Arab News, Sunday, Jan 15, 2023 | Jamadi Al Thani 22, 1444
Sustainability and speed are key to fueling Saudi Arabia’s mining industry
When Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Kingdom’s
Vision 2030 plan in 2016, skeptics were doubtful about how a nation which has
been dependent on oil for several decades could diversify its economy
And now, seven years on, the Kingdom has
successfully ventured into a new realm of opportunities, with the mining sector
in particular proving to be one of the Kingdom’s growing hubs.
In this spirit, The Future Minerals Forum — which
concluded in Riyadh on Jan. 12 — showcased the Kingdom’s ambitions in the mining
sector and the way in which the mineral exploration industry is shaping up to
become the third pillar of the country’s economy.
Ministers, industry experts, and think tanks
representatives gathered to address ways to tackle challenges in the sector,
including the crucial sustainability factor.
International participation to bring more
investments to Saudi Arabia
The participation of over 200 speakers from
various parts of the globe indicated that the Kingdom is moving in the right
direction, especially after a new mining law improved the business environment
in Saudi Arabia, along with the easing of the mining licensing procedure.
Paul Sullivan, lecturer at Johns Hopkins
University and a senior associate fellow at King Faisal Center for Research and
Islamic Studies Energy and Environmental Security, told Arab News that the
completion of the Forum with unprecedented international participation is
expected to boost investments in the Kingdom’s mining sector.
“The Future Minerals Forum could act as a catalyst
for greater investment in mining in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, it could act to
help create more effective legal and regulatory structures within Saudi Arabia
also. But such things take time. Saudi Arabia has lots of potential for mining,”
On Jan. 11, the second day of the Forum, Saudi
Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih talked about how Saudi Arabia is
becoming the perfect destination for companies to come and operate in the mining
“Saudi Arabia has brought together all of the
necessary enablers in the mining sector. We have the energy solution, we have
the location, we have the financing, and we have the best-in-class regulations
across the world,” said Al-Falih.
As if to underline the growing international reach
of the Kingdom’s mining ambitions, the FMF saw Saudi Arabian Mining Co., known
as Ma’aden, sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to
invest in mining globally.
The mining firm — the largest in the Gulf region —
also announced it has inked a deal to acquire a 9.9 percent stake in American
minerals exploration and development firm Ivanhoe Electric and form a separate
joint venture with Ivanhoe to explore and develop mining projects in Saudi
Ma’aden signed another partnership agreement with
Barrick Gold Limited, a subsidiary of Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. Under the
deal, a new limited liability company will be set up in Umm Ad Damar to
accelerate mineral exploration activities in the Kingdom.
Sustainability in the mining sector
While critical minerals are necessary for a smooth
transition to green energy, there are concerns about the environmental impact of
“Saudi Arabia can become more sustainable and
cleaner in many things, not just mining. Environmental and sustainability laws
and regulations are important. Companies and mining will be sources of great
externalities, such as pollution of the water, land, and air, without such
regulations,” Sullivan told Arab News.
He added: “Saudi Arabia could benefit most from a
successful and growing mining industry that minimizes externalities like
pollution. It is good PR and it is good for Saudi Arabia’s people and their
Sullivan further noted that mining laws and
regulations should be implemented in such a way that they will uphold the
interests of the general public.
“There are some complex balances that need to be
considered. Writing regulations and laws should also reflect the needs of the
Saudi people, its leadership, and for the Saudis of the future, but also of the
companies to allow sustainable, long-term, and effective mining to add to the
future wealth of Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan added.
In the Forum, industry leaders and top officials
discussed the importance of sustainability, and Mike Henry, CEO of
Australia-based mining firm BHP, said exploration of critical minerals should be
accelerated to meet the energy transition goals over the next thirty years, as
it is impossible to meet the rising demand if the world is moving at the current
“Over the next 30 years, in order to meet the
needs of the energy transition, the world is going to need two times as much
copper, four times as much nickel, two times as much steel and two times as much
iron ore, as was needed over the past 30 years,” he added.
In a separate panel discussion, Suliman
Al-Mazroua, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics
Program, said the Kingdom is not only trying to accelerate mining operations to
catalyze energy transition but is also working on innovative practices to ensure
sustainable operations in the mining sector.
“Saudi Arabia is on both sides; supply and demand.
We contribute on the innovation side to achieve sustainability, and we also
provide the world with more metals,” said Al-Mazroua.
Moving forward and beyond
The forum also witnessed knowledge sharing of
innovative ideas which could reshape the way in which the mining industry is
In a panel discussion, Saline Water Conversion
Corp. Governor Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Abdul-Karim said the mining industry will
need to have a different structure moving forward as the world is witnessing
rapid changes in an era of energy transition, digitalization and climate change.
Al-Abdul-Karim also noted that new mining
companies will be able to find abundant resources from seawater if they have
“the science, the reengineering and the economy-based structure” in place.
“By figuring out how we can extract precious salts
and minerals from brine water, we will be able to secure the demand for the
future,” he added.
As Saudi Arabia’s mining sector continues its
accelerated growth, those involved in pushing it forward will be keen to show
that speed will not come at the cost of sustainability.