When it comes to a name, “Copper Mountain” says it all. In fact, with more than five billion pounds of copper under foot, what else could the owners of the Copper Mountain Mine have possibly called their flagship property?
That decision to name the mine “Copper Mountain” was made more than seven years ago when the property was acquired in 2006, which included an 18,000-acre land package located about 20km from Princeton. The mine has a strategic alliance with Mitsubishi Materials Corporation who own 25% of the project and provides the off-take agreement for 100% of the concentrate. Mitsubishi Materials also helped secure an attractive and favourable debt financing which was used to initiate construction. The $438 million development commenced production in the summer of 2011, on budget and on schedule.
As Jim O’Rourke, Copper Mountain’s Chief Executive Officer, says, “Deciding on a name for the mine was easy… it’s what came afterwards that has made life on the mountain more interesting.”
Like all mines, O’Rourke says there were, and still are many challenges to making things happen as planned so that at the end of the day, everyone goes home safe.
“It’s every miner’s desire to work safely in a safe environment and that’s something we’ve strived for at Copper Mountain since day one. Because of the mine’s size and complexity however, it’s sometimes been a challenge to keep an eye on everything that’s going on around the site but our team has done an outstanding job at making safety a top priority. To date, the mine has gone 330 days and counting with no LTI’s, (loss time injuries) which is a significant achievement” says O’Rourke.
As O’Rourke just mentioned, the Copper Mountain project is a complex undertaking; not only because of the shear size of the property, but also because of the scope of work that called for creating a ‘super pit’ mine from three existing pits.
Understandably, making the decision to create a massive pit required proof of continuity of mineralization and that’s why O’Rourke says the company spent so much time in the early stages studying and blending historic drill data from the exiting pits with new exploration.
With such a massive resource at stake, the company helped confirm its future by employing a three-pronged exploration strategy involving initial targets, secondary targets, and finally deep porphyry targets.
Drilling initially started at the site in January 2007 and focused primarily on providing additional verification of mineral continuity. At the end of the year, Copper Mountain Mining reported on the Titan 24 Deep Penetration Geological Survey on a 13km square area over the three existing pits, and concluded continuity of mineralization between the pits and at depth.
The results showed that the deposit at the site is classified as an alkali porphyry copper deposit with a gold/silver admixture. As mentioned earlier, the site contains a massive resource and over a predicted 17-year mine life, it will produce 1.47 billion pounds of copper, 452,000 ounces of gold, and 4.5 million ounces of silver.
The proven and probable mineral reserve aggregate is 217 million tonnes, averaging 0.27 per cent Cu containing 1.3 billion pounds of copper using a 0.12 per cent Cu cutoff. Measured and indicated resources total 442Mt grades at 0.26 per cent Cu while inferred resources have been estimated at 582Mt grading at 0.21 per cent Cu for the combined total of 5.3 billion pounds of copper.
O’Rourke says that a total of about 106 000m of drilling was required to help determine that a new and merged ‘super pit’ was viable. In addition, the mine continues to have significant exploration potential that will need to be explored over the next few years to fully appreciate the property’s full development potential. The deposit remains open laterally and at depth and numerous exciting exploration targets have been identified in and around the property.
From that point, O’Rourke said “it’s been onward, outward and downward” as the company has steadily been working to make its Copper Mountain Mine the talk and envy of mining companies around the world.
With such steady advancement in construction and now production, O’Rourke credits much of the company’s success in these areas to the fleet of equipment it has and maintains on site.
In addition to utilizing a conventional crushing, grinding, and flotation system to produce copper concentrate with gold and silver as a bonus, the company also has a mobile mining fleet worth over $100 million, consisting of two Komatsu PC 8000 hydraulic shovels, an Ex 5500 Hitachi hydraulic shovel, fifteen 240-ton Komatsu 830E haul trucks, six 260–ton Euclid haul trucks, one Komatsu WA 1200 loader, two PV271 Atlas Copco rotary drills, two PV351 Atlas Copco rotary drills, and a fleet of other support equipment.
As can be expected, building a ‘super pit’ the size of the one at Copper Mountain takes its toll on equipment, but Jim O’Rourke credits the performance of his machines to the quality of the products in the first place, but also to his fleet operators and the attention to routine service and maintenance.
“We’re moving a lot of material now and as mining activities continue to shift around the pit, the machines are being required to move more and more material every day. Our mobile fleet maintains a mechanical availability of approximately 85% which is favourable for international mining standards,” says O’Rourke.
During the second quarter of 2014, a total of 17.1 million tonnes of material was mined, including 4.6 million tonnes of ore and 11.5 million tonnes of waste. The projected life-of-mine strip ration is 2 to 1 but slightly higher in the earlier years. During the 2014 second quarter, the mine moved an average of approximately 188,250 tonnes of material per day, which has increased with the addition of two new haul trucks that were recently purchased and added to the fleet
In keeping with the company’s goal to stay in touch with modern technology to maintain its high production expectations, Copper Mountain Mining has just completed the purchase and installation of a secondary crusher to help ensure that the mill would operate consistently at the designed throughput rate of 35,000 tonnes per day or greater.
O’Rourke explained the secondary crusher will process all of the ore entering the mill to below 2.0 inches in size, thereby allowing ore to flow faster and more easily through the front end of the process plant which would result in more copper production.
At a cost of $40 million, the FLSmidth High Performance Raptor 2000 crusher is the largest cone crusher on the market and because of its size, it also called for the construction of a proper facility to house it.
In fact, not just a pad for it to sit on but a separate 10-storey-high building located in front of the process plant, near the mine’s coarse ore stockpile. Naturally the building also features a very thick concrete foundation to support the 100-tonne-plus crusher.
Construction of the facility was a major undertaking but Jim O’Rourke says it was relatively easy when compared to the logistics of getting the crusher to the site.
For starters, the unit was built in Bucarest, Romania, and had to be shipped from there to Princeton, a total of approximately 9200km. Shipping anything that distance, let alone something weighing more than 100 tonnes, is a monumental task and here’s what Jim O’Rourke says was involved.
“Component pieces of the crushing unit are extremely large and heavy so they had to be scheduled to arrive on site separately for assembly. The component parts of the Raptor 2000 are so heavy that they had to be shipped from Bucarest to Italy, and to the Port of Halifax for offloading onto land and then transported via train to arrive in Kamloops, where they were then offloaded onto specialized “Over-sized load” trucks for transport to the mine.”
“Even all of the bridges they crossed had to be reengineered to ensure that the move was made safely and that the bridges could handle the weight.”
The lower mainframe is the largest component piece of the secondary crusher and due to its weight, special permits and a specialized transport truck was required to move the piece of equipment.
Cranes were used to lower the unit from a rail car to the truck, which then transported the component to the mine site over a four-day period at night to help avoid traffic on the roads.
The highway was partially blocked off in sections during its travel to the mine site, so an extensive traffic-management plan was also required.
Total distance by truck from Kamloops to the mine site was approximately 200km at 10km/hour for five hours each night.
It was a slow and tedious journey but now that it’s in its new home, the lower bowl assembly and the upper mainframe of the crusher have been installed and the existing one-kilometre overland conveyor that transfers ore from the primary crusher to the mill feed stockpile has been modified to accommodate the tie-in to the new secondary crusher.
The Raptor 2000 crusher is the largest cone crusher installed in Western Canada and thanks to its ability to crush six-inch rock from the primary crusher down to minus two inch in size, Copper Mountain Mining expects nothing but high productivity for years to come. Management is confident that the new secondary crusher will improve mill throughput to nearly 40,000 tpd, which will improve mine profitability and provide a better margin for the company.
Speaking of production, copper production for the second quarter of 2014 totalled 19.9 million pounds of copper, a four per cent increase as compared to the first quarter of 2014, setting another new production record for the mine. The concentrate also included 5000 ounces of gold and 113,300 ounces of silver. The 2014 second quarter represents the seventh consecutive quarter of continued improved copper production at Copper Mountain Mine. Year-to-date production results indicate that the operation is on track to meet its annual production target of 80-90 million pounds of copper, which represents a 25% growth from 2013 production levels. During the quarter, the mill achieved 90.2 per cent availability and averaged a total of 30,450 tpd throughput of which approximately 12,500 tpd of the mill feed was crushed to minus two inches and represents a four per cent increase from the first quarter.
With continued operational improvement like this, it’s no wonder miners around the world are keeping an envious eye on Copper Mountain.
Looking to 2015, O’Rourke concludes that Copper Mountain’s management will be focused on strategic growth for its shareholders through organic growth on the property and accretive opportunities in politically stable jurisdictions.