In 2013 Copper Mountain Mine’s gross profit for the year was $8.1 million. In 2014 the reopened mine, now the third largest in Canada, produced a record 81 million pounds of copper, 22,600 ounces of gold, and 443,800 ounces of silver, generating a record revenue of $265 million for the year.
The newly lucrative copper mine is a 20–minute drive from local communities, like Princeton, British Columbia, that provide it with goods, services and personnel. These communities, existing until recently on work stemming from the declining forest industry, welcomed the reopening of the mine, which has already added hundreds of millions of dollars to the area’s economic base.
The health and safety of its 240 employees is one of Copper Mountain Mining Corporation’s sustainability objectives, the other being environmental management, according to the company website. With the reopening of the mine in 2011 the company took action on those two goals. In 2014 it won BC’s Edward Prior Award for a combination of high production and low accident rates. The company’s record, as of that week, was 1.5 million hours worked without any safety incidents that cost the workers time off.
Copper Mountain’s President and CEO, Jim O’Rourke, responded to the award, “I congratulate our mine employees for their dedication to safety . . . During the first 19 days of April, the mill has operated at record rates and throughput averaged 39,800 tpd. We have a strong operating team and I am confident that the team will continue to maintain their great safety record while they continue to maximise production.”
The heritage mine reopened when exploratory tests showed that its veins of copper, gold, and silver went far deeper than anyone realised. Prior to that, high grade copper had been mined from shallow open pits in three main locations, which were abandoned when costs became too high. As a result of the new assays, the company decided to mine deep into the area between those shallow pits and expand its width to include them. This expanded and deepened mine is expected to last around 17 years and be highly productive.
Copper Mountain Mining first acquired the 18,000 acre property by purchasing Similco Mines in 2007, and immediately started a geophysical survey that included a 44,000 metre drill program. The following year they finished drilling an additional 60,000 metres, which showed a total potential of five billion pounds of copper, plus secondary amounts of gold and silver.
In 2008 they also completed an independent economic feasibility study (Hatch Engineering) that confirmed the financial viability of reopening the mine. That year they joined forces with Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials Corporation to help with financing and to purchase 100% of all copper mined. In 2009 Mitsubishi bought 25% ownership of the project.
The area was originally mined underground, starting in 1884. In 1923 a milling facility was added nearby and underground mining continued until 1957. In 1968 open pit mining started, which continued until the mine closed in 1996. By that time the mine had produced over 1.7 billion pounds of copper.
Copper Mountain Mining is operating the expanded mine using open pit technology. The company set up a mill onsite to handle increased production and bought $120 million worth of new mobile equipment. The new fleet consists of 13 brand new 240 ton haul trucks (bringing the total to 21), five 260 ton haul trucks, two Komatsu PC 8000 hydraulic shovels, the world’s largest mechanical loader, four rotary drills, and a fleet of support equipment. In 2014 the company installed a secondary cone crusher in its onsite mill, the Raptor 2000 (the world’s largest), thereby increasing production speed and efficiency to 37,500 tons per day.
Because of its prior operation, the mine already owned water rights and had a 158 kV power line to supply electricity, which helped keep costs low. Even so, capital costs came up to $438,000,000, which Mitsubishi helped acquire from Japanese banks at very attractive interest rates, according to O’Rourke. He said, “Having a developed infrastructure considerably reduces the construction risk and also the capital cost.”
All the mine’s equipment is used in the conventional production process of crushing, grinding, and flotation to produce copper concentrates laced with gold and silver. The company prepares the higher grade copper for immediate shipment from Vancouver to Japan for smelting, and transports lower grade slag to stockpiles for future processing using more sustainable methods, once developed. The slag is transported via a one kilometre long conveyer belt to save fuel costs.
Some additional savings have come from upgrading the quality of the roads to save wear and tear on vehicle tires. Each tire on the haulers is worth about $42,000 and each hauler has eight of them. The tires are also difficult to acquire. Prior to the road upgrade they were lasting about four months each, but now are lasting eight. The company is also working with explosives suppliers and others to find more efficient ways of operating.
With its utilities the mine reclaims 78% of its wastewater for reuse in production, while obtaining fresh water from the Similkameen River. Electricity comes from a 61 megawatt VC hydro substation.
All mining operations are automated and monitored from a central control room, including a vehicle dispatch system, with computer screens that show each step of the operation. The mine operates 365 days per year, day and night, even when it snows. These practices have resulted in the record production for the company that benefits the mine’s neighbouring communities.
Former mining human resources officer, Frank Armitage, now 71 years old and the mayor of Princeton, who put together the initial 270 worker crew that reopened the mine, says that local communities are flourishing. Says Armitage, “Princeton suffered for a number of years, and now it [the mine] is a real foundation block to our economy.”
In addition, the mining company is committed to working in harmony with the government, the public, First Nations, and other stakeholders to increase understanding of company activities relative to environmental protection. One of its former Vice Presidents (now Environmental Consultant), Peter Campbell, has years of experience managing environmental assessments and permitting for the Red Chris Project, Huckleberry Mine, and the early years of the Similco Mine.
“Our people are our greatest asset.” CEO O’Rourke says. “We believe we’ve built an extremely strong team and this will bode well for the future.”
As proof, his staff are developing operating efficiencies, which he believes are key to the mine’s success. They’re continuing with new explorations, digging 200 metres below the current 350 metre deep design pit, to increase production in the future. They’re looking out for safety issues and encouraging suppliers to become more efficient too. What more could the company and its communities ask for?
Written by Susette Horspool.
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