Russian mineral resources and reserves are worth over $1 trillion, but are they all extractable?
In accordance with the calculations done by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation, the total value of mineral resources in possession of the country amounts to approximately 93.4 trillion roubles (roughly $1.46 trillion). Undeniably, the most valuable asset is oil reserves; their proven amount can be sold for $1.16 trillion. The other subsoil assets constitute much smaller share of the total sum - for instance, gold reserves account for $9.53 billion whilst iron ore can make about $19.38 billion in money equivalent.
The biggest problem, which importance has arisen over the last few decades, however, relates to extraction difficulties. The extracted ores are mostly low-grade whereas oil is recovered at even greater depths. Although it should be mentioned that even in the middle of the twentieth century, when availability of raw materials was a lot higher, extraction attempts were often hindered by huge challenges.
One notable example is the Yakovlevsky mine located at the territory of Kursk Magnetic Anomaly, which estimated reserves reach over 9 billion tons. The ore field was begun to develop in 1959, but extraction works were stopped numerous times. The reason was that unique ore grading up to 69% iron metal was located under high-pressure aquifers and was too loose for mining works to start.
According to Vladimir Trushko, Doctor of Engineering Sciences, Saint-Petersburg Mining University, ”The Kursk Magnetic Anomaly is the largest iron ore basin in the world, while Yakovlevsky field is the largest deposit located within is territory. Over 70% of the ores mined at this deposit are almost free from harmful impurities and, therefore, they are suitable for smelting of high-grade metals. It was indeed a matter of essential importance for the Russian metal industry to begin extraction of those ores".
Back in the nineties, Prof. Trushko was one of the members of a group of scientists that was assigned to develop an economically efficient but safe technology required to start the development of the deposit. The researchers from Saint-Petersburg not only managed to create an unconventional solution, which was afterwards implemented in practice, but also turned the negative factor of ore instability into an actual tool that allowed to ensure the maximum possible performance in underground conditions.
As Vladimir Trushko recalls, ”The core of this development is as follows: the ore column is divided into two sub-columns, the upper column is mined along the course of a pool, slightly ahead of the lower sub-column where the most of reserves are concentrated; then through the use of solid stowing technology an artificial roof constituting of concrete block is built above them. By applying this solution in practice, the ore stays protected from the high-pressure aquifers”.
Apart from the higher mentioned development, Russian scientists also suggested an environmentally friendly technology for disposal of mine waters, a safe recovery method of metal frame support, aimed at its subsequent use, as well as some other innovative solutions. Based on the study results, the researchers also came to conclusion that at the initial stage a descending order in the extraction of reserves should be made use of.
As noted by Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the Mining University, who was the head of the research group,”The main achievement of our team is that we developed and implemented the whole set of environmentally friendly technologies. We also established several technologies facilitating improvement of the ore processing - in particular, related to making briquettes for direct reduction of iron and producing high-grade natural iron oxide pigments.”
First extraction of ore at the Yakovlevsky deposit took place on March 23, 1997. Test mining had confirmed that the results of research could be effectively introduced into practice and one of the most topical issues for the mineral resources sector was solved. In 2008, a group of scientists from the Mining University were awarded a Russian Federation Government Award in Science and Engineering for the breakthrough they had made.
On July 12, 2019, a 10 millionth ton of iron ore was lifted by miners of the Yakovlevsky NPP to the surface. Egor Renev, CEO of the enterprise, notes that the mining efficiency is on the constant increase. In 2018, the output increased by 41%- to 1.239 million tonnes; this year the figure is expected to reach 2 million, while in the four years it can probably reach five millions. Notably, at this pace, development of the deposit could theoretically extend to over a thousand years.
As Prof. Litvinenko summed it up, ”The mankind cannot obviously extract all the proven mineral reserves, despite that we have reached some achievements in technology growth. Moreover, there is no such task ahead of us - what we have to do is to introduce the best global and domestic practices. For comparison, oil recovery rate at some of the fields in Norway has reached 70%, while in our country it stands at about 30%, which is an extremely low number. If we manage to increase recovery rates across the country by just 1%, then we can make up to $20 billion of additional annual revenues. A large-scale introduction of those innovations that can make it possible will become the event of significant importance for our country. In connection with this, it is crucial to make sure that scientific developments are demanded by the industry, and that top executives of the largest mining companies pay specific attention to the advantages of their use in practice”.