ONE of the world’s largest copper producers Xstrata Copper has begun underground operations at its Ernest Henry project in North West Queensland, as part of the mine’s $589 million expansion. Initially, about 3 million tonnes per annum of ore will be trucked from Ernest Henry via a decline and processed through a magnetite processing plant to produce an estimated 25,000t of copper and 35,000 ounces of gold concentrate. An underground shaft is expected to be completed by 2013 and will cause operations to ramp up to about 6mtpa, extracting about 50,000t of copper and 70,000oz of gold concentrate. The expansion to underground mining will extend the project’s operational life to at least 2024.
“We’re proud to celebrate the transition from open pit to underground mining and magnetite processing, representing the beginning of a new and extended future for our Ernest Henry operation,” the mine’s general manager Myles Johnston said. Mr Johnston said that after the underground shaft had been finished and processing had ramped up, the mine would employ about 400 full-time staff. Xstrata Copper north Queensland chief operating officer Steve de Kruijff said the transition from open pit to underground mining at Ernest Henry was part of the company’s long-term operational strategy to continue investing in Queensland’s resource sector and develop infrastructure that would increase rail and port capacity.
Mr de Kruijff said that Xstrata Copper’s north Queensland operations had contributed about $1.34 billion to the state’s economy and employed nearly 4000 people in 2010.
As a whole, Xstrata Copper mined about 913,500t of copper concentrate and cathodes during 2010, making the company the fourth-largest copper producer in the world.
By Lorna Seatter