MEXICO – Another Canadian junior, BAJA MINING of Vancouver, has moved a step closer to becoming a producer. The Mexican government has approved the environmental impact study (EIS) the company prepared for its El Boleo copper-cobalt-zinc-manganese project on the east coast of Baja California Sur. Environmental approval allows Baja to begin construction and is key to applying for other required permits.
The Boleo project is located within the buffer zone of the El Vizcaino biosphere, a natural protected area, principally established to preserve the whale nursing habitat on the west coast of the Baja peninsula approximately 120 km north of the project near Guerro Negro. In accordance with the terms of approval the company is required to reach an agreement within 30 days of issuance of the approval, with CONANP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Proptegidas) for compensation in regard to environmental disturbance created by mining and processing activities in the biosphere. The company and CONANP have reached an agreement in principle, and expect to finalize the terms in the near future.
The El Boleo property was first mined in 1884 by a French company. Thought was given to reopening the property in the 1990s, but the copper price collapse halted those plans. Now with strong metals prices and improved mining and processing technologies, Baja is confident it can begin production in 2009. Unlike earlier plans to develop an open pit with high strip ratios, Baja is going underground with highly productive, mechanized soft rock mining methods as well as a series of smaller open cuts. Test mining has already demonstrated that continuous mining machines work well in the soft rock. The mill flowsheet has also been simplified to take advantage of proven hydrometallurgical methods, reducing capital costs to US$292 million (in 2004 dollars and expected to increase) from US$454 million. Likewise, operating costs have fallen to US$19.90/tonne (and will stay at that level) from the previous estimate of US$29.00.
Baja says the property has a published measured and indicated resource of 223.8 million tonnes at 1.63% CuEq plus inferred resources of 310.30 tonnes at 1.47% CuEq. A revised geological model including approximately 38,900 metres of infill drilling is expected in early 2007. The company has targeted annual production at 50,000 t/y copper cathode, 2,000 t/y cobalt cathode, 23,000 t/y zinc sulphate, and possibly 100,000 t/y manganese carbonate (not currently included in capital and operating costs).
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