Glencore’s ultra-deep Onaping mine taps ‘robust’ orebody, promises longer life

When Shayne Wisniewski envisions what the future of underground mining will look like in Sudbury, he sees depth and he sees innovation.

As general manager of mining projects for Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations (Glencore), Wisniewski is responsible for evaluating the company’s Onaping Depth project, which will extend to a depth of more than 2,500 metres, considered an ultra-deep mine.

Located about a 45-minute drive from the city of Sudbury, below the company’s Craig and Onaping Mines, the nickel-copper-PGE deposit was first discovered in 1994, when the company was looking for the down dip extension for Onaping and Craig, Wisniewski said.

Glencore undertook a drill program in the area in 2014, looking for footwall mineralization and define a southeast zone.

“The grades are probably double what we’ve mined here to date in the Sudbury basin at Falconbridge and now Glencore,” Wisniewski said during a recent presentation to the Sudbury chapter of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum.

“The grades are very good. It’s a good orebody.”

The project is awaiting full approval, but development work has begun. In 2017, the company is planning $29 million worth of work, which includes driving two 1.1-kilometre tunnels.

That work will take the company to Sept. 30, Wisniewski said, and then it will look for more funding for the second half of the year.

In years two and three, the company plans to sink the shaft, to just under 2,600 metres, complete some off-shaft development, and get the underground infrastructure in place.

Additional diamond drilling will take place in 2019 or 2020 to firm up the resource to make the project more economical, Wisniewski said.

The first development ore is expected in late 2022 or early 2023, and by year eight, the mine will be up to 60 per cent production capacity, he noted.

Though the project has a long lead time, Wisniewski believes it will be worth it, as the mine will be able to withstand the cyclical nature of the industry.

“This orebody, if it goes according to this plan, it will be in the bottom quartile of cash costs in the world of nickel mines,” he said. “It’s a good play; it’s robust.”

For hauling ore to the surface, the company has chosen battery-electric trucks, which Wisniewski said brings a host of advantages.

Workers’ health will benefit because of fewer diesel emissions, vibration and noise.

Carbon emissions will be reduced, resulting in a better environmental footprint. And the economics are better, because of things like lower-profile openings and cost savings to operate the equipment.

“The cost for our ventilation systems and refrigeration systems were astronomical,” he said. “Eliminating diesel and designing the vent system for air quality allowed us to cut the power and the energy needed, and the refrigeration and the cooling, almost in half by doing that.”

Not all decisions on equipment have yet been finalized,…

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