MMG’s Century Mine is Australia’s largest open-cut zinc mine which is currently in a transitionary period as it prepares for the end of open cut zinc production in approximately 2016. In the lead-up to the Exploring and Mining the Isa Conference, we had the chance to speak to Mark Adams, the company’s General Manager for the Qld Operations about the biggest challenges in leading the mine through the transition period, future opportunities and Century’s commitment to the local community.
What are the biggest challenges when in it comes to managing the operations of a mine in a transition period?
Mark Adams: No two mining operations are the same, so when it comes to closure, we need to identify and address a wide range of factors, some of which are unique to Century.
Century incorporates two sites; the mine and processing operation at Lawn Hill and the de-watering and shipping operation at Karumba. That means there are multiple challenges that run parallel, all of which shape our planning.
This includes the development and implementation of closure strategies around environmental rehabilitation, our people, the future of extensive infrastructure at both sites, and our commitment to partnering to create a lasting legacy for the people of the Lower Gulf.
What steps is MMG taking to investigate the possibility to extend the life of the mine? Can you tell us a bit more about your insights to date?
Mark Adams: An over-riding challenge for Century is the need to plan for the end of open cut zinc operations, which we refer to ‘Big Zinc’, but also to plan for growth at the same time. That future may include phosphate, a smaller mining operation, re-processing of tailings or a combination of these.
Century has well maintained and highly valued infrastructure with significant life left in it, so our responsibility as a business is to look for every opportunity to extend the life of our operations.
If that happens, the benefits of having Century in the Lower Gulf will continue to be shared across the region.
Up to 23% of Century’s workforce has been made up of people who identify as being from local indigenous communities; a rate that is well above the industry average. Why is it important for a mining company to employ and train local talent and engage with the community? What are the benefits compared to FIFO workers?
Mark Adams: The employment and training of local people is a focus for MMG at each of our sites around the world. We know that training and employment is one way to share the benefits mining brings, as it creates long-term opportunities for people inside and outside the mining industry.
At Century, our approach to providing training and employment opportunities is guided by the Gulf Communities Agreement (GCA) under which Century operates. Research undertaken in 2012 found that, for about one third of more than 900 people from the Lower Gulf who have worked at the mine, this has been their first experience of mainstream employment.
Even as Century approaches the end of ‘Big Zinc’, we are continuing to provide training and apprenticeship opportunities for young people in the Lower Gulf through our innovative Work Ready Job Ready Program at Myuma, near Camooweal.
The four month program is funded by the Queensland Government, with Century providing mentors to assist Myuma staff. The successful graduates of Work Ready Job Ready are given traineeships at our Lawn Hill operation, which we hope they’ll embrace as a foundation for future careers.
The remote location of our operation means that our Lawn Hill site has a full FIFO workforce, with our dewatering and shipping operation at Karumba drawing employees from the local community as well as other centres.
All of our employees who live in the Lower Gulf travel to and from our sites on our commute flights. In addition to jet services from Townsville and Cairns, we provide King Air flights to and from Mornington Island, Doomadgee, Burketown, Normanton, Karumba and Mount Isa. In that way, no employee is disadvantaged when it comes to getting to and from work.
Over the years, numbers of our Lower Gulf employees have used the opportunities provided by employment at Century to relocate to the coast for lifestyle or family reasons. Our approach is to respect the personal choices of our employees.
What impact would an end of production at Century have on the community? Does MMG take steps to smooth the transition period for the community?
Mark Adams: We are being transparent with the Lower Gulf community about the fact that the end of ‘Big Zinc’ will mean a smaller workforce at Century’s operations. The size of that workforce will be determined by the needs of the business.
Century will be working with employees affected by the end of open cut operations. For local people, that could include roles that focus more on environmental rehabilitation and caring for country.
The important thing to emphasise is that Century will have a presence in the Lower Gulf long after the end of operations. The active and passive closure processes will last for thirty years after the end of production.
MMG is actively developing the Dugald River project. Can you tell us how the project has progressed so far? What are the next stages to advance the project further?
Mark Adams: The Dugald River Project is one of the best remaining zinc deposits in the world. Currently, more than 10,000 metres of underground development has been mined and the ore body exposed on a number of levels.
We have identified complexities in the structure of the ore body and have therefore taken prudent steps to review the mining plan. The review means that we have put certain surface development on hold until we have the information that will guide how we proceed with the Dugald River Project.
We expect to have that plan later in 2013, so that we can make the best decisions on how to proceed.
You will be speaking at the Exploring and Mining the Isa conference. Considering the current state of the resource sector in the region, what kind of discussions would you like to have with the industry peers at the conference?
Exploring and Mining the Isa is one of those great opportunities to touch base with people who live and breathe mining.
The mining industry may be big, but at the same time, it’s surprisingly small. Events like Exploring and Mining the Isa allow us to compare notes on how the industry is travelling. It’s also a place to share ideas that provide a win-win for everyone in the industry, and therefore the communities where we operate.
If you’ve worked in mining for a few decades, then you’ve experienced the peaks and troughs and you learn what needs to be done to get the best outcomes. No one has all the answers, so talking to peers and establishing new relationships is essential.