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The decision: What to use in Cerro Blanco

White Mountain Titanium faces a decision to make Cerro Blanco an open pit mine or an underground mine.



In a recent communiqué, White Mountain Titanium Corporation (OTCQB:WMTM) chief executive officer Michael Kurtanjek said that the recent exploratory studies conducted in the Cerro Blanco area provide an opportunity for the company to undertake the most environmentally efficient mining techniques. Thus, a decision has to be made whether the company would utilize open pit mining technology or underground mining techniques in its Chilean project.

Open Pit Mining versus Underground Mining

An open pit mine, or a surface mine, is in essence an open air excavation to extract minerals from the bedrock. This is most effective when the ore sought to be mined is near the surface, allowing the removal of the top layer to reach the deposit underneath.

An underground mine, on the other hand, would involve the process of boring a mine entrance into the bedrock to allow extraction. It is done beneath the ground without disturbing the surface.

Underground mine

To create an underground mine (pictured), holes must be drilled for the entrance to permit extraction. (Source)

Factors in the decision making

There are certain factors to consider in making a decision on which mining method would be best utilized for a mine site. These factors are as follows:

The mineral to be extracted. If the mineral is deposited deep in the bedrock and is only of small amounts such as gold or silver, then it would be more cost-efficient to utilize underground mining. This would enable the mining activity to be more focused and direct, unlike in open pit mining where large quantities of earth are removed which would be processed and refined. Open pit mining is best for large quantity minerals like coal, copper, and the like.

Available funds for the mining activity. It is an accepted fact that underground mining costs much more than open pit mining. With underground mining, a lot of equipment are required. This includes transportation equipment, and lighting and ventilation while mining operations are conducted deep in the mine. On the other hand, open pit mining is what its name implies: the mineral deposit is brought up to the surface by blasting, and using payloaders and bulldozers. The latter would only require a few machines and carriers unlike underground mining which requires a whole transportation network.

Current environmental conditions in the mining site. The terrain, the atmospheric conditions as well as other environmental factors should be considered in determining whether to use open pit or underground mining in the area. Obviously, mountainous terrains would present its own unique set of challenges to the mining company.

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