In a Nutshell:
For some Latin American countries, mining is the engine of economic recovery and, according to the Fitch Ratings 2021, the outlook for mining is stable due to China’s recovery . In this context, asset care management is becoming even more relevant and prominent in the industry. This article briefly looks at the individual mining countries in South America and examines how the sector is developing. Further, it discusses what is required for effective integrity management of mining pipelines.
When it comes to mining, Latin America is at the forefront, as the industry originated there a long time ago. Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico represent 85% of mineral and metal exports .
According to AT Minerals Processing , there is no other region in the world that has received more investment in recent years. Even though overall global mining production has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend for Latin America is toward increased production.
A report by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) indicates that mining and energy investment in Latin America continues to grow strongly as companies implement new COVID-19 safety measures that may present opportunities for investors. Let us take a brief look at each country:
Brazil leads the mining industry in the region and is one of the most important producers of mined metals in Latin America. The country is rich in reserves of metals such as bauxite, iron ore, niobium, nickel and gold as precious metal. Mineral products and mining account for 2% of Brazil’s GDP, according to a report by Mordo Intelligence .
According to a report by the Brazilian Mining Association (IBRAM) , the rise in commodity prices, growing demand from China and positive exchange rate effects helped boost the country’s mining sector in the third quarter of 2020.
“The outlook for the coming quarters is to maintain the upward curve in these indicators, provided, of course, that the pandemic or other factors do not interfere with industrial performance in Brazil and in ore-buying markets,” said IBRAM CEO Flávio Penido in the report .
The Brazilian mining sector would likely be the first to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, thanks to its large iron ore capacity, states the IBRAM report .
According to EY Peru, the mining industry is the engine of the Peruvian economy due to its real potential for growth and further expansion . The Mining Journal reports that the construction of five projects will start in 2021; no new mines were built in the last two years .
Peru’s favorable geology and significant untapped mineral resources are a very important comparative feature that has led many mining companies to invest in the country’s mining sector .
With a volume of 2,437 Mta, the country is now the second largest copper producer behind Chile. In the production of zinc, the country is also second behind China, with 1,475 Mta. In the case of molybdenum, Peru ranks fourth behind China, Chile and the U.S., with a production volume of 28.03 kt, according to AT Minerals. The gold production of 142.6 t gives Peru sixth place in the global ranking, while the silver production volume of 4,163 kt means second place behind Mexico .
According to Statista, Chile is the world’s number one copper producer, accounting for 28% of global production in 2019. The main mining resources in Chile are copper, molybdenum and silver. Mining has been an important part of the country for many centuries. In 2019, Chilean mining exports totaled $36 billion, representing more than half of the national export value .
State copper agency Cochilco reported in September 2020 that Chile’s mining sector will receive more than $74 billion in investment through 2029, stating that “89.4% of the total will be for copper, while 77% of total investment will go to northern regions led by Antofagasta with 33% and Atacama with 25%” .
ASSET INTEGRITY MANAGEMENT IN MINING: RELIABLE AND SAFE
Due to environmental concerns and the stricter rules and regulations resulting from the mining industry, the safe and efficient operation of pipelines within the sector is an important issue that operators are aware of and need to address.
It is well known that In-Line Inspection (ILI) represents a reliable method of detecting and identifying pipeline defects and anomalies, allowing for an integrity assessment of inspected pipeline systems. Although the outlined integrity management cycle was originally designed for pipeline systems operating in the oil and gas industry, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this approach can also be successfully applied to the effective management of pipelines in the mining industry (ASME B31.4, 2016).
Figure 1 – Generalized pipeline integrity management cycle
As for inspections in the mining industry, one of the challenges are slurry pipelines. They pose operational problems for surveying because inspection tool components are typically subject to high wear. In addition, the build-up of solids in such pipes must be managed. Using autonomous inspection tools that are pushed through the pipelines by the slurry, ROSEN collects data using a wide range of inspection technologies.
These tools gather accurate and reliable information on pipeline damage such as denting, buckling, erosion, corrosion and cracking, providing details on the shape, depth and quantity of pipeline anomalies. This helps operators decide whether or not a particular feature requires immediate attention.
To ensure that all the specific needs and requirements of customers in the mining industry are met, there are various services, such as technical evaluation of the pipeline, advice on inspection tool configuration, planning and preparation of the survey, and, finally, inspection reports and integrity assessment.
MEETING THE CHALLENGES
The mining industry presents unique challenges to both assets and maintenance equipment. Extremely abrasive product, low flow rates, very high temperatures and pressure in some situations, and pipelines not typically designed to ever be inspected are just a few. Here is an explanation of the main challenges.
Due to the transport of iron slurry, the internal surface of the pipeline is extremely rough, which damages the inspection tool and creates a challenge for data evaluation.
To achieve the cleaning criteria, it is necessary to develop a specific cleaning approach that takes into account the number of runs and the configuration of each intelligent tool. Otherwise, the quality of the acquired data can be affected. The amount of debris can be high, demanding several of those specific cleaning runs.
To perform an ILI, a time window must be available during which only water is pumped through the pipeline to ensure minimum cleaning and inspection requirements are met.
Given the adverse circumstances (high pressure, for example), it is crucial to monitor operating conditions during runs.
For pressure control reasons and/or to save money during construction, mining pipelines are built in more than one size and sometimes with very thick walls. This requires a tool that can be compressed and released during the run.
In 2020, ROSEN was awarded a contract to inspect a pipeline system from a mining company with three sections of over 530 km in length, passing through mountainous terrain in South America.
The pipeline presented the following challenges:
- Extended length
- High abrasion
- High vibration
- ID variation
- High pressure
- Heavy wall thickness
After analyzing the pipeline properties, ROSEN configured the tool to meet the specific challenges of the pipeline.
The solution was to define a set of technologies capable of identifying the main anomalies to be expected, namely:
- Axial crack
Since the main threat is crack anomaly, ROSEN engineers decided that UTCD (Ultrasonic Crack Detection) is the best option to address this issue. ROSEN’s latest generation of ILI tools is robust and accurate thanks to its precise mechanical sensor guidance; it features a tailored sensor carrier to ensure high data quality along with reduced incidence angle tolerance, high axial resolution and a 1.5D bend passage.
Also during the inspection, additional services were provided, such as Axial Flaw Detection (AFD), Extended Geometry Pig (XGP), Ultrasonic Wall Measurement (UTWM) and several integrity services, including crack management, erosion measurement and NIMA.
These services significantly increase the probability of identification and accuracy of sizing, while reducing inspection costs and operational risk. ROSEN’s customized inspection solution delivered highly accurate results with the least possible loss of production for the operator.
As a result of the inspections, the mining company received a complete overview of the pipeline (information on, for example, corrosion, erosion, geo-anomalies and crack anomalies).
As an ally in servicing mining assets, we ensure that clients in the mining industry constantly achieve their goals in terms of integrity management, compliance, reliability, and, most importantly, the safe and efficient operation of their assets.
 Fitch Ratings, November 30, 2020, https://www.fitchratings.com/research/corporate-finance/fitch-ratings-2021-outlook-global-mining-30-11-2020
 Mayer Brown, Lexology, September 2020, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3b25a1af-e94d-4584-b4d1-e7494b3b2975
 AT Minerals, https://www.at-minerals.com/en/artikel/at_Outlook_for_Latin_America__3438698.html
 Mordo Intelligence, https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/south-america-mining-chemicals-market
 Brazilian Mining Association (IBRAM) report, https://www.miningglobal.com/supply-chain-and-operations/brazil-mining-sector-sees-strong-growth-q3-2020-ibram
 Bnamericas, October 21, 2020, https://www.bnamericas.com/en/news/brazil-mining-industry-on-the-upswing-in-q3
 EY Peru, https://cdn.www.gob.pe/uploads/document/file/1347980/EY_Peru_s_Mining_and_Metals_Business_and_Investment_Guide_2020-2021.pdf
 Mining Journal, https://www.mining-journal.com/gold-and-silver-news/news/1397052/peru-to-initiate-ususd34b-in-new-mine-builds-in-2021
 Pantigoso, Marcial García and Paulo, “Peru’s mining and metal investment guide 2020-2021,” Ernst & Young, Callao, Peru, 2020.
 Statista report, July 15, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/6550/mining-in-chile/
 Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-chile-copper-idUSKBN26L3F8