Blue Note conquers Caribou
Blue Note Mining of Montreal has achieved what others could not. It is producing a commercial zinc and lead concentrate from its Caribou and Restigouche mines in New Brunswick. The Caribou mining operation achieved commercial production effective January 1, 2008.
The refurbishment of mining and milling infrastructures was essentially completed on schedule in June 2007.The Caribou mine was dewatered in January 2007, and by May the mine commenced development of its production areas. By June 2007, Caribou was essentially production-ready, and ore had been stockpiled underground and on surface. Dewatering of the Restigouche mine was completed in June 2007 and production commenced shortly thereafter. By July, both mines were supplying ore to the mill for processing.
Commissioning of the mill took place during June and July 2007. The fine grind attrition mills (Isa Mills), the first in Canada, were installed in April and were ready for production by July. The lead circuit started operation first and the zinc circuit followed shortly thereafter.
The operation went into production on July 16, 2007, just 11 months after the transfer of ownership of the asset. The first shipment of both lead and zinc concentrates from the site occurred toward the end of July, and initial revenues for both were received in September and November, respectively.
Towards the end of 2007 the company focused on the stabilizing process and metallurgical performance. The Isa mills are providing the fine grinding that is required in the regrind circuit, grinding zinc to approximately 12 microns and lead to 8 microns.
“Lead metallurgical performance has been on plan or has exceeded plan,” said Michael Judson, Blue Note president and CEO. He added:”Zinc performance is within a hair of target and is expected to hit target imminently.”
Since start-up, the metallurgy has steadily improved and by early January 2008, the mill was averaging 77.8% zinc recovery and 50.4% concentrate grade, while lead recovery and concentrate grade averaged 71.7% and 45%, respectively. Mill throughput averaged 2,000 to 2,500 tonnes per day. As operational issues are being resolved and optimized, full planned production targets are expected to be achieved during the first quarter of 2008.
Recruiting has been a challenge, but the company has succeeded in assembling the team of skilled labour and professionals it needed. The Restigouche open pit mine operation and most of the underground development is being performed by J. S. Redpath. All other underground crews such as Services and Production are staffed by Blue Note Caribou employees. This arrangement will likely continue for 2008.
Frame contracts for all of the lead concentrate and the majority of the zinc concentrates were concluded toward the end of March 2007. The main contract, for 50% of the zinc and 100% of the lead, with Xstrata was announced on May 24, 2007. Most of the remaining production will go to Boliden and Nyrstar in Europe.
Blue Note also formalized a three-year exploration plan for the mine and its surrounding properties. It consists of an $8-million program ($6 million for regional exploration and $2 million for Caribou underground exploration) for this period aimed at defining a surface or near-surface resource to replace the Restigouche open pit mine and at expanding and converting the Caribou mine inferred resource to a reserve category. Since 2006,Blue Note has been very active in acquiring additional land and has increased its holding in the area by 100% from about 93 km2 to 189 km2.
The company’s regional exploration program kicked off in the fall of 2007, and initial efforts centred on the Armstrong area, approximately 15 km east of the Caribou mine site. This area is underlain by geological units considered to be very prospective for the discovery of new zinc-lead-silver mineralization. The program consisted of a large-scale ground geophysical survey using the Titan 24 surveying equipment, designed to investigate the under-explored deeper portion of the Armstrong A and B deposits. Following this, the survey will move to the Caribou claim area in early 2008.