“You can only go so deep in the pit, and if there are still deposits underground that are economical to mine, that’s what you do.
“The Chilean mining sector doesn’t have a lot of in-house underground expertise in engineering, shaft sinking, development and mine operations, and there’s a shortage of that expertise globally because a lot of big pits are starting to go underground.”
A subsidiary of the South Africa-based Murray & Roberts Group, Cementation has already won a contract through Hatch to do the engineering for shaft work at Codelco’s Chuquicamata Mine, an open pit copper operation 215 kilometres north of Santiago.
Codelco expects to start mining underground in 2018 and reach full capacity of 120,000 tonnes per day by 2030. Extractable underground reserves below the pit are estimated to be 1,150 million tonnes grading 0.76 per cent copper and 0.52 per cent molybdenum. To date, Chuquicamata has produced more than 29 million tonnes of copper, far more than any other mine in the world.
Cementation Canada is not entirely new to Chile. It has been doing raiseboring in the country for more than a decade and was given responsibility for serving the South American mining market by parent Murray & Roberts a year and a half ago. Up to 15 people will be based at the company’s Santiago office.
Business is also picking up in North America, said Slack.
“We have a couple of contracts that were put on hold that are starting up again, so we are beginning to see a rebound.”
The company has started work on engineering and development of an internal shaft at the Hecla Mining Company’s Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho, a silver operation, and has signed a letter of intent to commence work on Newmont’s Hope Bay project, a gold property on Victoria Island, Nunavut, in Canada’s Arctic.
Cementation Canada has seen some work dry up in Sudbury because of the nine-month strike that has put a hold on several development projects at Vale Inco, but has been continuing work at Xstrata’s new Nickel Rim South Mine and has been busy preparing Vale Inco’s Totten Mine for a production start next year. Cementation has completed the refurbishing of the shaft and installed a new headframe and hoist plant. The focus now is on underground development.
Slack is particularly proud of the training program the company has implemented for members of the nearby Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation.
“When we get to a point where we can train people, introduce them to mining and provide them with a career, that’s really gratifying.”