New Century Resources head of corporate affairs and social responsibility Shane Goodwin recalls the surprise of a phone call in the weeks leading up to the 2019 Australian Mining Prospect Awards.
Surprising, because the company’s Century zinc operation in Queensland was named as a nominee for the Epiroc Hard Rock Mine of the Year honour.
The company had previously nominated the historic mine for the Bulk 2020 Community Interaction Award (which they ended up bringing home at the awards night).
But the operation was also viewed as a potential winner of the hard rock prize too.
“It was a bit surprising, actually,” Goodwin tells Australian Mining. “We obviously nominated for the (Bulk 2020) Community Interaction Award. And then we were contacted a few weeks prior to the event, hearing the judging panel had reviewed our work and nominated us for the Hard Rock Mine Award as well. That was a big surprise.”
The New Century mine has broken the norm of traditional hard rock mines by taking out the award. Its operation runs contrary to previous winners as it is based on a model of mine rehabilitation.
New Century possesses 77 million tonnes of zinc tailings that have been deposited over an 18-year mine life by previous owners.
“Historically, the way that would’ve been handled was for the mine’s owner to be responsible for putting a capping layer on top of that tailings dam, rehabilitating it and leaving it in place,” Goodwin says.
“Instead, our model sees us picking up those tailings over a period of 6.5 years through a process called hydro-mining.”
New Century reprocesses those tailings into zinc concentrates with a quality that has been historically produced out of the Century zinc mine.
The company exports that zinc concentrate via the old method of using a 340 kilometre pipeline and shipping it out of the Port of Karumba.
Any remaining waste product goes back to the open pit where it originally came from. It effectively takes the tailings dam out of the environment, “a great environmental solution” that also eliminates the need to cap the tailings dam.
“You reduce your environmental obligation significantly, just by the process of hydro-mining and producing the product,” Goodwin says.
Indeed, the New Century mine has proven to deliver successful economic rehabilitation through waste value generation.
This answers to the prevailing concern in the mining sector, whereby the rehabilitation of large mine sites has not been done well across the board globally, according to Goodwin.
“Mining companies have been looking for solutions for this,” he says.
Historically, traditional miners have come to the end of a mine life, looked at their assets and regarded them as an economic burden, according to Goodwin.
New Century simply shifts this mindset and proposes a way to turn rehabilitation into a profit-making enterprise that is appealing to undertake, instead of a burden for mining companies.
“The industry and government have looked at our approach of economic rehabilitation as a unique and positive step in solving what has been a problem for the industry generally, which is the fulsome rehabilitation of end of life mine assets,” Goodwin says.
“Queensland is very supportive of this model for economic rehabilitation, and it was one of the key factors in securing our royalty deferral arrangement with the state government (in August this year).”
Economic rehabilitation, which is New Century’s entire model, makes mandatory rehabilitation attractive to businesses.
The 2019 Australian Mining Prospect Awards judging panel has recognised this as the next phase of mining, “and we’re pleased with that recognition too,” Goodwin says.
New Century has turned the Century mine around in 18 months, having done all the work upfront, understanding the goal and setting out a plan to achieve that, he adds.
The key success to its Century mine was recruiting people who were similarly minded, with a view to achieving those goals in a timely manner as much as possible, while keeping the costs down.
“We’re successful in recruiting the right people who were also engaged in that process and believed in what we’re doing,” Goodwin says.
“They believe in the economic rehabilitation process. They like the idea of taking what is a mine waste product and deriving value from it for further rehabilitation.
“It’s something that our team, including contractor, is really on board with, and that’s really helped us achieve what we’ve achieved today.”
New Century is, however, looking at mining into hard rock for zinc products through its expansion of the East Fault Block and South Block operations.
This would extend Century’s mine life while providing extra rehabilitation opportunities, according to Goodwin.
New Century expects to release the results of its feasibility study in the first quarter of 2020, which Goodwin says has shown a positive indication for the expansion.