Pat Risner, the new President of the Hermosa Project for South32, met with the PRT in August 2019. Interview questions were submitted in advance per the company’s request.
Pat Risner, the President of the Hermosa Project, grew up in a small town, south of Tulsa, OK. He studied engineering at the University of Missouri, Raleigh. “I was really good at science and math,” he said. He became interested in mining while participating in a summer internship in a southern Illinois underground mine. “l loved it, a little family underground, it suited me,” he said.
Upon graduation, Risner began working for BHP, the largest mining company in the world based out of Australia. He spent 27 years with BHP, of which 18-19 years were in New Mexico with the Navajo Nation and close to nine years in two different assignments in Australia.
During his career he performed a variety of roles from operations, frontline supervisor, planning and, more recently, as asset president of a coal mining operation on the Navajo Nation. As asset president, Risner was working to sell off BHP’s coal assets. His primary concern was to prevent a big loss of employment. It was the “greatest experience of my career,” he said. “Saved a couple of thousand jobs, sustained a business for longer than expected.”
Risner said that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on the Hermosa Project at this very early stage. For now, Risner said, the resource they are focused on is the Taylor deposit, which has high-grade underground lead, zinc, and silver sulfite. They have begun their pre-feasibility study, which will re-evaluate all the options for how to get the ore out, process the ore and move the product into the market. They plan to conduct a feasibility study in 2020.
Arizona Mining Inc. conducted studies and began exploration on the private patented land, which South32 purchased in August, 2018. In 2019 South32 decided to redo the studies. Risner said that this is a common practice of companies and does not imply that they were misled by the studies provided by AMI. The pre-feasibility study will help define and understand the “project to our standards and commitment to shareholders,” said Risner.
Though there is another deposit, the Clark deposit, in the package that they purchased from AMI, as of now they are not studying it.
Risner said that they are “continuing to do exploration drilling both on Taylor and other parts of patented sites to further define Taylor,” and “to see what else is in this area.”
The pre-feasibility phase is reviewing the declines that were built by AMI to access the underground ore. South32 stopped the work on the declines 500 feet down in December 2019, but Risner clarified that they are not welded shut. The tunnels are inspected weekly per safety protocols. The reviewing process is “looking at how to access the ore body, what we may encounter when we go around all of the different conditions and satisfy ourselves before we will restart the declines,” said Risner. This “will be an underground mine”, said Risner, “it will not be an open pit.”
“In this phase we are looking at emissions and how to innovate safety, minimize environmental impact, community impact, and carbon footprint,” said Risner, but “until we are out of study work we don’t know the exact ways.” South32 climate goals, according to the company, are to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a goal that Hermosa Project will work towards by reviewing its carbon footprint every five years starting in 2021.
Recent Land Purchases
“Most of the land we have bought has potential for various uses,” said Risner, including infrastructure, roads, conservation and collaboration, and mitigation. As of now there is no intention to drill at the south end of the old Tree of Life property but, “we cannot rule out drilling,” said Risner. In the meantime they envision making the Tree of Life into an open space for public use, and believe that other land purchases can also be opportunities to collaborate with the community.
South32 is not in discussion to purchase any of the neighboring properties currently owned by Barksdale International, said Risner. At the moment they are watching closely the proposal submitted to the Forest Service for drilling on the National Forest Land neighboring the Hermosa project.
Impact on Community
During the pre-feasibility study they do not know how many people will work at the mine at the peak of its activities but “community impact is a consideration in all the decisions we make,” said Risner.
Risner said that he sees the “importance of relationships here if we are going to be here a long time, and listen to the stakeholders.” In his tenure with the Navajo Nation it was at the tail end of a 50-year business, whereas at Hermosa it is right at the beginning, which makes Risner hopeful that they can “get it right from the start and can be a model for other projects.” South32 is looking to change people’s lives positively for generations and to work with “high standards by doing what is right and going above beyond the status quo and the industry standards,” he added.
Risner is meeting with various groups in the community, invested in listening, learning and building relationships early on. He said, that there are a “lot of very educated, unbelievably intelligent people with experiences from lots of different places,” who are providing important input to this process.
Risner said, “we want to keep Patagonia special and coexist with the current character of town.” As the Patagonia town plan envisions an economy based on tourism and restoration, Risner wants to learn more on how to support that vision and “understand the aspirations of the community.”