John Thompson – Mapping the Mineral Resource System

Human needs and technological developments drive demand for natural resources and mineral products.  Delivery of these products to the market and consumers is based on the Earth’s capacity – natural endowment and environment – and our ability to unlock natural resources in an effective and responsible manner.

An abundance of diverse minerals is a feature of Earth, and it is minerals that host critical metals and in some cases directly serve industrial purposes due to their physical and chemical properties.  The discovery of concentrations of minerals is challenging with limited chances of success.  Mining and processing mineral deposits is equally demanding, currently requiring significant energy, and typically leading to a substantial physical site and a much larger environmental footprint.  Maximizing the quality of mineral discoveries and minimizing the mining footprint is an enormous technical challenge that is mitigated by understanding the Earth – from the rocks and minerals at the site to the regional landscape.

While the industry understands these challenges, and seeks new technologies and approaches to improve performance, non-technical Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues are equally, or perhaps more important.  Many projects carry detrimental ESG risks to the extent that unless properly managed, these may compromise future mineral supply.  ESG is a broad and complex area that relates directly to social acceptance at all scales.

Efforts to improve mining in general are critical.  The mining industry has made significant progress with workers’ safety including fundamental changes in culture.  A similar cultural approach is required to seek technological improvements that increase efficiency and productivity while lowering energy intensity, emissions and effluent.  These efforts must also achieve a level of social performance that meets the needs of those who inhabit the immediate area around the mine, as well as those whose identity, homes and livelihoods are linked to the broader landscape.

The elements summarized above are interrelated and constitute a complex system.  Failure in any part of the system jeopardizes the end result, the provision of much-needed mineral resources for society.  Connecting resources and mines, literally and virtually, to markets, investors, and people, and increasing efforts to meet sustainable development goals, will improve the chances of success.


Since 2012, John has partnered in a consulting business based in Vancouver, BC, focused on exploration, mining and sustainability. From 2013-18 he was also the Wold Professor of Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability at Cornell University.  John has over 35 years working in the mining industry and related research, and has held diverse leadership roles in many organizations – Teck Resources, Genome BC, the World Economic Forum, Resources for Future Generations 2018, Society of Economic Geologists, Geoscience BC, Canada Mining Innovation Council, and MDRU-UBC.  He is a director and advisory board member for several exploration, technology, and venture capital companies, and not-for-profit organizations focused on resources and sustainability.  

PetraScience Consultants Inc.,3995 West 24th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6S 1M1, Canada

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