmental process has also given it a much keener appreciation of the industry’s social context.

Huge strides in workplace safety have been accompanied by mines running good health programmes, making huge differences in the fields of human immuno deficiency virus and tuberculosis and being big contributors during the Covid pandemic, partly because of their experience managing respiratory illness.

“So, slowly but surely, we’ve grown from understanding how we can make lives better for the people working in the industry, to how we can extend that to the communities around the operations,” Van Zyl noted.

Social Transition to Mine Closure

The science of mine closure has grown from the need to close the physical mine space to a preparation for the major impacts of operational closure on the community.

Social transition to closure looks to source locally, increase economic activity, upskill communities and embrace responsible sourcing measures.

An auditing function is now required on the sources of materials, energy and labour, as well as on how suppliers treat people and the environment.

“I’m enjoying seeing what the experts and SRK are doing and I’m optimistic that we’re going to leave behind a more diverse, more responsible industry when we pass on to the next generation,” Van Zyl enthused.

Decarbonisation in Many Forms

A mining industry that is working hard to come up with decarbonisation options is what is being seen today.

The process followed is to identify options that can eliminate aspects of a mine’s emissions or emissions associated with certain aspects of mining.

Those aspects of mining can be trucking, crushing, electricity, and being identified are alternatives with smaller carbon footprints that impact less on the environment and the community.

The rapid rate of development and increasing competitiveness of renewable power and storage is typical of the expectation for the development of other paths of decarbonisation measures including the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell mobility and battery vehicles, with exponential improvement in cost efficiency and availability being targeted.

Innovative Innovation

Innovation across a range of disciplines is being undertaken. “Tailings have been in the news a lot and so you have a number of innovations, some of which are not particularly glamorous.

“A lot of the innovation that we’re trying to do is to increase the confidence in designs. A number of our clients are less profitable than they were a year or two back, but have the same goals in terms of securing their facilities and making sure that they can confidently say to the community that they’re not at risk because of operations.

“The way that we align in that sense is we try to innovate around better understanding the properties of the soils and the deposition and to increase the confidence in the knowledge we have of the soil mechanics, so that we can more confidently say that we don’t need to spend capital on safety interventions, without compromising the confidence we have that the community is not at risk. Those are examples of the kinds of innovation, so sometimes the way we’re trying to innovate is to try and avoid expenditure.

“We’re trying to innovate in how we understand things, and how we calculate things and how we convey to the client where the risks are and where we have confidence and where we’re uncomfortable with something such that it minimises the amount of activity.

“In other instances, we’re looking to innovate through mine design or layouts or approaches to reduce the amount of material moved to make mining more likely. We’re also looking to reduce, for example, the amount of waste stripping, because that is a form of decarbonisation.

“If we can better calculate slope angles, and we can increase the confidence in our calculations, then we can increase slope angles and reduce the amount of waste that’s removed. Even if you remove it with diesel trucks, that’s still a lower carbon footprint than if you move more material.

“If we can optimise stockpiling and we can optimise double handling, then that’s a kind of decarbonisation in that we reduce the carbon intensity of production,” Van Zyl pointed out.

SRK Consulting does not decide for society what goals it should pursue, whether it should decarbonise or whether it should drive diesel cars and petrol cars.

“All we can do is facilitate the change that’s desired. But, I believe that we’ll be able to look back and say, well, you know, society saw that we were willing, proactive participants, and we made it possible. So, maybe that’s an idealistic view but that’s my hope,” Van Zyl added.

Mining Weekly: What is SRK Consulting’s approach to maintaining its independence?

Van Zyl: Our only skin in the game is providing clear and concise advice that’s objective and we’ve seen that the market appreciates the business model and it’s worked for us. It keeps things simple for us. We don’t take equity stakes. We don’t build anything of any significance. The closest we get is construction supervision. Maintaining independence allows us to focus on our core engineering and science consulting, without having to think about investments or construction or materials. It’s worked for us, and I don’t see that as something that we’re going to need to change in the near future.

What are SRK Consulting’s primary goals and aspirations for the next decade?

For me, it’s really to see the continued transition to a safe working environment, responsible corporate citizenship, sustainable practices and decarbonisation. I’m enjoying those things that I see others driving, and we’re enjoying being able to drive some of those things ourselves, and I’d certainly like to think that when I do leave the industry, I’ll be able to see this transition where we’re leaving behind a safe workforce, a diverse workforce and a responsible business that’s a respected member of the business community.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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