Warning: The Mining Boom is Fading Fast

Original Story from Monash University Faculty of Engineering: http://www.monash.edu.au/news/newsline/story/1231

A Monash University environmental engineer has warned in a new report that mineral resources are running out, excavation costs are escalating and the environmental costs of mining are devastating.

The world-first report, The Sustainability of Mining in Australia: Key Trends and Their Environmental Implications for the Future, was authored by Monash researcher and lecturer Dr Gavin Mudd in conjunction with the independent Mineral Policy Institute.

Dr Mudd said the statistics were alarming. "On average, 27 tonnes of greenhouse emissions are created to mine a tonne of uranium. That's equivalent to the annual emissions of nine family cars. To mine one kilogram of gold it takes 691,000 litres of water, and it takes 141 kilograms of cyanide to produce a single kilogram of gold.

"There is often talk about sustainable mining, but our latest body ofresearch shows that minerals are being mined at an alarming rate, mining companies have to work harder to source it, and as a result the environmental costs of the process and clean-up are rising exponentially.

"If we were to project these key trends just 40 years into the future,we would find that to source the same amount of minerals would require a new Pilbara to be found or a new Mt Isa or Broken Hill -- and that's unlikely.

"It takes a minimum of two million tonnes of solid waste to produce asingle kilogram of gold. Copper produces around 250 tonnes of solid waste per tonne of copper while uranium produces about 2,400 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste per tonne of uranium oxide."

The landmark report reveals critical trends in the mining industry:

  • A decline in mineral and ore grades
  • A dramatic increase in waste rock and tailings -- now at several billions of tonnes annually, much of it posing a long-term risk to the environment
  • Incomplete sustainability reporting -- many companies refuse to accurately report relevant data, including waste rock, tailings, energy, cyanide or water consumption

Dr Mudd said the results of his research clearly show that regulators,shareholders, governments and communities face a challenge, the full extent of which is not being discussed. "There's no game plan in place for a long-term strategic assessment bynational and international authorities to examine the real sustainability of material resources. More than 50 per cent of land disturbed by mining has not yet been properly rehabilitated."

Dr Mudd's research and the report will be presented at the Minerals Councilof Australia Sustainable Development Conference in Cairns this week, 30 October -- 2 November.

Dr Mudd's full report is available from the Engineering faculty website.

I can recall from my geology lectures that iron and aluminum are some of the most common elements in the earth's crust, it is unlikely that we will be out of iron any time soon. There were huge high grade deposits in Brazil and elsewhere that are not on the verge of collapse, there were lower grade iron sources of much greater magnitude. Clay is rich in aluminum, bauxite is richer. We have not run out of aluminum as the earth's crust is loaded with aluminum silicates called feldspars. Feldspar minerals are the most common minerals in the earth's crust. It is true that rare metals are hard to find. That is why they were called precious metals. Much precious metal was refined as a result of base metal mining. Some copper ore contained gold and occasionally there was silver in lead-zinc ore. There will never be enough of anything to support unlimited population growth. There is a greater lack of wisdom in the world than lack of minerals.
A few months ago people were speculating that we were on the verge of irreversible oil declines and the end of lifestyle as we know it. Then I read that the world might peak in oil production in 2030. This is because there are huge deposits of heavy oil that was considered trash ten years ago. "One man's treasure is another man's trash".
A stone that was considered by some to a tripping hazard was found to be of great value by one who used it as a cornerstone.

Toxic tailings are not tripping stones. Depletion of resources is not a matter for shrugging off as though somebody will simply think of a way to make lemonade out of this lemon.

We transform our world into a toxic wasteland even though we know exactly what we are doing.

Our world is increasingly violent, with more weapons and more brutal weapons introduced with great fanfare each year.

Our climate is changing in ways that will sweep over us like an ecological tsunami.

We have petroleum resource depletion, soil depletion, water depletion....and a growing population.

Failing mining industry seems more like a another serious sign of collapse than something to dismiss easily.

Reserves don't mean Production

Just because something exists in the ground, doesn't mean it's going to be extracted. It depends on the required energy being available.

At the time it was finished the (DC) Washington Monument was topped with aluminum, at the time it was more of a precious metal than gold.

The energy needed to make one new aluminum can is the same as the energy needed to recycle twenty aluminum cans.

The energy saved from recycling one aluminum can is enough to run a TV set for 3 hours and a 100 watt light bulb for 4 hours.

Recycling 1 aluminum can saves enough energy to run a 100-Watt bulb for 20 hours; a computer for 3 hours; or a TV for 2 hours

Then I read that the world might peak in oil production in 2030

You can read many reports with these kind of projections. It is a matter of fact that crude oil production peaked in 2005. Read here:
"Did Katrina Hide the Real Peak in World Oil Production? And Other Oil Supply Insights"

I do not think the exact date matters. Anyway the data is not transparent enough so it is also OK to say that oil peaked in a three year period 2004-2007. It could be even longer if we stay on this bumpy plateau.

The real issue is increasing demand in China, India, Russia and the OPEC countries. Last year 70m cars were sold. Maybe even more will be sold in 2007, many to people whose only trade in is a bike.

With flat supply, what is driving those extra cars? Or are we all driving less, or smaller cars?

Actually the real issue is Peak Oil and lack of additional supply. Demand from China and India is way below US and European demand. There is even increasing demand in the US believe it or not.

If there was additional supply available e.g. some new Saudi Arabia or magic bullet were found then no problem at all Oil would be at $10 per BBL.

Umm. Even if we found a magical new Saudi Arabia that could instantly produce 8 mbd, and even if the rest of the world could magically not decline, we would be right back at peak oil in 4 years (2% growth rate). At 3%, it would only take 3 years.

It doesn't matter how much new oil we find, we cannot grow oil production.

While I have not worked in Oz, my work in N. America suggests the same thing.

We are drilling after much deeper Au deposits and at substantially higher costs. In 1989, 100 to 150 meter holes were the industry average in Nevada. Now we routinely drill 700-1000 meter holes. In 1989, I could complete a 100 meter hole for $18,000. This year's holes averaged $250,000 - $300,000 for 700 meters if the hole went well.

The targets are much more speculative and drilling conditions are generally challenging.

My fees have gone up too, of course. Hurray!

Thank you for this interesting and timely post.


I am but no means a mining engineer [and I don't play one on TV], but it strikes me that 100 to 150 meter holes are more than enough to provide evidence of the presence or absence of ore that can be reached via strip mining. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that all of the significant recent gold production in Northern Nevada has been extracted via strip mining.

Going deeper would appear to make sense if an underground mine was contemplated, or if the shallow stuff had already been proved up [or at least drill indicated] reasonable ore / resource grades and the explorer was looking for enough more ounces to sell the project or to realize that full price on his prospect by adding a kicker to the intial ore body ["open at depth."]

Is there more to it than than?

100 to 150 meter holes are more than enough to provide evidence of the presence or absence of ore that can be reached via strip mining

Actually, no. Often there is little or no near surface indication of ore at depth. Alternately, surface indications are ambiguous and must be tested. There are uncounted thousands of prospects which might be ore bodies based on surface indications, but are subsequently drilled out and found to contain little or no ore grade material.

I believe that all of the significant recent gold production in Northern Nevada has been extracted via strip mining

Again, no. That the majority of Nevada production has been from open pit mines is true. Most new mines in Nevada are underground. Indeed, many big open pit mines go underground from the bottom of the pit as pit-wall laybacks become hopelessly uneconomic. Most exploration today is focused on targets which are only mineable via underground techniques. It is not that we dont want open-pitable deposits; it's that we can't find many. Even in the Carlin Trend underground has been the basis for most new production over the past decade.

Going deeper would appear to make sense if an underground mine was contemplated, or if the shallow stuff had already been proved up

Unfortunately, going deep makes sense because it is where we are finding most of our "new" ounces. Shallow orebodies are welcome...I have been on the waiting list for a long time.

Thanks for the thoughtful question R W. I mostly work in the "finding" side of mining rather than the "digging" side. Mine geologists and mine engineers may have a different take on this.

I presume that 27 tonnes of GHG's for the one ton of uranium actually means uranium ore. If that is the case, how many tonnes of GHG's are needed for the amount of U235 (ie enriched uranium, ready for use in a power station) that represents the equivalent of 1 ton of coal?

I haven't found details supporting this number in the linked report. The reporting on production is in tonnes of uranium oxide (natural uranium rather than ore). So, you might want to work from there.

The combination of Peak Minerals and Peak Oil will mean rapidly escalating costs for mined materials. Not only will drilling have to go deeper (or mining lower quality ore), but the costs for drilling, processing, and transporting will increase as well.

All of those costs have already been increasing.

Check out the excellent slide deck from the ASPO conference in Houston by Vince Matthews of the Colorado Geological Survey. The charts on pp 56-59, showing the price increases of all the major metals are astounding:


Energy consultant, writer, blogger www.getreallist.com

Hello TODers,

First, my thanks for the keypost amd comment thread.

Do I need to remind you of EB's Peak Phosphorus text, and TOD's Peak Minerals keypost?

Recall my earlier postings on energy required for NPK: forty lb. bag has the energy-equivalent of 3 gallons of gasoline embedded into it.

Recall other posts that minutely detailed the P & K raw rock beneficiation process to finished form, and how much water and other chem-processes are required.

I still think we need a National Emergency Program to build millions of bird & bat shelters for later guano-harvesting, combined with widespread humanure recycling.

I expect most other mineral mines to be shutdown pretty quickly postPeak: so that the fuel and equipment can be used to sustain biosolar mission-critical P & K mines, Haber-Bosch for N, and to power the railroads, ships, and trucks for distribution globally.

As posted before: we are not talking about weightless internet packets, but billions of NPK tons to be far flung to enrich arable land around the planet. Priced guano lately?

I remain a fast-crash realist until we really start moving to universal Peak Outreach to leverage paradigm shift with 60-75% of us employed in relocalized permaculture. Food first, even if that means we all partake of the natural nightly darkness, so that machete' moshpits are minimized.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


Thanks for the info about NPK.

If you are a fast-crash realist, how do you think Phoenix and the Southwest US will fare with a fast crash? Is there enough water for permaculture to sustain much of a human population?


Hello SprinklerintheRain,

Nope, the Southwest pop. will go the same as the ancient Anasazi. I suspect Phoenix and other cities will be mostly ghost towns. I expect to be an early Thermo/Gene victim--such is life. The future belongs to the young: always has, always will.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


all you have to do is get in your vehicle,,or start hiking..and Head East young man.

Go til you hit the largest river in the USA..the Mississippi River..you will have plenty of H2O..just on the west bank and the furtherest south you can go in Missouri is the bootheel..some very rich soil...

Why fight it and then die?

Nice blue cat are caught locally out of that river...lots of folks think they are prime eating. In some places you can catch crawdads,,which Nawlins prizes. And there is so much fertilizer it 'runs off' the fields. Just a tad south is lots of rice grown in NE ArkansaW. Site of the famed Jonesboro troubled-boy shooting.

Heck ,ride a bicycle...See America..check out the Route 66 local hot spots and motels of ye oldense dayses. Stop off in Tulsa at the HD dealer for some down home dining car chow.

Lots to see and do in the USA. Land of the free and home of the brave.....


Green light for grain imports
2 Nov 2007

Livestock producers have been given the go-ahead by the federal government to import grain to feed their stock. A shortfall of 2 million tonnes is being predicted following the latest downward revisions to the nation's total crop production by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Approval has been given for the importing of 12 types of stockfeed including wheat and rye from Canada, wheat from Britain, maize and sorghum from the US, maize, sunflower, sorghum and wheat from Argentina, and soybean from Paraguay.

The Australian, 2/11/2007

You need financing to mine.

The Australian National Bank's in trouble.

Citi might not survive the week.

That's the thing with PO. Financing depends on
Free Energy to pay back loans.

No Free Energy, no Pay Back, No loans.

What can I say except this appears to be validating the Limits to Growth thesis and same conclusions reached in 2003 with Revised Limits to Growth.

I also think that the current economic growth paradigm will persist until some inflection point is reached and we begin to crash. How fast unknown but I don't think we will get this soft landing and smooth transition.

Yes, the reality just keeps hitting the fan. The techno-fetishists are scratching their heads trying to come up with their latest response and undoubted rationalization to the fact that the raw materials of their fantasy are reaching their own peaks.

Indeed, the authors of "The Limits to Growth" are not jumping for joy as their models prove to be true even after suffering years of weasels who haven't even read their book point out that we haven't run out of oil, or copper, or whatever. The authors knew that all they had to do was hide and wait. Physics tolerates fools poorly, and my oh my have we been up to our nostrils in techno-fools for lo these many years.

For every step towards an alleged techno-solution, we must take two steps back for the blow-back. Because techno-worshipers concentrate on the small picture, the limited purview, sticking to their own bailiwicks where they cheerlead their own solutions and ignore the interconnected reality that says, "No," these people fail to follow the techno-highway to its logical conclusion. For those who feel that everything will remain the same, we'll just erect windmills, one must ask about all the associated problems. Where will the metals come from? Will these metals be mined, processed, shaped, and shipped using only the energy that a windmill produces? Will be build the mining shovels, bulldozers, and dump trucks using only electricity from windmills? Will we build and operate the smelters using only the electricity produced by windmills? Will we build the roads to transport them using only the electricity generated by windmills?

When the population grows because you have extended the techno-paradigm, where will you get the energy to build yet more windmills to carry on the madness?


No solution exists unless that solution strengthens nature.
No solution exists unless that solution reintegrates us into nature.
No solution exists unless that solution disappears into the fabric of existence once we are back into nature.


For a techno-fetishist view on the peak minerals subject (along with a number of others), have a look at this post I did last week :


I remain pretty skeptical about any practical limit on iron ore reserves - there is a lot of the stuff out there (coming from a state with as much of it as you could ever want).

There may be still deposits of iron that are economically minable. But some are mined out. The Sherman Mine in Northern Ontario was a banded iron formation that took hundreds of millions of years to deposit back in the Archean Era, but it was all mined out 20 years ago. Ontario has a number of small iron deposits that were mined out.

There are some large deposits that appear inexhaustible, such as the copper-nickel deposit of the Sudbury Structure (meteorite impact 1850Mya) and the just as large copper-nickel deposit in Labrador (currently too expensive to mine due to its remoteness). But we cannot live on just these alone. Gold is more of a collector’s item for those who see it as having some intrinsic value (how much is stowed away in vaults?) so really it doesn’t count. But it’s the other metals we need, the more rarer and hard to find such as titanium, platinum and the rare earths used in electronics. These are in such short supply that electric components are now being mined to get the metals.

All of these have to be mined using fossil fuels. Once that gets expensive, the cost of mining will make many current projects uneconomic. Maybe mine garbage dumps next? I can certainly see that in the future.

Richard Wakefield
London, Ont.

No one is ahead of their time, just the rest of humanity is slow to catch on.

Of course there are practically infinite numbers of iron atoms out there ! The same applies to any other element you care to mention, including copper and uranium.

But this is completely irrelevant to the current discussion. TOD is devoted to a discussion of Energy and our future, and rightly so. It is not a discussion about
Atoms and our future

It is the availability of the energy needed to extract these infinite reserves of potentially useful atoms that is the problem. Apart from insolation and nuclear fission/fusion, the only energy available to us is that stored in fossil form. This finite resource is being continuously used up at an accelerating rate. No amount of money, investment, cleverness of technology can alter this inviolable fact of thermodynamics. For example, tar sands production etc. is largely a case of throwing good money (natural gas) after bad (low quality synthetic oil).

Why Oh Why do economists find this simple fact so hard to grasp ?

I'm not an economist.

I also don't believe in "energy descent", unless it is brought about by human stupidity.

There is far more renewable energy out there than we currently get from fossil fuels. We could power present day industrial civilisation with wind power alone if we really felt like it. Solar would obviously be a lot easier though, as there is far more of it.

The question is how do we transition to the big 4 renewable power sources (solar, wind, wave and geothermal) and what are the optimal adjustments we need to make in order to do so...

As for the tar sands, while they are a hopelessly poor choice to pursue, the fact remains that you can bootstrap tar sands production and just burn the bitumen itself in the production process - no natural gas required. Or you can use nuclear power. See this post for some commentary (the relevant section is about half way down):


I don't advocate either course of action, but we shouldn't kid ourselves about what is possible. The problem with these is the environmental calamity they will cause, not the "impossibility" of them.

There is far more renewable energy out there than we currently get from fossil fuels. We could power present day industrial civilisation with wind power alone if we really felt like it. Solar would obviously be a lot easier though, as there is far more of it.

Maybe in theory (but I doubt that), but definitely not in practice (last winter here in Southern Ontario saw only 17% sunny days). There is no way we can build the wind turbines fast enough to replace the energy requirement of the entire "industrial civilisation". You miss one important point. As you build these alternatives the population and demand growth continues. So by the time you erect enough turbines to meet today's demand, the actual demand by then would have at least doubled. So you are back to square one.

Even if your theory is possible in practicle terms, it would still have an upper limit of availabilty to produce the alternatives. Do you see a time that there would be 5 million wind turbines in the US? Yet that is what the demand may require, if not many more.

The problem with alternatives is either they cannot be economically/practically scaled up, or cannot be scaled up in time. Or require fossil fuels as the base energy source to make the alternatives in the first place.

Techo-solutions will not keep this civilization alive.

just burn the bitumen itself in the production process - no natural gas required

Then you don't understand the process of turning bitumen into synthetic oil. The natural gas is mainly used to supply hydrogen in the cracking process to break up the large carbon chains into smaller molecules. You can't use bitumen to make these smaller chains (not enough hydrogen atoms).

Richard Wakefield
London, Ont.

No one is ahead of their time, just the rest of humanity is slow to catch on.

[QUOTE]You can't use bitumen to make these smaller chains (not enough hydrogen atoms).[/QUOTE]

You can use steam reformation by burning coal or bitumen to make hydrogen. It is worse for the environment and not as energy efficient as using natural gas, but it probably is economical if natural gas prices are high enough (they're extremely low considering how high a grade of energy natural gas is).

It is very capital intensive, so switching to it would make the slow build-up of the tar sands even slower.

"I also don't believe in "energy descent", unless it is brought about by human stupidity."

It doesn't matter what you "believe" or the reason you believe it. Energy descent is brought to you by Nature. And "human stupidity" is very much a part of that nature.

"We could power present day industrial civilisation with wind power alone if we really felt like it.

Who is "WE" in this sentence? I ask because I think you are dreaming of a test-tube world that does not exist - you make assumptions that are so improbable that your basic fantasy is rendered null and void upon returning to the Real World.

If "WE" really wanted to do this transition to solar, wind and wave etc energy, how many decades would you need to displace even half the energy we currently get from oil? How many other industries and sectors of the economy would compete for the energy and resources, and therefore have to be "put on hold" ?

What kind of geopolitical assumptions have you made that are grossly improbably if not impossible in our current world ? Assumptions about world peace - no one trying to destroy some imaginary "great satan" or their neighbors?

Assumptions about various world currencies remaining viable throughout this imaginary period of transition.

Assumptions pertaining to current growth rates - will all the 2nd and 3rd world stop growing or not try to compete for resources, and all the first worlder countries share nice (soviet and other's oil and gas, etc) and don't compete or even go to war over energy or any other reason...

I'm sure we could go on but I think you get the idea - your test-tube world is based on too many false assumptions.

Too many people here are clicking their heels together whild singing the old coca cola commercial's song - "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony"...

Good luck daytripper.

I ask because I think you are dreaming of a test-tube world that does not exist - you make assumptions that are so improbable that your basic fantasy is rendered null and void upon returning to the Real World.

I'm promised Matt a long time ago that I would describe how to do this. Guess I'd better get around to it at last.

Here's an exercise for you in the meantime:

1. Work out how much energy is available from each renewable source (solar, wind, wave/current/tidal, geothermal, hydro, biomass).

1a. As a side note, work out how many efficiency gains we could make, still within the framework of industrial civilisation (ie. not assuming a "powerdown").

2. Work out how much energy we need to maintain the present rate of energy use. Then increase so that everyone on the planet has the same energy consumption as someone in Japan does today, assuming that there are 9.1 billion people on the planet (where the models show it will level off).

3. Work out what percentage of (1) you need to achieve (2).

You'll find the answer is a lot less than 1%.

And this is assuming no contribution from oil, coal, gas and nuclear at all...

Then you need to start looking at the other limits to work out what the real constraints are (and then how they can be dealt with).

I don't think many would dispute the above, although there is disagreement as to how to accurately measure each flow or resource (how much is available, how much is technologically feasible to extract, what is economically viable and how much can be extracted without major detrimental side-effects, like habitat destruction, etc).

The more pressing issue, imho, is that which Robert L Hirsch and others try to keep pointing out:

It's not whether it is theoretically feasible, but how fast and how fundamentally can we change our day-to-day infrastructures, considering our cultural, investment, technical and political transformation challenges?

Energy transitions span 50-150 years. It looks unlikely that they can be performed in 10-20 years for all infrastructures. Manhattan programs or not.

This practical constraint of speed and magnitude is the real issue. Not some theoretical calculations about how many kWh of sunlight hit each square meter every day. We live in practical (and not theoretical) reality, after all.

However, as nobody can really know how the practicality will actually develop - with all of it's failings, errors, wrong starts and inertia - and opinions on practicalities are even more contested than the theories, it remains unlikely that we'll find a lot of common ground any time soon on this issue.

Here's hoping we can all remain scientific realists in our calculations, but optimistic achievers in our actions.

YMMV, just my 2 cents worth.

You're quite right - thats exactly the sort of thing I'm interested in - how fast can we transition ?

Previous energy transitions have spanned many decades, but as Alvin Toffler, amongst others, pointed out - the rate of change has accelerated dramatically.

As an example, look at how long did it take to go from the first generation of telecoms infrastructure (the telegraph) to the second (the fixed line phone). Then from there to the mobile phone (some developing countries barely have fixed line phone networks but they do have mobile networks).

The energy system hasn't really evolved because there hasn't been an economic incentive to do so - oil has been cheap, coal has been cheap. As the economics change, you'll find the responses might be a lot more rapid than simply extrapolating the coal to oil transition would indicate...

Big Gav,

Newsflash: real life does not work the way it does on your piece of paper. The real world is not made of legos you can just buy from the store and then move around in front of you as you see fit.

Let me guess; you work a lot with software or computers? Or something where your living and social status is based on moving around abstract symbols on a computer screen, am I correct?

You can read bio's for Big Gav and I at the bottom of this page: http://www.theoildrum.com/special/about

Here is what it says for Big Gav:

Big Gav studied Engineering at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Since then he has travelled widely and worked in the oil and gas, power generation, defence, technology and banking industries. He has been blogging about peak oil for almost 3 years at Peak Energy (Australia) and is probably the most prolific example of a techno-optimist in the peak oil world. He may be alone in thinking that peak oil represents a great opportunity to switch to a clean energy based world economy, rather than the trigger for the end of industrial civilisation.

TOD would not be worth much if we all had the same opinion!

Matt - as I understand it, lawyers and prophets of doom both work with symbols too - right ?

Does that mean we should discount everything they say ?

As for the real world (at least the one moulded by the large organisations I work for), buy and large it does act a lot like a big store where you buy lego pieces and out them together.

Go and work on a offshore oil field development and you'll see how it works.

The question that is important is - how do we transition from oil and gas and coal to renewable sources. It is clear the energy is there, the issue is how do we substitute the new sources in rapidly enough to replace depleting fossil fuels and how much reconfiguration of our transport systems do we need to do to accomplish this.

End of the world optional.

No solution exists unless that solution strengthens nature.
No solution exists unless that solution reintegrates us into nature.
No solution exists unless that solution disappears into the fabric of existence once we are back into nature.

Hi Cherenkov, I agree totally with that but there are enough minerals so it can physically be done. This is how:

1. Cars made per year = 60 million weighing 100 million tons.
2. 1 gigawatt solar farm weighs 100,000 tons.
3. Divide one by the other and you get 1 terawatt of solar electric a year. Cars are actually much more expensive to make than solar panels - engines, gearboxes etc..
4. Add another 100 million tons for flywheel storage. The flywheels are spun up during the day and you draw power from them overnight. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flywheel_energy_storage
5. 825kV DC can transmit electricity 5000km at a 15% loss.

Result: More than enough energy and much less CO2.

The entire planet (5.9736×10^24 kg) is made of metal ores. Silicon is the most common element in the earth's crust and aluminum is not far behind. Solar farms are made of aluminum, silicon and glass (silicon oxide). There are plenty of minerals for it and more than enough coal to smelt the ores to metal.

At this point you may try to change the subject and say, ok there could be enough energy but other resources including soil will run out. Yes, that would be right but will you please try to understand than 'can' means physics to someone like me.

So, can we transition to a sustainable future? Yes, within the laws of physics and the resources available. Will it happen? Not until the crisis hits. IMO it won't be the US that does it because it requires a command economy. Democracy is probably a handicap so it has to go. It should actually help but we don't really have democracy. The 4th rate politicians are in the pockets of the corporations. Bush & Co. are oil men. They are trying to save the oil industry, not the US.
Hillary? Obama? Not up to the task ahead!

Peak oil will change absolutely everything. The mass consumption economy will go. The farmer will get to plant and harvest his crop before you or I get to drive a car. Farmers cannot and will not be priced out of food production just because some rich kid wants to drive a Ferrari, so I think a command economy is coming anyway.

Lastly, in the long run it doesn't matter. How many people are going to die in the next 100 years? All the people alive today, except for a handful, plus all the people who will be born and die in that time. About 10 billion. If you are a doomer you think that will be 15 billion. Personally, I'm between 55 and death so I think about this stuff a lot but I do expect there to be something after me. Most doomers hate that thought.

As Bill Clinton might say - it all depends what you mean by the word 'can'.

Maybe it depends on what you 'mean' by the word 'mean'!

Can we forget the Clinton 'Buffoon Era'?
One day in the future, OJ Simpson has a heart-attack and dies. He immediately goes to hell, where the devil is waiting for him. 'I don't know what to do here,' says the devil. 'You are on my list, but I have no room for you. You definitely have to stay here, so I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I've got a couple of folks here who weren't quite as bad as you. I'll let one of them go, but you have to take their place. I'll even let YOU decide who leaves.'

OJ thought that sounded pretty good, so the devil opened the door to the first room. In it was Ted Kennedy and a large pool of water. Ted kept diving in, and surfacing, empty handed. Over, and over, and over he dove in and surfaced with nothing. Such was his fate in hell.

'No,' OJ said. 'I don't think so. I'm not a good swimmer, and I don't think I could do that all day long.'

The devil led him to the door of the next room. In it was Al Gore with a sledgehammer and a room full of rocks. All he did was swing that hammer, time after time after time.

'No, this is no good; I've got this problem with my shoulder. I would be in constant agony if all I could do was break rocks all day,' commented OJ.

The devil opened a third door. Through it, OJ saw Bill Clinton, lying on the bed, his arms tied over his head, and his legs restrained in a spread-eagle pose. Bent over him was Monica Lewinsky, doing what she does best.

OJ looked at this in shocked disbelief, and finally said, 'Yeah man, I can handle this.'

The devil smiled and said .. . . .


I would suggest reviewing some of the TOD articles on limits on coal extraction.

Then there is also great information on high grade silicon depleting. YES there is still a super abundance of mineral to create silicone however it gets an order of magnitude more expensive to process this stuff into finished product.

There is a quote on oil shale that if the price of oil goes to $8 then oil shale will become economically viable. Even the massive deposits of Tar Sands are starting to falter due to increased input costs and other constraints e.g. water.

The problem with so many theoretical analysis on what we "can" do is what we will do and are actually able to do.

Theory and reality is where the rubber hits the road. We "can" have world peace for example but will we?

When you're dead you're dead the planet earth does not particularly care if humans or microbes are the dominant species.

Im a doomer and I just find the whole thing fascinating from the point of view that we have front row seats to a massive paradigm shift in how the world does business, if indeed industrial civilization continues as we know it.

Australia becomes a net importer of wheat.

We've always said that exporting wheat (and metals)
is exporting water.

Australia and every other Med Climate has left the Holocene.

Arkansaw of Samuel L Clemens

Australia used to import wheat. From California.
I think it ended when the Australians ran out of torbanite shale (the good oil, gave a bluer light than British shale oil) and started growing their own wheat and building railroads to haul it to market.
I do agree about med climates leaving the holcene, but recal that Australia has tropical zones, too.

All I can say is wow! Wow, dr mudd, are you dr mudd or are you just mudd? Maybe we all are just mudd sitting in this comfortable room, typing on this keyboard, thinking of ways we can "save" the world.

Dr. Mudd has compiled an interesting report. The byline does not do justice to it, containing several glaring errors ie ' a minimim 2 million tonnes of solid waste to produce 1 kg of gold' Typical grades of 1g/t Au and 3:1 strip ratio would reqire 4000 tonnes of waste per kg .
I suspect(hope) these are not Dr Mudds errors.
Statements such as '27 tonnes of greenhouse gas emmissions to mine 1 tonne of uranium' are not particularly helpful- that uranium may displace a much larger set of emmissions when used in power generation. (Dont take this as support for nuclear power, either.)
Dr Mudd's report is essentially a historical review of Australian mining, and very interesting it is, too.
His conclusions that ore grades are in continual decline and that ever increasing amounts of tailings and waste are being produced are correct. I am a bit surprised that he could not get detailed figures for waste rock production, as the ratio of ore to waste and the absolute amounts of both, are critical data for mine planning . Detailed figures should be available for every planned mining operation carried out in Australia over the last (at least) 20 years.
However the debate over the 'sustainabilty' of mining is one we have to have, and there are two main aspects.
Firstly the sustainability from a resource angle. As for petroleum, it is a finite world, so there must be a limit.
In general terms for many commodities, these limits are very large indeed- for example Al and Fe. Leaving aside energy and environmental factors-and there is the rub-'bulk' commodities have a long life ahead.
For the base metals the picture is somewhat different.
A very large part of production comes from a relatively small number of very large production centres eg the Chilean porphyry Cu belt, Norilsk Ni (Cu-PGE) Mt Isa belt Pb-Zn -Ag etc etc.The following quote from Mudd is germaine- ' a new Mt Isa or Broken Hill- and that's unlikely'
It certainly is, and it always was! But from time to time, and often just in time, new discoveries of this magnitude are made.(Cf Olympic Dam) This will continue to be the case for a long time. To explain why this is so would require a very long post and bore you to tears.It is very important to understand that the drop in ore grades is not a result (mainly) of a decrease in the ' quality' of ore bodies but an artifact of the economics of mining ie much lower grades can be profitably mined, so more of each ore system is mined, includint the lower grade outer parts.
Thats the good news.
There is no boubt that mining has been an environmental disaster ( unlike agriculture???), but everyone wants metals, fuels, fertilizers etc! So really we are all responsible for this situation. In recent times the industry in Australia anyway has made great environmental improvements.Dr Mudd's point that most of the past damage remains to be cleaned up(if possible) is a good one.
Environmental 'sustainability' is a much more serious issue for the mining industry tan resource sustainability. In my opinion there are certain areas eg high relief, high rainfall, geotechnical unstability, where open pit mining should not even be considered.In other words a sort of filter should be appied before exploration even starts.
The killer for mining will be energy, both cost/shortages and CO2 emmissions. Big open pit mines are voracious users of liquid fuels, and big reduction mills huge electricity consumers.I think energy will be at the heart of sustainability issues for the mining industry.

Like Bob above, I am a fast crash realist. Even though I believe a single person can think and act rationally at times, I fear that a mass of a few billion people together in a radically new situation do not have that capacity.

Also in another drumbeat and there was a discussion on the population issue, and it's possible "Retrograde" , I got thinking on the mineral situation, and raw materials.

I Have also posed the question of how to run a smelter from PV or such.

Then we talked about the drought in the SouthWest/East US mass exodus and such.

I also think many people will "Doubleup", kids move back to parents, parents living with kids.

This all leads to the question of salvage and reclaim.

Minerals like chrome, Nickel, copper, Wood, Stonework, etc and everything else even finished goods may come on the market.

If Phoenix or Tucson, Las Vegas were to be completely dismantaled, for instance, How much stuff would you get?

Would the reduced number of people (2-3ish billion by some) be able to get by and live with just melting down refining above ground salvage material.

Could mining be reduced considerably??


geonic Hi samsara-the metal recycling industry is highly developed. A very high proportion of Fe, Cu, Al Pb etc is recyled. In a 'crash' senario there would be an abundance of salvagble stuff. The resmelting/refining would require some specialized knowlege and some FF. but overall very doable. I look forward to it?

perilya projects that there are 5-6 years left in it's ore body in broken hill and plans to extend it beyond 10 years. that is news from a major ore body in australia. this was taken from their concise annual report 2007 'investing in sustainable growth' booklet given out to employees from perilya: "current ore reserves provide for a mine life of around five to six years and extending the mine life beyond 10 years remains a cornerstone of perilya's growth strategy".


You see Samsara, there is a problem here.

"I also think many people will "Doubleup", kids move back to parents, parents living with kids."

First the kids are very lazy,obese and have no skills and little real knowledge due to our failing schools.The other problem is with marriage and the spouse...NO divorce lawyers!!!

So one ends up killing the other in the middle of the night with a butcher knife to the carotid artery, for spousal 'abuse'.

And of course there are really few technically inclined folks left since all our industry was shipped out lonnnggg ago. And no one even knows how to hook up a motor or wire a breaker box.

Seriously looking at the way we have painted ourselves into a corner most will just roll over and perish.
Couch potatoism has done us in!!
And Oprah and all the other 'wise ones' are not there on TV to tell us how to do things. Where did you go Martha Stewart???
Without Dr. Phil how can we ever make it? We can't!!We will be without the barest trace of civility!

After the fast crash what is left will likely not be sufficient to 'restart' anything..since as someone stated above...'its all related'.

No transport,no fuel or ways to pump it or move it,everyone is busy raising gardens and defectating on the soil for N,P,K. The rest are trying to remember how to rub two sticks together and create fire. What was left succumbed to E.Coli from the others defecating on the soil and hitting the veggies instead.


I wish Howard would 'get' this as he talks up the mineral boom. I tried to say on a previous post that we should save some premium deposits for later, not just metal ores but fossil fuels. Reason being it's a hard call on future generations plus the GW factor with fossil. Either strategic reserves or a depletion protocol. However free marketeers urge us to 'get it while you can'. That makes them sleazoids in my view.

Having said that I'm suprised at the incentive effect
of trying to find another Olympic Dam. To wit, Prominent Hill in that zone was discovered in 2001 and now they're looking for 800 workers. Make that depletion protocol flexible as the picture changes.

BTW the answer to indirect CO2 in uranium mining is powering the machinery with nuclear electricity, maybe even make the ammonium nitrate explosives nearby.

Hi Folks,

Thanks to Phil for posting the story / link on The Oil Drum. It's generating some very useful awareness and discussion.

I will try to answer key comments / issues as best I can.

- report versus papers : the main report is the extensive data sets on primary mineral production. The associated papers, which the media info wanted to use as part of the story, is found in separate conference and journal papers. Many of these are downloadable from my personal staff page, or I can email if asked nicely :)

see : civil.eng.monash.edu.au/about/staff/muddpersonal/

- the principal basis for the report is to highlight the fact that the degree to which we consider metals as 'finite' resources is really not just the only issue : the associated wastes are just as critical. Hence the additional conference / journal papers adding in some of the true environmental costs.

- to use the oft-cited / edited / morphed quote "the stone age didn't end because it ran out of stones" - it will be the same for mining, the main issue as I see it is not just 'finite' resources but the true environmental costs which includes tailings, waste rock, CO2, water, land impacts, rehabilitation etc ... all of which are cumulative. This more accurate picture of sustainability in mining is missing in the current debate, and hence my work in trying to find the data and compile it.

- deposit depth is a critical issue - the proposed open cut for Olympic Dam would reach 1.5km depth or so from flat arid country. The details posted on depth and costs is very interesting indeed.

- the Limits to Growth work is effectively what inspired this research work, and the fact that the 'Minerals Mining and Sustainable Development' or MMSD report by the global mining industry failed to compile such data ...

- for Iron Ore in particular, I agree we have bucket loads out there, and as I outline in my report there is more out 'there' than what is currently classed as 'economic resources'. My point is that the environmental costs of exponentially growing production combined with greenhouse and water costs will effectively limit long-term production (aka ... Stone Age didn't end coz ...)

- what we need is a rational and more substantive analysis and debate on these critical variables of modern mining - like oil, many remain poorly reported on by the global mining industry.

- despite waste rock ratios / amounts being well known by all mines in Australia (open cut and underground) the majority do not report such data.

- Geonic - we agree almost entirely it seems (and I shall double check the gold calc - as I am working on a friend's PC at present). The energy/enviro costs are the long-term constraint and not just resources left (I agree lower grades are a function of demand, price, technology, exploration and so on - but my point is we need to know grade to better understand energy and enviro costs :)

- the 27 t CO2 is per tonne of uranium oxide - but as the conference papers demonstrate this is very grade sensitive, and will gradually increase in the future, removing any alleged 'CO2' benefit of nuclear.

More soon, but feel free to email me privately - happy to help.


- for Iron Ore in particular, I agree we have bucket loads out there, and as I outline in my report there is more out 'there' than what is currently classed as 'economic resources'. My point is that the environmental costs of exponentially growing production combined with greenhouse and water costs will effectively limit long-term production

Thanks for contributing Dr Mudd.

I think the quote above is an excellent way of looking at most mineral "depletion" issues - while a few minerals really are rare and likely to "run out", in most cases it is the externalities that are the issue, not the availability of the mineral itself.

To put the depletion issue in everyday terms....

I needed to install a propane tank(500 gal size) in order to provide heating,heat water and for cooking...

They specified 50 feet from the residence and all must be installed before they set the tank.

Pricing copper in 3/8ths and 1/2 inch rolls..it comes to about $300 or more just to make the runs and not counting the brass connnectors...thats at Three Dollars a foot.

Then they said..'oh we have this new type of flex hose made of steel' but guess what? Same price..in fact slightly more.

Depletion is something that we are into already..

Large copper wire for my clothes dryer run? 8 guage wire? About $3 per foot. A 250 ft of 10/2 w/g comes way over $100....

Thats why is worthwhile for others to steal.

airdale-the price is never going to go down..

National Pollutant Inventory


A tonne of Uranium is good for ballpark 60,000 GJ of heat on fissioning. If we took 30 tonnes of gasoline to get the carbon emissions, for a rough calculation in round numbers, that would produce 30x44 = 1320 GJ of heat on burning. Since 1320/60,000 ~= 2%, we can see that the greenhouse gas emissions involved in the mining are very insignificant compared to the energy in the uranium (which might otherwise be obtained from coal). While there may be other concerns about nuclear energy, the greenhouse gas emissions involved in mining it are not a serious objection.

A tonne of Uranium is good for ballpark 60,000 GJ of heat on fissioning...

The arithmetic Staniford follows this with looks good, but my information for the Darlington plant near me is that it gets 164 thermal MWh per kilogram of uranium, and that's 590,000 GJ per tonne, not 59,000.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan
http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/Paper_for_11th_CHC.html :
oxygen expands around boron fire, car goes

Let's see. The 1 tonne of Uranium is 0.7% U_235, which is the part that actually fissions. So we have 7kg of U_235 in unenriched uranium. Avogadro's number is 6 x 10^23/mole, so 235g of U_235 contains that many atoms. Therefore the one tonne of Uranium has 7/0.235 * 6 x 10^23 = 1.8 x 10^25 U_235 atoms in. When they fission, they are good for about 180 MeV each. So that's 3.2 x 10^33 eV per tonne of Uranium, which at 1.6 x 10^-19 Joules/eV) is about 520,000 GJ/tonne. This source says 560,000 GJ/tonne U (or 470,000 GJ/tonne for U308).

So you are correct that I'm off by an order of magnitude - my apologies. Therefore, the 27 tonnes of greenhouse emissions / tonne of U corresponds actually to about 0.2% of the energy in the uranium, rather than 2%. This makes it all the more clear that the "alleged 'CO2' benefit of nuclear" is absolutely enormous and undeniable, and anyone who suggests otherwise on the basis of the GHGs involved in mining is being quite misleading.

the 27 t CO2 is per tonne of uranium oxide - but as the conference papers demonstrate this is very grade sensitive, and will gradually increase in the future, removing any alleged 'CO2' benefit of nuclear.

That turns out to be a lie; even country rock is rich enough in uranium that most of its energy is net of extraction. (Country rock is about as rich in U energy as the tarsands are in hydrocarbon energy).

Unenriched uranium burned in a CANDU reactor yields 100 thermal barrels-of-oil-equivalent per kilogram. In terms of mass versus mass, one kilogram of uranium yields as much as 14,000 kilograms of oil.

Approximating oil's empirical formula as CH2, molar mass 14 grams, gives a handy uranium-CO2 equivalence. Since 14 grams of CH2 makes 44 grams CO2, 1 tonne uranium keeps 44,000 tonnes CO2 out of the atmosphere.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan
http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/boron_blast.html :
oxygen expands around boron fire, car goes