Rio Tinto, the world’s third-largest mining company, made the news earlier this month when it announced it is expanding its fleet of autonomous haul trucks to 100 in a region of Australia.
Those driverless trucks, controlled through remote technology, represent close to 25 per cent of the mining giant’s fleet there. The autonomous vehicles, first under trial by Rio Tinto in 2008, are intended to produce long-term savings for the multi-national mining giant because there will be no salaries paid to drivers.
Agnico Eagle, the largest mining company operating in Nunavut, also owns driverless haul trucks at its operations in Quebec. There is no prospect of the autonomous vehicles coming to the Kivalliq region in the near future, said Dale Coffin, Agnico Eagle’s corporate director of communications and public affairs.
“Haul truck drivers at our operations in Nunavut are considered entry-level positions and under our IIBA (Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement) we have a commitment to ensure that all entry-level positions are made available to Inuit in the Kivalliq region,” Coffin explained.
There are currently 100 haul truck drivers at the Meadowbank gold mine, 70 km north of Baker Lake, Coffin said. Those 100 drivers will be retained and the number of truck drivers will actually double as gold extraction from Meadowbank draws to a close in 2019 and Meadowbank becomes the site where gold from the Amaruq property – a 64-km drive northwest of Meadowbank – is processed. Those 100 additional “long-haul” truck drivers are expected to come from Nunavut as well, Coffin noted.
The other impediment that Agnico Eagle faces in adopting autonomous vehicles at its Kivalliq operations is the lack of a fibre-optic network, which is essential technology for driverless trucks.
At its LaRonde gold mine in Quebec, Agnico Eagle staff can control autonomous haul trucks underground from 3.1 km away, said Coffin.
“We will analyze the impact of the technology and manage (it) appropriately in each of the regions we operate in,” Coffin stated. “We have made a commitment to provide as many jobs as possible to the people of Kivalliq and we are also helping them to develop new skills in areas like the trades through our apprenticeship programs. Employment is a key criteria in helping to develop the economy and social fabric of Canada’s North.”