The moral of this story is that news reports and Annual Reports can tell the curious engineers and technicians amongst us interesting tales of the trials and tribulations of mining and, more important, give us case histories that we can draw on to avoid these same problems at our own operations. Here is the story.

The Aditya Birla Minerals website provides a map and brief descriptions of both the Nifty and Mount Gordon Mines. Here are extracts”

  • “The Nifty copper operation consists of an open pit mine, heap leach pads and a solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX–EW) processing plant, which produces copper cathode. A copper sulphide deposit is located at the lower levels of the Nifty open pit mine and an underground mine and concentrator have been developed to mine and process ore from this deposit.”
  • “The Mt Gordon copper operation consists of an underground and open pit mine, a copper concentrate plant and ferric leach plant. Until recently, the operation produced copper cathode through the ferric leach process. In 2004, a copper concentrator was commissioned to provide concentrate.”

The Annual Report 2005 – 2006 tells this story about the Mount Gordon Mine in Australia: “The Mount Gordon resources and reserves have been continuously refined and generally downgraded from those at the time of acquisition as a result of further drilling and modifications to the resource estimation methodology…..However, reserves have been maintained at approximately the same level as at March 2005 (70kt copper tonnes) and have extended the currently known mine life for an additional year to December 2007…”

The good news is in a late December 2006 news release from Aditya Birla Minerals which says this about the Mount Gordon Mine: “Based on the continued resource definition and extensional drilling at Mammoth, the underground mine plan has been revised and the mine life has been extended to the end of 2008 (previously 2007).”

The bad news relates to the Nifty Sulphide Project (called the Nifty Copper Project in InfoMine files): “The target date for commissioning of the underground crusher and conveyor system at Nifty Sulphide is early 2007. Lower than expected performance by the construction contractors and late delivery of commissioning resources by equipment suppliers being the major cause of the delay (sic). These delays have manifested as the demand for materials, equipment and labor in Western Australia significantly increased as a result of the increase in mining activities. The demand is far in excess of what was anticipated when the initial project schedules were drawn up.”

No mention of these technical problems described in the July 2006 report: “Although it was recognized that the underground ore was abrasive, excessive wear has been experienced in all areas including the crusher, chutes, pipes and valves. Plans are in place to overcome these problems with design changes including ceramics.” I would love to know more.

Both properties were hard hit by cyclones. These extracts from the Annual Report:

  • “At Mt Gordon, very heavy rains associated with Cyclone Larry impacted operations and resulted in a slight overtopping of the Mill Creek Dam due to the excessive runoff of surficial waters, which is a technical breach of the environmental license conditions. The Queensland Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of assessing the breach.”
  • At Nifty: “Wet season impacted on the operations by cyclonic activity bringing higher than average rains. The impact affected the efficiency of the operations by restricting road access for critical consumables including diesel and sulphuric acid. Pit conditions were affected by the reduction in shifts worked due to access restrictions, minor pit flooding and pit wall failures. An additional impact of the high rain was a series of slips on the northern wall which has resulted in a change to the mine design to control these structures and a consequent loss of reserves. Recoveries over the wet season were impacted by the dilution effect of heavy rainfall and a reduction of available acid due to transport constraints.”

I notice on the statistics for TechnoMine a significant number of hits from India. Thus I was intrigued to turn to the Aditya Birla Group webpage and find that both properties are owned by a large Indian company. In fact the mines are a very small part of their operations, purchased to provide copper to their Indian refineries—see the picture below.

On a much lighter note, Aditya Birla also brings us the Don collection by Louis Philippe. Is this what the well-dressed Indian mining engineer is wearing this season?