In the fourth quarter of last year (Q421), Canadian gold miner Agnico Eagle’s LaRonde Gold Mining Complex poured its seven-millionth ounce of gold since the beginning of its operations in 1998.
The complex also set a record for tonnes milled last year, the company noted in its Q421 results, released in February this year, adding that gold production in 2021 increased, when compared with the prior year as a result of higher throughput, only partially offset by lower gold grades.
The increased throughput resulted from the fact that in 2021, the LaRonde Complex operated at, or above, planned levels, while in 2020, the operations were suspended from March 23 to April 29, as ordered by the Quebec government in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Q421 gold production for Agnico Eagle’s 100%-owned LaRonde Complex in north-western Quebec decreased when compared with the prior-year period primarily owing to lower gold grades. An adjustment to the mining sequence related to a blockage of the pastefill network in the prior quarter and lower availability of automated scoops resulted in a higher proportion of the ore milled being sourced from lower grade stopes and the LZ5 property in Q421.
Production costs per tonne in Q421 increased when compared with the prior-year period, primarily as a result of the timing of unsold concentrate inventory, higher mine production costs resulting from higher labour and ground support costs, higher mill production costs resulting from higher unit costs for reagents and grinding media, and additional ore-handling costs during the repair of a surface ore silo.
Production costs per ounce also increased when compared with the prior-year period, largely as a consequence of lower gold grades, higher production costs per tonne, and the strengthening of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar.
Mine site costs per tonne in the fourth quarter of 2021 also increased when compared to the previous year.
During Q421, the mining rate achieved at LZ5 – which lies adjacent and to the west of the LaRonde mine forming part of the LaRonde Complex – reached about 3 264 t/d. With a production rate above 3 200 t/d for a second consecutive quarter, the site has demonstrated the benefits of automated equipment and is now targeting to maintain this mining rate in 2022.
The LaRonde Complex has been successful at incrementally implementing automation for its production activities and is increasingly relying on this technology. Last year, 27% of the production mucking at the LaRonde mine was done in automated mode with operators based on surface; this was significantly higher than the initial objective of 17%.
At the LZ5 mine, meanwhile, 23% of the production mucking was done in automated mode, compared with an initial objective of 20%. This year, the company has set targets of 30% of the production mucking at LaRonde and 23% of the production mucking and hauling at LZ5 being done in automated mode, while also working on remote production drilling.
Additionally, at Zone LR11-3 – which is at the past-producing Bousquet 2 mine – the dewatering of the old workings and the development of the project continued according to plan. Production from LR11-3 is expected to begin in late 2022.
The company also stated that the construction of the drystack tailings facilities was progressing on schedule. The installation of the mechanical equipment had started and the filter-press assembly is under way – the drystack tailings facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2022.
Agnico Eagle also noted that the signing of a collaboration agreement with First Nations groups, which was planned for November 2021, was postponed and was now expected in 2022.
At the LaRonde Complex, Agnico Eagle noted that it expected to spend about C$12-million in 2022 for continued development of exploration drifts from the LaRonde 3 infrastructure towards the west below the LZ5 mine workings, and for 43 500 m of drilling into multiples targets including Zone 5, Zone 6, Zone 20N and the recently discovered 20N Zinc South Zone, with the aim of adding new mineral reserves and mineral resources to extend the mine life of the LaRonde Complex into the 2030s.
The rehabilitation work of track drift 9-0, the enlargement of track drift 215 and the development of exploration drift 290 continued to progress in Q421. Initial drilling, which targets mineralised zones beneath the past-producing Bousquet mine is ongoing and initial results are expected later in 2022.
Exploration drilling in the core of the 20N Zinc South Zone continued and returned significant intercepts. The intercept confirms that the zone gets richer in gold at depth and remains open at depth and laterally.