The continued growth and complexity of mining in West Africa is demanding more expertise, across a range of skill sets, to be available locally – as a more mature industry in Ghana is presenting exciting and challenging prospects to emerging players, while tightening regulations, new sources of investment and novel technologies also contribute to the demanding environment.
Through its West Africa hub in Accra, SRK Consulting is seeing the breadth of services expand in line with client requirements.
“The continued success of the junior and mid-tier mining sector, for instance, has supported our expansion into exploration services – from our traditional focus on geotechnical engineering,” says Ivan Doku, country manager of SRK Consulting Ghana. “Our Accra office is currently, independently undertaking a full exploration programme with a junior miner in the gold sector.”
Diving deeper into hard rock
While Ghana’s Kibi gold belt is well known for alluvial gold mining, SRK Consulting is assisting a client in the region to have the first major mineral resource estimate for a hard rock gold prospect. “This programme has already begun, checking the validity of existing exploration data, leading to the development of a geological model based on certain assumptions,” Doku says. “Existing samples are also being re-analysed, and a new exploration drilling programme is currently being implemented.”
He explains that the bedrock of the Kibi gold belt is untapped largely because of the lack of a detailed understanding of the complexity of the shear zones which host the gold mineralisation.
Doku also highlights the importance of new exploration technologies in the drive to define economic resources in the region, pointing out that many of the areas previously mined were explored using only traditional techniques.
“We are realising that there is still considerable potential along strike from existing or mined out operations on Ghana’s gold belts, for instance,” he explains. “However, it requires that we go beyond just trenching, for instance, and use the latest technologies such as sophisticated high level aeromagnetic surveys.”
One of the trends that could open up opportunities is the reviewing of exploration data from decades ago, to initiate a process of re-evaluating previous results. While the larger companies that conducted the initial exploration may not have had an appetite to develop smaller or lower-grade deposits, there is considerable emerging interest from smaller players – especially when the gold price is buoyant.
Shifting investment dynamics
“It is often said that there are no easy mineral targets left in Ghana, but this has not deterred a growing number of companies from exploring and developing orebodies,” says Doku.
Indeed, West Africa is seeing an interesting shift in the source of investment, according to SRK Consulting South Africa chairman Vis Reddy. While the main interest in the region just a decade or two ago was from investors in Canada, the US, Australia and Europe, this has broadened into an established investment flow from Asian countries like China and India.
“More recently, we are also seeing interest from countries in the Middle East like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as they look to diversify from petroleum assets into industries like mining,” says Reddy. “This marks a significant shift away from the traditional investment base, often signalling an interest from countries and companies who are not always very familiar with the mining environment.”
This trend comes at a time when West African countries are applying mining codes and protocols that align with both their own economic development agendas and with best global practice in the minerals sector. This has put the focus on imperatives such as local economic empowerment, as governments put measures in place to enhance the local benefits flowing from foreign mining investment.
“Our well-established office in Ghana, staffed by local professionals, has been able to respond to this trend for clients to be serviced by in-country expertise,” says Doku. “We have nurtured our own in-house skills and broadened our network of local associates in various mining-related fields including geotechnical, environmental, geology and tailings.”
The Ghana-based team has even deployed professional services to neighbouring countries, including a contribution to a large iron ore project in Guinea. The office is constantly building its base of local skills, and developing this expertise through ongoing contact, training and mentoring within the global SRK network of experienced specialists across a range of disciplines relevant to mining.
ESG and energy
As with other mining jurisdictions, West Africa is seeing national regulations and international codes of practice that demand compliance with the latest guidelines on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.
“SRK has done a great deal of pioneering work in recent years with major global miners, strategically applying ESG factors into their businesses to achieve a lower carbon future,” says Reddy. “This approach is generally supported by African governments, and new entrants in West Africa are having to take this into account in their planning and implementation.”
Among the implications of this is a closer focus on energy efficiency in mining operations, where mines are working towards reducing their carbon emissions by being smarter in their energy use. Security of energy supply is a related concern, he continued, as many mining companies are looking to renewable energy sources to limit their reliance on national power grids. Hydropower, as well as solar and wind energy – combined with fast-evolving battery storage technology – are likely to play a growing role in West Africa’s power supply equation.
In conclusion, Doku emphasises that the increasing complexity and risk involved in exploration and mining – not least from rapidly changing legal and ethical frameworks – requires the highest standards of technical quality and professional integrity.
“These values have always been central to our philosophy at SRK Consulting, and are now more important than ever as West Africa’s mining sector develops to world class standards,” he says.