National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), a Navratna public sector undertaking that is India’s largest iron ore producer, has told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Steel and Coal that while the rate at which the country’s iron ore reserves are increasing is “very less”, the demand for this mineral remains “huge”.
“The rate of reserve augmentation is very less as compared to huge demand for the iron ore. Hence, innovative, substantial iron ore exploration shall be strongly pursued. A dedicated fast track iron ore exploration programme to convert iron ore resources (unexplored iron ore areas) to reserve category is needed to meet the demand of iron ore in the coming decades,” the company stated.
Therefore, according to NMDC, the way forward is a dedicated fast track iron ore exploration programme, intensive drilling to build reserves, utilising low-grade iron ore, exploring and developing the abundant low-grade iron ore reserves and reduction in loss by recovering iron ore quantity from slimes. Slime is an iron ore particle of a size 0.15 mm or less that is discarded as waste during the mining and processing stages.
On December 29 last year, all this information was provided by NMDC while it gave a 37-slide presentation to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the topic of ‘exploration of iron ore’. The company told the Committee that “iron ore production is on upswing since 2015-16, as many mines have started operating after few years of suspension, following SC orders”. However, in 2015-16, the company had produced 28.57 million tonnes (MT) of iron ore which was 6 per cent less than its production in 2014-15.
“Putting more efforts in exploration, mainly taking up intensive drilling to convert present resources (unexplored iron ore areas) in the reserve category is need of the hour,” the company noted, adding that while country has huge areas of low-grade iron ore, the cases of deposits that were explored exclusively for low-grade iron ore were scarce.
The country’s total iron ore production was 155 MT in 2015-16. However, NMDC expects that the Indian production for 2016-17 would be approximately 180 MT. Iron ore imports decreased to 5.6 MT in 2015-16, from 15.1 MT in the preceding year. Imports are slated to weaken further in 2016-17, amid a forecast of higher domestic iron ore production.
The company did not respond to the queries of The Indian Express.
NMDC told the Committee that there would be certain technology tasks that would be imperative in future. These tasks would include utilisation of low-grade iron ores after beneficiation; reduction in “small loss” by recovery of iron ore quantity from slimes; development of proper technology to accumulate recovered micro fines through sintering or pelletising; developing indigenous and viable technology to improve yield and effective utilisation of low-grade iron ore.
NMDC’s Global Exploration Centre (GEC), Raipur, takes care of exploratory drilling activities. The GEC has total 10 drills — two of them are conventional drills while the remaining are new generation drill machines. NMDC noted: “As a part of our strategic planning, NMDC is embarking upon to increase its production capacity to 50 MT by 2018-19 and 67 MT by 2021-22 from existing and new mines to meet the requirement of steel production.”
Talking about its exploration plans, the company told the Committee that while it carried out a drilling of 18,918 metres in last three years only, it has set a target of 15,000 metres for the current financial year 2016-17. During the next three financial years, NMDC plans to drill a total of 45,000 metres.
NMDC stated that it is using various “new” methods of exploration such as aeromagnetic, remote sensing and hyper spectral imaging. It stated in its presentation: “Application of airborne magnetic survey will be very significant in case (the company is exploring) large banded magnetite quartzite (BMQ).” However, it added that this method may not be useful for small BMQ deposit.
The company has also decided to go for exploration significantly in diamond-rich and gold-rich areas. It told the Committee that it would take three mineral blocks for G4 exploration — which is last stage of exploration — that have gold and its associated elements. Two of these gold mines are in Karnataka, while the third one is in Madhya Pradesh. Moreover, on October 27, 2016, it signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding with Madhya Pradesh State Mining Corporation Ltd and the state government wherein the company said it would explore eight diamond-rich areas in Panna and nearby regions.