Kirkland Lake unearths a golden era at Fosterville

Australian Mining editor Ben Creagh (left); Kirkland Lake vice president, exploration, John Landmark; Kirkland Lake vice president, Australian operations, Ian Holland; and comedian MC Merrick Watts. Photo by: Photographic Memory

The Fosterville underground mine ticks all the boxes for Kirkland Lake Gold, the Canadian company that has put gold mining back on the map in Victoria.

Kirkland Lake’s company vision has three key targets: to deliver low-cost production, to advance its exploration and development pipeline, and to maintain a large resource and reserve base.

Fosterville, which won the Mine of the Year and Epiroc Hard Rock Mine Year awards at the 2018 Australian Mining Prospect Awards, delivers each of these targets for the company.

Kirkland Lake has rapidly increased its output at the low-cost operation since 2015, most recently producing a record 90,618 ounces (oz) in the September quarter at grades of 25.6 grams a tonne (g/t).

This output is a 47 per cent improvement on the same period a year earlier and puts Kirkland Lake on track to reach 300,000oz at the mine in 2018, with 231,923oz produced so far this year.

Kirkland Lake’s pipeline of exploration success at Fosterville continues to support its low-cost production growth.

In September, Kirkland Lake’s latest intercepts with extremely high grades at Fosterville’s Swan zone included 289g/t gold over 7.45m, 144g/t over 11.9m, and 423g/t over 3.55m.

The wide, high-value gold intercepts at the Swan zone were returned up to 200m from its existing mineral reserves, with a key return including 83.1g/t gold over 8.6m.

September’s results at Fosterville followed a similarly exciting announcement made by Kirkland Lake in July. They back Fosterville’s potential as a new, world-class gold camp, according to the company, which is confident the site has much more to be found in terms of reserves and resources.

It will be one of the great orebodies (and) great mines of the world, to be completely frank.

Kirkland Lake vice president, Australian operations, Ian Holland reinforces the future the company envisions at Fosterville.

“I think there’s more to come from Fosterville; I think we have only just tapped the edge. It will be one of the great orebodies (and) great mines of the world, to be completely frank,” Holland says at the Prospect Awards gala dinner.

“Really, really importantly, many of the employees that have been there from the start are still there, and they have seen that journey emerge.”

Kirkland Lake will update its reserves and resources early next year, but at the end of 2017 Fosterville’s reserves stood at 1.7 million ounces at 23.1g/t.

Gold buffs will be waiting in anticipation for the update, knowing that Kirkland Lake is just getting started at the mine despite the success and accolades it has received over the past year.

The company’s long-term ambitions for the mine have been known throughout 2018 since it set an annual production target of 400,000oz by 2020 in January.

This emergence into one of Australia’s standout mining operations has been swift. In 2015, the mine produced just 123,095oz at 6.11g/t, both under half of its 2017 results (263,845oz at 15.8g/t).

Holland reminds the Prospect Awards crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) that Fosterville has not always enjoyed this level of success.

“(Fosterville) has been in operation in its current phase since 2005, and over much of that journey it has been a relatively low margin business,” Holland says.

“Over the last couple of years, that has changed, and it has been a journey that has been very exciting for all of the people there.”

Kirkland Lake achieved a major inflection point at Fosterville in 2015 with the discovery of the Eagle zone, which contained high-grade visible-gold bearing mineralisation.

This breakthrough resulted in a significant improvement in Fosterville’s mineral reserve grade, production profile and unit cost performance.

Kirkland Lake continued to make exploration progress early in 2017 and more than doubled the mine’s underground reserves, while lifting the grade estimate by 83 per cent to 17.9g/t later in the year.

Holland credits the Fosterville workforce for guiding the exploration success and resultant surge in production.

“It’s not us creating the value here, it is the people working at the face,” he says. “It’s the people working underground, working on the surface, working in the mill. The same people who have been working there the whole time are working there again (now).”

Fosterville has transformed from ‘just another gold mine’ to arguably Australia’s standout site in just three years. And, most will agree, we are certain to hear much more from Kirkland Lake about this mine in the years ahead.