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Kansanshi shows its mettle
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5th August 2005
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One of the recent success stories in Zambia’s copper industry has been First Quantum Minerals’ (FQM)involvement in the Copperbeltoperations.

FQM has an 80% interest in the Kansanshi mine situated ten kilometres north of the town of Solwezi, which is, in turn, 180 km to the west of the Copperbelt town of Chingola.

Apart from Kansanshi, FQM owns 100% of the Bwana Mkubwa facility, which issupplied with ore from FQM’s Lonshi mine, 35 km distant across the border in the DRC.

FQM also has minority shareholding both in Mopani Copper Mines and Anvil Mining in the DRC, and is currently starting up a copper/gold operation at Guelb Moghrein in Mauritania.

Mining Weekly risked the potholed road to Solwezi to visit the Kansanshi mine, which is now in its fifth month of operation.

After seeing run-down lookingmines on the rest of the Copper-belt, Kansanshi comes as a sharp contrast.

Entry to the mine is on a broad well-scraped gravel road with properly laid-out roundabouts and clear signage.

The immediate impression isof an operation, which, while itis careful how it spends, is setting up an operation for the long run.

Commenting on the tidiness of what was until a couple of months ago a construction site, Jim Gorman, general manager of Kansanshi Mining comments: “I believe that anorganised tidy site is the first indication that the operation is well run and that aspects such as safety and production are what they should be.

“It is particularly important with workers that are new to the mining industry that management sets a good example from the outset,” he adds.

From a historicalpoint of view, the Kansanshi deposit has been known since the turn of the century and was first commercially mined by a Scotsman, George Grey, in 1910.

“This is the oldest commercial mine in Zambia,” explains Gorman.

The operation had been mined, off and on, on a small scale, up until the sixties.

The mine, which was both an underground and openpit operation,was then run by Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), which closed it down in the late 1980s.

Cyprus Amax took over the deposit and ‘drilled it like a pincushion’, but, in spite of thisdetailed exploration, withdrew from the project.

Drill spacing was 50 m, which gives First Quantum a lot ofconfidence in the resources it is planning to mine.

“I have never seen an orebody that has been as comprehensively drilled as this one,” says Gorman.

The Kansanshi option was taken up by FQM, a company that specialises in operating mines considered too small by the global mining majors.

FQM started bush clearing in September 2003, producing the first concentrate in December 2004 and the first cathode in March 2005.

The Kansanshi deposit consists of 302-million tons of copper ore at a grade of 1,7%.

A conservative estimate for the life-of-mine is 28 years. However, depending on economic factors, this could be as long as 40 years.

Keeping water undercontrol
Kansanshi is entirely an openpit operation and there are no plans at present to open an underground section.

The mine has two pits, a main pit and the north-west pit.

As mining progresses these two pits will join, though this will not be for another 20 years, explains Gorman.

The stripping ratio is currently 1,4:1, as mining is mostly in ore.

The abandoned underground workings are used for dewatering the main pit as Kansanshi pumps 30 000 t of water a day.

Of this, the mine uses 15 000 t/d for its own purposes, and the rest is pumped into local watercourses to create a wetland.

At present, Kansanshi isevaluating extending the underground workings to run underthe smaller north-west pit, toimprove the mine’s dewateringcapacity.

At final depth, the main pit will be 300 m deep and the other pit 150 m deep.

At present, the mine is producing 35 000 bulk cubic metres (bcm) a day.

In terms of equipment, the mine operates sixteen 100 t Euclids, four 200 t Hitachi excavators, two smaller 80 t Hitachi diggers for stockpile movement and 10 Volvo 40-t load-haul-dumpers.

Mining is carried out by a First Quantum subsidiary, First Quantum Minerals Zambia. This company is mining at Lonshi and will be mining the Frontier/Lufua deposit in due course.

Having this subsidiary allows for flexibility in moving equipment from one site to another.

In the pit, mining is in reason-ably competent ground, whichallows for a 45˚ pit slope. “We are looking at changing that as we do not reach permanent pit slopes for a couple of years,” adds Gorman.

To monitor the slopes, the mine has established a geotechnical programme, which is monitored by SRK.

In terms of rainfall, the Solwezi area has about 1,4 m/y, which does not pose a problem for Kansanshi’s heavy miningmachinery and, so far, inclement weather has not affected pro-duction.

Exceeding targets
The mine is still in the ramp-up phase to peak production and isat about 80% of its designedcopper production.

Last month, Kansanshi produced slightly more than 7 000 t of copper, but next year, Gorman and his team plan to produce140 000 t of copper.

The mine started commissioning in December 2004, and was originally designed to processfour-million tons of oxide and two-million tons of sulphide ore a year. However, it was actually constructed with the ability to pro-cess four-million tons of oxide and four-million tons of sulphide ores.

“The mine started producing at this rate at the end of June,” says Gorman.

However, the mine is busywith an expansion and, by theend of the year, production willbe stepped up to eight-million tons of sulphide ore while retaining the four-million-ton oxidecapacity ore.

The definitive feasiblilitystudy, dated December 2002,prepared by GRD Minproc, makes interesting reading.

The mine was launched on a copper price of $0,72/lb, with a sensitivity analysis that was worked out on copper prices ranging from $0,75/lb to $0,90/lb. At this price, the paybackperiod on Kansanshi was esti-mated to be 1,8 years.

However, with exceptionally low global inventories of copper and a copper price that looks set to give an annual average greater than the London Metal Exchange copper price average of $1,48 a pound for the first quarter of2005, the payback period couldbe dramatically shortened.

In terms of costs, Kansanshi has published a cash-cost figureof $0,45/lb.

However, Gorman explainsthat they want to do “a little bit better than that”.

“It is still early days,” he saysin qualification.

What has been sorted out at Kansanshi is the processing of the shallower oxide ore, which, in the broader mining industry, has often proved to be metallurgically problematic.

Kansanshi is realising very good recoveries from its oxide ore, as Gorman reports thatrecoveries are better than 92%of the two per cent grade.

This type of recovery has been made possible by the specialised leaching system and the solvent-extraction process the mine has in place.

“Our reconciliations are quite good as well,” adds Gorman.

In terms of the transitionalzone between weathered andunweathered ore, there is quite a lot of mixed material, he explains.

Although the mine has separate sulphide and oxide circuits, each with separate mills, the mine also has the facility to float the oxide material in a mixed leach process.

“Basically, we can process any type of copper ore,” asserts Gorman.

The plant is unusual in that it was not only the work of one of the main process-engineering companies, but was designed by FQM’s chairperson and CEO, Philip Pascall.

“His background is construction, as he built Argyle Diamonds in Australia as well as a largepart of Hammersley Iron Ore,”explains Gorman.

“He and Rob Stone,Kansanshi’s metallurgicalmanager, did most of the concept designs, as Philip is very hands-on in that respect,” he adds.

The mine also produces about 50 000 oz of gold a year which is contained in the concentrates to both the Mufulira and Nkana smelters.

New workforce, newapproach
Kansanshi’s capital phase was finished on April 19, though, at present, there are about 1 100people on site as the staff com-plement is still swelled by construction people.

The full staff complement for the steady-state operation will be about 850.

Kansanshi is in the singularposition on the Copperbelt inthat it has been able to recruit a new labour force, and hasavoided the difficult lay-offs that the privatised mines had to go through.

“The way we work is different to other mines on the Copperbelt as we started with a clean sheet of paper,” continues Gorman.

Initially, the mine recruited a core of experienced people from the industry, and then recruited 70% of its workers from thelocality, many of whom had noindustrial working experience.

Some of them had no working experience at all, as the town of Solwezi is a smallish rural centre, and jobs are few and far between.

The mine is spending $560 000 on training alone this year.

Ten per cent of the workforce are women, as First Quantum has a deliberate policy of recruiting female staff.

“Women are employed in many different jobs, and today, forexample, the SX plant is largely run by women, who, six months ago, had no idea what an SX plant was,” Gorman adds.

In terms of safety, last year the disabling injury frequency rate (DIFR) was 0,49, which is low considering that the mine was a construction site during thatperiod.

“This year the DIFR is 0,29 to date, and we intend to keep it that way,” emphasises Gorman.

Asked whether Kansanshihad adopted the principles ofbehaviour-based safety, Gorman indicates the sturdy safety shoes on his feet.

“I believe that safety should be simple,” says Gorman.

He speaks with authority, as he was operations manager of Rio Tinto’s R
Edited by: andrew lanham

 

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Jim Gorman
 

Jim Gorman