It’s not often the market hears of an “exceptionally smooth” mine restart and a refurbishment program that takes only seven months to complete on schedule and budget.
But such was the case for the Hellyer gold-silver-lead mine in Tasmania.
Hellyer has refurbished the dredge and installed new pipelines to recover the tailings at the site, all of which were included in its $60 million refurbishment and remediation budget over its life of mine.
It helps that Hellyer was well-built and maintained in the first place and had multiple contractors that had previously worked on the mill. In fact, many of them now work on Hellyer’s day-to-day operations.
But this isn’t the only evidence that Hellyer was built on the forward-looking vision of its previous owners.
“When the mine ceased its operation, its state-of-the-art processing plant was placed under care and maintenance in preparation for ongoing use should other ore bodies in the area become economically feasible to mine in the future,” Hellyer Gold Mines director Steve White tells Australian Mining.
The Hellyer mine, which began production in 1989, stopped operating in 2012 when all of the economically available ore at the site became exhausted.
The mine produced 15 million tonnes of ore and yielded 601,000 tonnes of bulk concentrate, 2.7 million tonnes of zinc and 728,000 tonnes of lead over this operating period.
In 2017, Hellyer Gold Mines breathed new life into the site under the ownership of London-based NQ Minerals, almost six years after it was placed under care and maintenance.
Production resumed in September 2018, and shortly after, the first 5000 tonnes of lead from the Hellyer mine left the port of Burnie to Korea Zinc for processing in February 2019. The shipment comprises the first of what will be a total annual shipment of over 36,000 tonnes of silver-lead-gold concentrate for 10 years.
This mineral resource is uniquely sourced from the Hellyer mine’s existing tailings dam, which contains roughly 9.5 million tonnes of material containing high-grade gold, silver, lead, zinc and pyrite.
The re-processing of tailings recovers as much value as possible with improved technology and processes, rather than breaking new ground at the north-west Tasmania operation, according to White.
Once the tailings are reprocessed, the residue will be stored in a new dam on site, and the existing facility, once emptied and repaired, will process nearby ore bodies without the need for large mine footprints elsewhere.
“This is a very important project because it demonstrates that legacy mine sites in many cases still have economic resources that can be easily extracted, and the environment rehabilitated,” White says.
“Hellyer offers the possibility for a new paradigm in mining, whereby ore can be shipped to a centrally-located fully permitted mill and provide a compelling alternative for explorers in the north west.”
Importantly, the successes of Hellyer took ground as Tasmania’s mineral resources sector started gaining its momentum.
In February this year, the Hodgman Government launched the second round of its mining exploration grants program, which provided grants for successful applicants exploring for greenfield mineral targets.
The industry employed 6000 people state-wide as of early this year and accounted for 55 per cent – or more than $1.5 billion – of Tasmania’s exports in 2016–2017. And by 2050, the government plans to grow its state’s exports to $15 billion every year.
“It’s a win-win for all parties,” White says. “[Hellyer] is commercially viable. The state receives royalties. The local economy is invigorated. And the environment is improved far beyond the existing situation.”
Tasmania’s business community and government at all levels have been nothing short of excellent in both support and assistance, White adds.
The Office of the Co-ordinator General was instrumental in developing the project, and the officers worked tirelessly to back the company in navigating all levels of government.
State-owned enterprises TasRail and TasNetworks assisted greatly in transport and electricity solutions respectively, while the support from government is evidenced in the visits to the Hellyer Gold Mine in February this year, White says.
As for Hellyer’s future plans, it is looking into optimising mine infrastructure to support the mine’s surrounding deposits. It is also eyeing for other prospective projects in Tasmania.
As White says, Tasmania is booming at the moment.
This article also appears in the April edition of Australian Mining.