Taking Tasmanian mining to the world stage

Iron ore pellets at Grange Resources’ Savage River mine. Image: Metso

Tasmania is focused on establishing a mining industry that remains globally competitive as it starts to see benefits from investments made by miners in the state in recent years.

In the backdrop of announcements that Tasmania mines had been closed or projects mothballed over the past five years due to falling commodity prices or environmental concerns, the state’s industry has behind-the-scenes built towards its next phase of growth.

Despite the downturn, several companies operating in Tasmania bucked industry trends by committing to new projects or developments that would either enhance or extend the life of their mines.

These investments involve some of Tasmania’s largest mines.

For example, Chinese-owned MMG announced last year it would spend $30 million on a new tailings dam at the Rosebery mine south of Burnie to extend the life of the operations. The new tailings dam is being built on the site of two previous dams and will help remediate existing environmental issues at the operation.

The tailings facility at Bluestone Mines’ Renison tin mine near Tasmania’s west coast is also being upgraded. The Renison expansion project involves reprocessing the large historic tailings deposits generated since 1968 using modern technology.

Grange Resources continues to invest in the development of the Savage River magnetite iron ore mine in northwest Tasmania. The company advanced construction of the South Deposit tailings storage facility at Savage River during 2016, a project that ensures the operation has sufficient storage for the remaining 30-year mine life.

Australian Bauxite, which has been producing at the Bald Hill mine near Campbell Town since December 2014, is progressing development of its second operation, the Fingal Rail project. The company launched field testing at the Fingal Rail site this year, which could determine if the mine launches production over the next 12 months.

Late last year, Diversified Minerals poured first gold at the Henty mine in state’s west after the site was removed from care and maintenance. Copper Mines of Tasmania’s Mt Lyell mine is also on track for an early restart thanks to a $9.5 million investment into the industry by the state government.

One thing that we haven’t considered well until recently is that you are always competing with international markets, whether it be for investors or to sell the product you are mining – Wayne Bould

Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council (TMEC) chief executive Wayne Bould said the industry in the state was starting to see positives from these developments.

“Those (which invested) are actually starting to realise both production and economic benefit which is starting to flow through to the government in terms of state royalties and certainly for the businesses themselves as they progress,” Bould told Australian Mining.

“No miracle has occurred – it is just the result of some good business decisions.”

Bould said the optimism emerging in Tasmania from this expansion was leading to a new level of business maturity in the state, with miners, services companies and the government all seeking ways to lift their competitiveness on a global scale.

“The reality here is that if you are not at the top of your game then you can’t compete at a world level,” Bould explained.

“Australia isn’t the cheapest place to operate and when you are talking about smaller scale mines quite often it is often easier to get a return on investment if you look to South America, Africa or even South-East Asia.

“One thing that we haven’t considered well until recently is that you are always competing with international markets, whether it be for investors or to sell the product you are mining. It is a new experience for some of the companies in Tassie.”

Bould said there was a growing awareness of how technology could be applied to manage and analyse performance at new and existing mines, as well as the opportunities that exist to use new methods to efficiently link Tasmania to world markets.

However, Bould was reluctant to say that Tasmania was experiencing a total resurgence in mining conditions just yet.

“There is a degree of cautious optimism about but people are being pragmatic and they better understand how the swings and roundabouts (of commodity prices) work now,” Bould concluded.

This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining magazine.