A 'stock standard' elephant

AT THIS week's mining seminar in Port Moresby, attendees have been treated to some quite amazing projects and stories but perhaps the biggest is of a rapidly growing project blithely described in one instance as a "stock standard porphyry-copper-gold deposit".
A 'stock standard' elephant A 'stock standard' elephant A 'stock standard' elephant A 'stock standard' elephant A 'stock standard' elephant

The fact the particular deposit has a resource of 26.6 million ounces of gold and 9 million tonnes of copper leaves little doubt Wafi Golpu is anything but stock standard.

The biannual seminar, organised by the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, offered the 600 delegates a pretty good idea of how big a big deposit can be in Papua New Guinea.

The amazingly resource-rich country hosts a string of massive mineral deposits and delegates were treated to presentations on OK Tedi, Lihir, Hidden Valley, Porgera, the Solwara 1 offshore project and a host of other exciting prospects.

But none quite matched the size and promise of Wafi Golpu.

Project manager Max Esparon was humble in his presentation but obviously very understated in the possibilities of this project.

First discovered in 1979 and dug over by various companies over the years, the Newcrest Mining-Harmony Gold joint venture is being managed by Morove Mining Joint Ventures, which also manages the JV partners' other project at Hidden Valley, just 50km from Wafi Golpu.

"Despite a number of years' exploration, our knowledge of the Wafi Golpu mineral endowment remains incomplete and we are confident we will continue to identify further economic mineralisation and increase the resource base," Esparon said.

"The project area is close to the Hidden Valley mine and the city of Lae and will therefore benefit from our experiences with the operation of that mine, in particular the infrastructure and support services established for Hidden Valley."

He said there would also be benefits from lessons learned from stakeholder communications as well as the management impacts.

But while there will be a lot of the usual work to be done to ensure any new mine is developed in concert with the local community and the environment, there is nothing usual about the actual development.

Esparon said the prefeasibility study was expected to be completed in the first half of 2012 and hopefully reviewed and approved by the middle of the year.

"We're still working through the development options but it's highly likely that the team will recommend a large scale block cave underground mining operation to maximise the benefits of the project and minimise land disturbance and impacts," he said.

Block caving is sometimes used to mine steeply dipping ore bodies by driving an undercut under the ore body.

It is then drilled and blasted and the ore removed.

Geologically, Wafi Golpu is a multiple phase porphyry, copper, gold and epithermal gold system with the lodes localised around the margins of a diatreme breccia pipe.

Access to the ore body is likely to be through twin declines 4km in length and estimated time to dig through to the ore body is four to five years.

The block cave will be constructed once the declines are through and estimates suggest first production could be in 2017.

In the meantime, the JV is going ahead with drilling.

At the seminar, discussions over coffee suggested the final resource could realise 40Moz of gold.

At current gold prices, it comes in at around $US200 billion.

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