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Resource Sector Companies Should Use FEL And PDRI For Innovative Planning

Detailed methodologies strenghten the economics of mining project estimation

29Sep

One of my pet peeves about tracking investment in the natural resource sector is the often amateurish approach some executives take when developing projects. Junior companies often mistakenly assume that completing a preliminary economic analysis (PEA) is a milestone in itself, without realizing the importance of planning their fundraising to fulfill the PEA's requirements. Fortunately, help is available for junior mining companies. Front-end loading (FEL) and the Project Definition Rating Index (PDRI) will make all the difference.

Process-oriented sectors use FEL stages to segment a project into deliverable milestones, with the hardest thinking up front. This is a key approach for successful project managers who complete projects on time, under budget, and with little degradation in net present value (NPV). Independent Project Analysis (IPA) has tracked project efficiency for decades, and their publicly available literature reveals how FEL adds value. The mineral sector is one of the least successful in delivering project value, according to IPA's research. I can totally see why after thinking about all of the junior mining company presentations I have attended.

Project planners using FEL should acquaint themselves with PDRI. The Construction Industry Institute has a very robust approach to scoring a PDRI. They are not alone. The US DOE has modified the PDRI to incorporate environmental management. Professional bodies have studied PDRI's value. The Project Management Institute notes how PDRI augments their body of knowledge. Managers building a project team should involve their auditors early in the FEL-1 gate and equip them with PDRI checklists.

Mining startups may lack the human capital to incorporate PDRI scoring into their first FEL stage. Experienced project geologists who become junior mining company CEOs are more likely to keep up on industry developments that exemplify FEL planning. I cannot recall ever hearing a mining company CEO with a background in banking or consulting who ever described their active projects in FEL or PDRI terms. All the hints they need are in their initial NI 43-101 reports. Properly sequencing those discoveries into development milestones is within a modern geologist's professional competence. Former investment bank analysts who take over as mining CEOs probably won't take the hints.

Large, well-capitalized companies in the resource sector have an easier time building a strong project team early in a mine's life cycle. Junior mining companies should do similar quality work at a smaller scale if they want their projects to show robust economics. Waiting until a bankable feasibility study is complete after several years of exploration is too late. Delays in determining project completion requirements adds risk and makes junior miners less desirable as acquisition targets. Small-cap mining companies that take FEL and PDRI seriously will demonstrate better long-term project economics and increase their chance of achieving an attractive valuation. Widespread adoption of FEL and PDRI concepts among junior resource sector companies would be a welcome innovation.

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