After acquiring a 70 per cent stake in the Red Chris mine in August 2019, Newcrest is well on its way to turning it into a world-class operation.
Mark Adams, Red Chris general manager, said Newcrest’s focus over the first six months has been on improving health and safety.
“The important thing for us is, one of our five value pillars we have, is caring about people, which is around keeping people safe and healthy,” he said.
To that end they have restructured the health and safety department; hired a health and safety superintendent and a health and safety specialist; purchased a new emergency response vehicle, improved emergency capacity and built a state-of-the-art medical facility with 24-7 coverage.
They are also in the process of building a couple of new bunkhouses to increase their capacity to 650 beds and a new recreation facility has just arrived on site.
Plans are also in the works for a new maintenance shop so equipment can be worked on indoors and company millwrights are making technical adjustments in the mill to improve the recovery side of the business, Adams said.
Finally, he said, they have installed fleet management systems, proper wi-fi and purchased a new grader for road maintenance.
“When I look back on the last 160 days it’s been a busy, busy time,” he said.
Even with all that activity, the company managed to bring the mine up to full production capacity.
“The Company reports production at the Red Chris mine for the 2019 third quarter was 19.5 million pounds copper and 8,419 ounces gold,” an October press release from Imperial Metals, Newcrest’s partner in the venture stated.
“These results represent 100 per cent production at Red Chris. Copper and gold production were up 11 per cent in the third quarter compared to the second quarter of 2019.”
Adams said 2019 was a good year.
“We’re very proud of that fact that we did make budget last year in copper pounds,” he said. “It’s really a testament to everybody’s hard work both pre- and post-takeover.
Looking ahead, the big project for 2020 is a collaboration with the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation to increase the size of the tailings impoundment area.
“We’re very happy with the way it’s going,” Adams said. “It’s a chance to build capacity and capability for the long term, which is another one of our values. We’re keen to work together with the shared goals that we have and we think it is the beginning of a very strong relationship between ourselves and the TCG (Tahltan Central Government).
The Tahltan are also very happy with the way it’s going.
“The Red Chris Mine is an important component of Tahltan Territory economy,” said Chad Norman Day, TCG president. “Approximately 220 Tahltans work full time at Red Chris, taking home approximately $17 million in annual wages, $25 million annually in contracts is awarded to Tahltan businesses, half of all apprenticeships are Tahltan, and $650,000 in training funds is available to Tahltans.
“The Tahltan Nation is very pleased with Newcrest’s majority stake purchase of Red Chris and the respectful way they have engaged our Nation. For example, Newcrest is working on upgrading local infrastructure like the Dease Lake Airport, which has all kinds of benefits for our community such as increasing the likelihood of life-saving medivacs.”
Looking even further ahead, Newcrest has plans to take the mine underground when the current open pit is exhausted in approximately 10 years. Current plans are to use a relatively new technique called block caving, in which Newcrest is a world leader.
Block caving has been likened to an underground version of open pit mining. Miners excavate a large cavern underneath an ore body. The ore body collapses under its own weight filling the cavern and is removed via a series of pre-constructed funnels and access tunnels.
Engineers estimate the cost of mining with this technique is approximately 10 per cent of conventional underground mining making previously uneconomic resources accessible.
“We’re pretty confident we’ll be able to do a block cave at Red Chris, in fact that was one of the reasons why we bought it because we saw a lot of similarity between the Red Chris geology and the Cadia geology in New South Wales (Australia),” Adams said.
But the company is looking even beyond that ore body with a major exploration program of the Red Chris property and a new nearby property purchased from Skeena Resources.
They have four drill rigs on site, which will be going up to six when expansion of the camp is completed and have already done 20,000 metres of core sampling with a commitment to complete 30,000 to 50,000 in 2020.
We are very, very optimistic,” Adams said. “Red Chris is the beachhead for Newcrest into B.C. We’re here to stay and we’re here to do what we have to do to provide a much longer mine life than we’ve currently got.
“We’re prepared to put the money in with the aim that we would like to be here for a multi-generational mine operation. We think we’re exceptionally fortunate to come and work in such a beautiful part of the world and with such resilient people, we’re really excited about coming here.”