The mineral reserve is LKAB’s most important asset. It is the basis for our entire operation. Future mining activities demand successful exploration work. Exploration uses methods such as surveys and exploratory drilling to map and accumulate knowledge about the bedrock. LKAB’s exploration work takes place both at the company’s own mines, which involves existing deposits, and in new areas nearby.
Safeguarding access to the iron ore raw material is vital for LKAB’s future development. Our work is based on a 20-year perspective, which aims to secure the development of the production process and the future of the surrounding communities.
The key to successful exploration is geological expertise and access to mineral-bearing land areas. This assumes respect for the surroundings, responsibility for the environment and cooperation with local businesses – particularly nature concerns and the reindeer industry. Any new mines must be established in a sustainable manner to limit the impact on biological diversity and variability.
Surveying the bedrock
Exploration involves surveying the bedrock. Knowledge is essential. Under the Swedish Minerals Act, if you want to carry out exploration work, you first have to obtain an exploration permit, which is granted by the Chief Mining Inspector (the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden). The granting of an exploration permit does not mean that you have permission to carry out the work. To do that, you have to have an approved work plan. This describes what the exploration work involves and how and when you intend to carry it out. The work plan is distributed to all parties concerned in the area. These may be property owners who own the land you want to investigate, Sami villages, and any holders of a ‘special right’ in the area – a legal concept. There are, furthermore, specific rules for various situations. If exploration work is to be carried out less than 200 metres from residential buildings or holiday homes, then residents have to be specifically informed.
Exploratory drilling has very little impact in actual fact. The drilling rigs are small, mobile units that do not usually leave any noticeable traces behind them. In sensitive areas, the drilling is performed in frozen ground with transport on top of the snow to minimise any impact. After drilling, the visible result is a tube approx. five centimetres in diameter fitted with a sleeve and inserted into the drill hole to mark its location.
Exploration is only the first step in a long journey towards possible mining. If the investigations should indicate a mineral deposit that is worth mining in the area, there are still a number of major decisions and assessments to be made before a mine can become a reality. For example, it is necessary to apply for a mining concession from the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden and for an environmental permit from the Land and Environment Court. In conjunction with the environmental assessment, the Court specifies the conditions that a new operation has to live up to. These permit assessments weigh various interests against each other, and there is plenty of opportunity for opposing parties to have their voices heard. The entire process, including any land questions, can take anything from 5 years to 15 years, and sometimes even longer than this.
In LKAB’s 125-year history, four new mines have been opened, in addition to the established mines in Malmberget and Kiruna. LKAB draws on its knowledge and experience in its considerable efforts to consult other parties and resolve any problems or inconveniences that might arise.
Facts about metals
People need metals in their everyday lives. Society needs metals to create prosperity, build communities, build homes, for health, care and schools, and to improve communication and transport. The mining and processing of minerals introduces them to the metal cycle, where steel can be recycled and used again and again. Steel is our most commonly recycled material. With a growing population and ever-increasing demand for metals, mining has to continue and even expand in order to be able to meet our demand for iron and steel, for example. Ore mining introduces metals to the cycle and helps to create prosperity.