Diggers & Dealers: Northern Star to invest $50m in developing underground mining skills

The Imperial/Majestic site

Western Australian miner Northern Star Resources plans to invest $50 million to expand its skills and develop the innovation needed to enhance underground gold mining.

The company has emerged as the third largest Australian-based gold miner in recent years through a series of acquisitions and organic growth.

To support this growth, Northern Star will invest in the future of underground mining in the Goldfields region where its owns several assets.

In addition to the commitment to innovation and skills development, Northern Star will also invest in new technology and machinery to improve the efficiency of its exploration, development and production activities.

Northern Star chief executive officer Stuart Tonkin said Australia’s gold mining industry was moving further towards underground mines and this investment would support that transition.

“We look forward at the open pits today, and we look forward 10 years, and we see that those deposits will be depleted from surface mining,” Tonkin said on the sidelines of Diggers & Dealers on Monday.

“They will go underground – the orebodies continue. It’s moved already from 75 per cent open pits through to 56 per cent open pit mining in the balance from underground. We see that trend globally.”

Northern Star Resources, which produced about 515,000 ounces of gold in the 2017 financial year, cemented its future as a gold miner last week when it revealed a 10-year production plan and a significant increase in its reserve base.

The Perth-based company forecast that its output would increase to 625,000 ounces of gold a year from 2020 onwards. It also almost tripled its reserves to 3.5 million ounces and lifted its total resource base by 2.7 million ounces to 10.2 million ounces.

With underground mining being the company’s expertise, Tonkin said Northern Star would use the investment to enhance the skillset it currently holds for organic growth.

“It will be even on the technology in our equipment but largely on the people and their skills to deal with and repair, maintain and operate that equipment as it gets developed,” Tonkin said.

“Everything in industry is driven by people, in the people and the skills, and actually recognising what skills they will require over the next two decades and starting to train them now because it does take time.”

Tonkin added that several programs that are part of the investment would promote underground gold mining at the grassroots and community level.

“We are at the infancy of developing these things – we are doing a lot of this already,” Tonkin said. “It is really about formalising a lot of the programs, but it’s really about starting the grassroots stuff.”

This includes promoting mining in Goldfields schools and creating a pathway to the industry for today’s youth, Tonkin concluded.

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