When a mining company employs nearly 15 per cent of the entire population from a local community, that company understandably becomes a welcomed and valued neighbour.
In fact, that’s exactly what Primero Mining Corporation of Toronto has become since it acquired the San Dimas Mine in Central Mexico in 2010, where it now employs approximately 1,100 people from a community with a total population of 8,000. Located adjacent to the historic mining town of Tayoltita, (pop. 8,000), about a 45-minute flight, or a 10-hour drive from Durango in central west Mexico, the San Dimas Mine now employs approximately 1,100 people at the mine it bought just five years ago.
Two of Primero’s miners carefully examine a piece of ore taken from the company’s San Dimas mine.
Since that purchase, the company has put into place a two-phase expansion program that is expected to increase throughout to approximately 3,000 tonnes per day by April of 2016.
San Dimas is an underground, long-hole stoping and mechanized cut-and-fill operation that uses long-haul-dump (LHD) equipment to load a fleet of haul trucks that deliver ore to the mill.
The mill, located in Tayoltita, uses conventional crushing and grinding coupled with cyanidation and zinc precipitation for recovery of gold and silver.
Within the mill, fine crushing and single-stage ball milling is used to achieve a fine grind before passing into the leach circuit where leaching is completed in a series of tanks providing 72 hours of leach residence time.
The gold and silver is then recovered from solution in a zinc precipitation circuit. Refined gold and silver precipitate is poured into 1000-ounce doré bars using an induction furnace.
Tailings from the mine’s processing operation are pumped by a single-stage pumping station to the tailings impoundment area located in a box canyon east of the mill site.
As with all of Primero’s mining operations, tailings management is a top priority, and at San Dimas, the challenge is even greater thanks to site’s rugged terrain and steep canyons.
To achieve its mandate for safety, the company operates a drystack tailing deposition facility to produce a filtered “cake” that is deposited and compacted inside the tailing storage area.
In keeping with its environmental responsibilities, all exploration and development activities at San Dimas are subject to the applicable environmental laws and regulations, which include planning for the eventual closure of the mine, and reclaiming the mining properties after mining and processing has stopped.
Because of strict environmental standards set by Primero, the company has developed an Environmental Management System (EMS) to help reduce or eliminate environmental impacts from the mine and as a result of the company’s efforts, it has received a “Clean Industry” certificate from the Mexican government.
Water management, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, plus an overall environmental awareness that includes biodiversity and aquatic monitoring are a few of the areas where the company concentrates great effort, but where Primero Mining Corporation stands out perhaps more than in any other category is in its efforts to being good corporate citizens through a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.
Regular meetings are routine for miners to help ensure that everyone is aware of conditions so that all people are safe.
As mentioned near the outset, Primero Mining employs a good percentage of people from its neighbouring community, and in alignment with Primero’s core values and social responsibility policy, the company has given back to their community by investing in significant infrastructure upgrades.
Thanks to Primero, and working in collaboration with Silver Wheaton (the world’s largest precious metal streaming company), the two companies recently constructed three new recreation facilities in the town of Tayolita – the first of their kind to have ever been constructed there. These facilities promote health and well being, and also provide a safe place for youth to spend their time. Primero has also played a part in improving medical facilities, invested in local businesses, and continues to evaluate new ways to improve the town of Tayoltita.
Although many of these features were originally developed to serve the mining operations, they are now shared by the entire community and have ultimately resulted in a broad range of social and community improvements.
Ernest Mast, President and Chief Operating Officer of Primero Mining Corporation says, “The company is committed to engagement with the community surrounding our San Dimas Mine and that’s why we engage in meaningful dialogue with local residents, community leaders and organizations in order to identify opportunities and priorities for economic improvement, training and social development.” In recognition of the company’s commitment to where it works, the Mexican Centre for Philanthropy recently awarded Primero Mining Corporation with its prestigious Socially Responsible Company (ESR) designation for the fourth consecutive year.
Like most mining companies, however, Primero is not perfect and in 2014, it received four complaints from community members who were concerned about blasting, traffic dust and water issues.
“We took those complaints seriously,” said Mast, “and all issues were addressed, and in 2015 we are finalizing more formal channels for concerns by standardizing the protocols for receiving, recording and responding to feedback or grievances.” While the past couple of years have been difficult for mining companies, Mast says that 2014 was a record-breaking performance for Primero with a production increase of 57 per cent over 2013, and he credits that to management’s ability to achieve or exceed its operational objectives by maintaining strict controls on costs, and “Always ensuring the health and safety of our people.” As all mine owners and operators know, avoiding downtime, whether through personal injury or equipment failures, is critical to the successful operation of a mine. Primero maintains the belief that the most important asset of the company is its people.