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Mining industry could rebound with passage of new bill

Updated September 14, 2021 - 9:10 am

Infrastructure legislation to be taken up by the House and Senate soon could be a key to the rebound of the mining industry, a panel of CEOs said Monday, the opening day of the National Mining Association trade show.

Panelists were optimistic that their companies would be called upon to provide metals necessary for a range of things such as steel for bridges and components for electric cars.

Nevada, a leading producer of gold and silver, also is expected to be a key source for lithium for the production of batteries for electric vehicles.

“Lithium demand is skyrocketing and we’ll need to find new sources in Nevada and elsewhere,” said Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the Washington-based association.

More than 21K attendees expected

Nolan said more than 21,000 people are attending the association’s MINExpo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, making it the largest Las Vegas show by attendance since March 2020.

Attendance is well below the record 40,000 people who attended the last MINExpo in September 2016. MINExpo is on an every-four-years rotation, but the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the scheduled 2020 show and a reset to 2021.

Nolan said the association plans to get back to its every-four-years schedule and will next be in Las Vegas in 2024.

The reason attendance isn’t as robust as it has been is due to travel uncertainties, particularly from international participants. Still, 400 international companies from 30 counties are participating in this year’s show.

Recent concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19 also are believed to have been an attendance deterrent.

Massive equipment

In addition to MINExpo being a large show by visitation, it also occupies three of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s five show floors with massive earthmovers, bulldozers and specialized mining trucks.

One excavator on display at the show from Tokyo-based Komatsu Ltd. has only a 3-inch clearance from the Convention Center Central Hall’s ceiling.

Two of the largest mining truck companies displaying at MINExpo, Komatsu and Caterpillar Inc. of Deerfield, Illinois, are adjacent to each other on the show floor, drawing thousands of visitors having their pictures taken inside one of the massive shovels.

The three-day mining industry show, open only to industry professionals, runs through Wednesday. Gov. Steve Sisolak opened the show ceremonially with a ribbon-cutting and remarks about the importance of the mining industry to the Silver State.

State of the industry

Nolan then introduced the 90-minute panel, a MINExpo staple with the leadership of top mining and energy companies discussing the state of the mining industry.

Among the panel highlights:

— All five panelists concurred that the best thing about the industry gathering was to physically be there and not rely on digital communication.

— Mark Bristow, president and CEO, Barrick Gold Corp., which has Northern Nevada mining operations, said it will be key for mining companies to reinvest in their operations if mining becomes a part of the push for infrastructure improvements.

— One of the most important issues facing the industry will be getting on the path to sustainability. Panelists Denise Johnson, group president for Resource Industries, Caterpillar Inc., and Jimmy Brock, president and CEO, CONSOL Energy, said it will be important to rely on innovation and technology to reach environmental compliance and new strategies for safety.

— Panelists agreed they need to tell the industry’s story better so that the public better understands issues that confront it.

— Panelist Jeffrey Dawes, president and CEO, Komatsu Mining Corp., and chair of MINExpo International 2021, emphasized how important it is for the industry to live up to the commitments they make.

— Panelists say the industry needs to do a better job of recruiting the miners of the future and listen to their ideas about technology and sustainability and listen to some of the solutions they may have.

— Panelists say they expect autonomous and semi-autonomous equipment may be part of mining’s future, with engineers operating multiple machines from control rooms away from the mine site.

— Panelists said companies need to commit to workplace diversity, with an important part being the promotion of women into key management roles.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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