Rise of the red metal

The SA Government’s drive to grow its copper production to one million tonnes per year could elevate Australia into the top three copper producers in the world

Copper is the lifeblood of a developing economy, and the South Australian Government is determined to position the state to be a major supplier of the vital commodity over coming decades. Copper production in SA has been dominated, since its opening in 1988, by the Olympic Dam copper, gold and uranium mine in the state’s Far North.

The Olympic Dam deposit, which has a mine life measured in decades, is among the largest mineral deposits in the world, dwarfing its fellows in SA, the Prominent Hill deposit, currently being mined by OZ Minerals, and Carrapateena, which the same company is currently developing.

But the theory is that such monster deposits are unlikely to be an anomaly. Where one exists, others are sure to lurk, hidden, in SA’s case, under sometimes hundreds of metres of covering rock.

A desire to unlock this mineral potential was behind the release, in February last year, of the South Australian State Government’s Copper Strategy, which seeks to triple the state’s output of copper to one million tonnes per year over the next two decades.

“South Australia hosts 68 per cent of Australia’s known copper resources; during the development of this strategy we found a consensus within the industry that there is plenty more red metal to be discovered in our mineral-rich copper belt,’’ Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said at the time of the strategy’s release.

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  • The copper strategy involves:
  • Cofunding for drilling greenfields copper targets
  • What’s claimed as the world’s largest high-resolution airborne geophysical and terrain imaging program
  • Analysis of the infrastructure needed to reach the one million tonne target
  • A program to establish South Australia as a nationally recognised hub for copper mining services
  • A program of copper relevant workshops, seminars and conferences to build skills, knowledge and insights
  • Improvement of land access
  • Investigation into establishing an International Copper Technology and Research Hub and Centre of Excellence to link, and enhance, existing research programs.

A concept report on the Research Hub was released mid-last year, proposing a Copper Development Roadmap to guide the Hub’s work priorities and direction.

The themes of technology implement-ation along with leading project development practices and practice in social acceptance are possible themes which will guide the Hub’s work.

Success in growing SA’s copper production to one million tonnes per year would elevate Australia potentially into the top three copper producers in the world.

Copper has a long history in SA, with the mines at Burra among the world’s largest in the 19th century and mines in the Copper Triangle on the Yorke Peninsula and dotted throughout the Adelaide Hills a vital part of the state’s early economy.

The goal is to preserve and grow that strong mining tradition and contribution to the economy for decades to come.


The big players

OZ MINERALS

Adelaide-based miner OZ Minerals is on the cusp of transforming itself into a company running two major copper and gold mines, with a future measured in decades rather than years. In the first quarter of 2017 the company’s board is expected to make a “decision to mine” on its Carrapateena project in the Far North of SA. The deposit lies under 600m of cover, 160km north of Port Augusta.

Late last year, the company gave the go ahead for a bankable feasibility study for the project, which would cost $980 million to develop and have an initial mine life of more than 20 years.
It would be expected to produce 61,000 tonnes of copper and 63,000 ounces of gold per year, with potential to expand.

OZ has also extended the mine life of the Prominent Hill mine, in the state’s Far North, which came online in 2009.

Prominent Hill is now expected to run until at least 2028, but the company is confident that it can extend that through exploration success. OZ runs an open pit and underground operation at Prominent Hill, which will transition over time to solely underground.

RESILIENCE MINING

It’s not just share market-listed miners targeting mining operations in South Australia, with private company Resilience Mining Australia aiming to restart operations at the Leigh Creek Copper Mine, nearly five years after it was mothballed.

The company, which bought LCCM from Phoenix Metals, has spent 18 months and more than $1 million developing the project to the point where it is ready to again be a viable copper producer, pending necessary approvals.

The company says the development strategy provides an opportunity to “execute” just under three years of “low-risk” copper production based around the re-treatment of old heaps and mining the Lynda deposit.

A further five mineable deposits are primed for development. Resilience’s managing director Jonathon Trewartha says the Lynda operation could generate between 5000 and 10,000 tonnes of copper per year and provide 16 direct jobs. He says initial cash flow would come through treating the existing heaps, which he says are estimated to contain 750 tonnes of copper.

The LCCM includes three mining leases, a processing plant and two exploration licences. Phoenix Metals mothballed the LCCM project in 2012, citing low levels of copper. The LCCM mineral inventory is estimated at 35kt of contained copper with exploration targets of 103kt of copper on the tenure, close by and regionally. Resilience is currently waiting on final approvals to go ahead with the project.

HAVILAH RESOURCES

While it’s been focused on its Portia gold project in SA for much of 2016, Havilah is also ticking important boxes to get its Kalkaroo copper deposit in the state’s east into production.
The company indicates in its latest annual report the mining lease approval for the project is in its final stages, and it is also aiming to finalise and submit its rehabilitation program for Kalkaroo. “ … for the Kalkaroo project, the mining lease application has been advancing through the Department of State Development’s (DSD) assessment process and is now in the final approval stages,’’ the company says.

“Havilah has continued to negotiate with the Adnyamathanha people with the view to finalising a Native Title Mining Agreement. It has also engaged with potential investment partners concerning financing for development of the Kalkaroo deposit.’’

The company is targeting production of 34,000 tonnes copper and 106,000 ounces of gold over the life of the mine.

Havilah is also progressing its Mutooroo project 60km west of Broken Hill. “Given the positive outlook for cobalt, Havilah plans to accelerate its activities at Mutooroo in the next 12 months,” the company says. “The aim will be to progress a low capital strategy that recovers the bulk of the copper and cobalt via flotation methods and leaching of the remaining sulphide and oxidised ore material.’’