Let's take a look at the Mining Life Cycle.

Ever wonder how mining operations work? A typical project goes through a series of different phases which we refer to as the mining life cycle, each presenting unique challenges and opportunities. Click on the categories below for a description of each phase.

life of mine timeline

mining life cycle exploration

In Michigan, all metallic mineral exploration and development activities on state and private property are regulated by the DEQ, including leasing and drilling. A metallic mineral lease within itself does not give a company permission to mine. If a deposit is found, separate applications and approvals will be required before mining activity can take place.

It can take years or even decades to discover a viable deposit. Geologists utilize aerial surveys, soil analysis, and drilling to determine if there is a sufficient mineral deposit to justify mining. Many factors control the economic viability of a deposit, but the most important are the grade, size, location, and demand. Exploration does mean a mine is going to be developed.

mining life cycle designDetailed studies (e.g., feasibility study) are conducted to determine the capital requirements, community context, permitting requirements, critical environmental challenges, and other information vital in moving the project to the next step. If the outcomes yield positive results, additional research and planning will take place at a more granular level. As more information is gathered, companies gain a far greater understanding of mine plans, facility layouts, infrastructure, and environmental and social impact assessments.

mining life cycle permittingAll nonferrous metallic mines in Michigan are required to submit the necessary permit applications with the DEQ Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals. The permits typically include mine, water discharge, and air. Government agencies thoroughly review each permit application and gather public input before issuing a permit. Each permit comes with conditions that must be met before, during, and after mining occurs. While these permits are a requirement for all mines, the exact details and specifications are unique for each project.

mining life cycle constructionUpon receipt of permit approvals and capital investment, the project can prepare for development. Hundreds of workers will build the infrastructure required to support the operation. Examples include roads, water treatment plants, maintenance facilities, warehouses, contact water basins, and process plants. Construction of such sites is a massive undertaking and boost to the local economy. A typical project can take 15 to 20 years between discovery and construction. See what the Back Forty Mine will look post-construction here.

mining life cycle production

Mining involves extracting large amounts of rock from below the Earth’s surface. The goal is to separate the valuable minerals from the non-economical rock.

To do this, overlying rock is blasted, and the material is placed in a truck and hauled to the surface. The material that contains valuable minerals (e.g., ore) is sent to the process plant, while the non-economical material (e.g., waste rock) is taken to the temporary waste rock facility. The waste rock will be used to backfill the pit once mining ends.

In the process plant (e.g., mill) the zinc/copper/lead ore goes through a conventional process of crushing, grinding, and floatation to separate the minerals. The gold/silver ore needs a few more additional steps before the valuable minerals are captured.

mining life cycle reclamation-postclosureWhen mining ceases, the site is reclaimed, and land is returned to a state compatible with adjacent properties. Examples of reclamation activities include removal of all buildings and infrastructure, capping and vegetating the tailings facility, backfilling the mine with waste rock. Postclosure monitoring lasts for 20 years following completion and approval of reclamation. The time may be shorter if the DEQ determines monitoring and maintenance activities to preserve the integrity of the area are complete. The DEQ requires an annual mining and reclamation report filed each year with the agency. The reports are available to the public.


Since 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, has directed the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and responded to local and nationally significant environmental emergencies. The program focuses on a few specific areas: manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites.

The mining facilities on the list include historical operations. Many of these sites began operations in the 1800s and early 1900s and were closed or abandoned.

Today we talk about 'modern' mining and the advancement of our industry. According to the EPA and National Mining Association, the modern era of mining dates back to the 1990s (EPA, 2018). It is during this time that facilities started operating under current management practices and present-day environmental regulations.

The total number of hard rock mines permitted in the U.S. since 1990 is nearly 3,400 (Baird, 2018). None of the sites are on the Superfund list.

Unlike past mining, today the industry is safer and more environmentally friendly than ever before. Water treatment and reclamation activities are an upfront, essential part of project development. Companies are required to provide financial assurance before starting any construction or mining activity. Assurance acts as security for the community, seeing that the State has the right amount of money available to close and reclaim the site at any given time if the company is unable to do so. It also protects taxpayers and the community from these obligations.

Like many industries, mining has evolved. We have the technology available and experience necessary to ensure that mining is safe and protective of the environment – meaning we can have both a strong economy and clean environment. For example, the Flambeau Mine (seen below) is a model for how today’s mining companies operate and successfully close operations, while protecting the environment.

The Flambeau Mine, located along the shores of the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, operated from 1993 to 1997 and was reclaimed by 1999.

At Back Forty, we’re designing a modern mine. We will be a world-class mining operation that protects and minimizes impacts to our environment, promotes sustainable benefit for communities and stakeholders, and inspires commitment to a safe, injury-free workplace for all workers, every day.


STEPHENSON, Mich. Feb. 17, 2018 – We often get asked for an example of a metallic mine that operated and closed successfully. One such example is the Flambeau Mine, located about 1.5 miles south of the City of Ladysmith in Rusk County, Wisconsin. Below you'll find photos of Flambeau both during and after operations.

Flambeau was an open-pit mine that produced copper with trace amounts of gold between 1993 and 1997. After mining ceased the pit was backfilled and the land was returned to its original contour. Today the site is home to ample wildlife, hundreds of species of plants, and year-round recreation opportunities. The nearby Flambeau River remains protected to this day.


Source: http://flambeaumine.com






STEPHENSON, Mich. Jan. 8, 2018 –Aquila Resources will carry out and pay for all reclamation activities during operations and following mine closure as required by law. As a protective measure for the community, if for some unforeseen reason this cannot happen, the State of Michigan requires mining companies to provide adequate financial assurance.

We are committed and obligated by law to ensure that the costs of reclamation do not fall on the local community or taxpayers. Aquila is required to secure a bond based on the assessed value to have the mine closed and reclaimed by a third party. Every three years, financial assurance will be reviewed to account for any changes in the total reclamation cost. The State of Michigan has full control of the bond until Aquila completes their fiduciary duty.

If you have a question, please email info@backfortymine.wp2.adnetcms.com.