All great projects have challenges: Highlands

PRODUCTION from the Chinese-managed $US1.5 billion Ramu nickel-cobalt mine in Papua New Guinea is expected before year-end, while joint venture partner Highlands Pacific is equally excited about the profit making potential of the Xstrata-led Frieda River copper-gold project.
All great projects have challenges: Highlands All great projects have challenges: Highlands All great projects have challenges: Highlands All great projects have challenges: Highlands All great projects have challenges: Highlands

Earlier this week the National Court of Madang finally removed the injunctions holding back the built Ramu mine from undertaking deep-sea tailings placement.

"The Ramu nickel project has had its challenges, but all great projects do," Highlands Pacific managing director John Gooding said.

"Unfortunately for the project's owners, the local landowners and the PNG economy, the multiple legal actions have delayed the project by more than a year."

The mine can be commissioned and Highlands Pacific plans to announce updates on this and the ramp-up process which is expected during the next "12-18 months".

However, Macquarie Private Wealth analysts expect production from the high pressure acid-leach plant to start before the end of this year.

Located 75 kilometres west of the provincial capital of Madang, the Ramu mine is expected to produce 31,150 tonnes of nickel and 3300t of cobalt per annum in a high-grade concentrate over a 20-year mine life.

The resources could also potentially support mining for a further 15-20 years.

China Metallurgical Construction Company subsidiary MCC Ramu NiCo owns 85% of the project, but Highlands' stake will increase to 11.3% once the project development debt is paid off, which could be in eight years.

The PNG explorer also has an option to acquire a 9.25% stake of the emerging mine at a fair market value, providing the potential for Highlands to increase its total stake to 20.55%.

Frieda River

With a resource estimate on the Frieda River project due next month, Gooding has observed the project is conveniently advancing in conjunction with strong copper demand.

"Copper prices have now reached $US4.40 a pound with some industry analysts suggesting it will hit a peak of $5 a pound by next year," he said.

"It is therefore interesting to reflect on the cash generation capacity of an emerging Tier 1 project like Frieda with cash costs of below 50c in the first decade of its multi-decade life forecast.

"The timing of the project's full bankable feasibility study in January 2012 could not be better. The resource estimation drilling at site has finished as have all field activities."

Highlands Pacific owns 18.8% of this project, but it owns 100% of the Star Mountains copper porphyry project roughly 20 kilometres away from the giant Ok Tedi mine.

While poor wet conditions have held back exploration in recent months, additional rigs are enroute to the site.

The explorer aims to unveil a maiden resource for the Olgal prospect next year, while there are nine other identified targets in the project area.

Results for a hole in the Olgal prospect are due next month.

Highlands Pacific shares were down half a cent to 30.5c this morning.


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