WILLIAMS LAKE, BC – When Taseko Mines (TSX: TKO) re-opened Gibraltar near Williams Lake in 2006, the 36-year old mine had enough ore to feed its 30,000-t/d mill for just over three years.
Then Taseko spent six years investing $700 million into the operation.
On Sept. 19 the company celebrated the culmination of that effort. The Gibraltar mine is now ramping up to its new capacity of 85,000 t/d, a throughput that will enable the mine to produce 165 million lb of copper annually – more than three times its pre-expansion output.
Molybdenum output has also tripled, thanks to a new moly facility that recovers 50% of the molybdenum in Gibraltar’s rocks. The old moly circuit only managed 30% recovery.
In his remarks at the event, Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer said he was proud to have helped realize his father’s prediction.
"As I was preparing for this day I was reminded of a conversation that took place nearly 50 years ago,” Hallbauer said. “A couple of people who were there share this recollection: they were talking about the Gibraltar deposit and my father was very clear. He said Gibraltar would one day be built into a mine and that it would become one of the great mines in Canada.
"Turns out he was right. Less than 10 years later Gibraltar was indeed built, and today it is certainly one of the great mines in Canada.”
Indeed, Gibraltar now ranks as the second largest open pit copper mine in Canada.
Taseko achieved that ranking through a three-stage expansion. In stage one, realized between 2007 and 2008, the company added a 10.4-metre semi-autogenous grinding (SAG) mill, converted the mine’s rod mills to ball mills, and replaced the flotation circuit with a new system of much larger cells. These modifications boosted throughput from 30,000 t/d to 46,000 t/d, at a cost of $76 million.
In 2009 Taseko embarked on stage two. The company built an in-pit crusher and conveyor system, increased the capacity of the regrind and cleaner flotation circuits, installed a two-stage tailings pumping system, and added a coarse ore stockpile with a system that fed ore directly into the SAG mill. Taseko also bought new mining equipment, bolstering its fleet with two new mining shovels and four new haul trucks. Stage two cost $224 million and upped throughput to 55,000 t/d.
Stage three was also supposed to get underway in 2009 but the recession put Taseko’s plans on hold. So it was that in early 2011 the company broke ground on a new, 30,000-t/d, standalone facility to augment the existing mill. The new mill and concentrator facility is now complete, as is a new truck shop. In addition, the mine has several more new haul trucks, another mining shovel, and a new production drill.
Taseko saved the biggest phase of the expansion for last: stage three came in at a cost of $325 million.
Hallbauer offered up some other interesting numbers to illustrate the magnitude of stage three. He said it demanded more than a million man-hours of work, used up 11,500 m3 of concrete and 4,000 tonnes of steel, required 700 truckloads of material and equipment to be brought to the mine site, and necessitated the laying of 265,000 metres of electrical cable and 30,000 metres of pipe.
The entire $700-million expansion came in on schedule and on budget. And while engineers advanced the expansion, geologists found new ore at Gibraltar. The mine’s proven and probable reserves now stand at 790 million tonnes grading 0.3% Cu and 0.008% Mo, enough to feed the mine until 2039.
The Sept. 19 event was intended as a way for Taseko’s management team to thank all the contractors and employees that made the expansion possible.
“It has been a huge effort and huge accomplishment,” said Dave Rouleau, Taseko’s VP of operations. “This is a milestone event and an opportunity for us to thank everyone who’s been involved.”
BC’s Minister for Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, was also on hand to celebrate the event.
“It’s extraordinary first of all to find a deposit that will support a mine, but then to actually build one – very, very few people in the world have ever done it, have ever built a mine,” Bennett said in his remarks. “So we are in esteemed company.”
Bennett applauded Taseko for its achievement, calling the new Gibraltar mine “an incredibly important story for our province.”
Almost everyone from Taseko’s management team and board of directors was in attendance, as were several other prominent members of British Columbia’s mining scene, including Copper Mountain Mining (TSX: CUM) CEO Jim O’Rourke and Hunter Dickinson heads Robert Dickinson, Ron Thiessen, and David Copeland.
Not everyone spoke, but of those who did, none could resist the opportunity to promote Taseko's next imitative, the New Prosperity project, a few hundred kilometres south. The original mine designed for the Prosperity site was denied a federal environmental permit because of the damage it would have caused to Fish Lake. Taseko redesigned the operation to save Fish Lake, for an additional $300 million, and the federal environmental review of the New Prosperity plan recently wrapped up. Taseko now awaits a decision.
“I think some of my dad has rubbed off on me,” said Hallbauer. “I think his ability to recognize the potential for a great mine exists in me too. And you know what else? I think there’s the potential to build another great mine in British Columbia right down the road from here.
“The Prosperity deposit is the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Canada and the tenth largest in the world. It represents billions of dollars of wealth potential for BC and Canada and more importantly represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for new jobs and economic growth for the Cariboo. It is time now for the federal government to also commit to the Cariboo by saying yes to New Prosperity.”
Bennett echoed that sentiment, though in slightly veiled terms.
“Let me finish by saying this,” he said. “Mining leads to prosperity and we all support prosperity.”
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