New pit not extending mine life

Coronation open pit development will not extend mine life at Macraes. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Coronation open pit development will not extend mine life at Macraes. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Oceana Gold's new Coronation open pit development at its Macraes site in East Otago is progressing towards production, but the estimated 100,000 ounces of gold it contains will not extend the overall Macraes mine life.

With mothballing of Macraes scheduled for 2017, dependent on the gold price, some staff had held out hope the Coronation pit might offer some mine life extension - as was envisaged by Oceana during the consenting application period in 2013.

Oceana produced more than 307,000oz last calendar year, but with more than one-third coming from its expanding, and far cheaper to operate, Didipio gold and copper mine in the northern Philippines.

Rising New Zealand production costs, some low ore grades to work through and weakened global spot gold prices have prompted 25-year-old Oceana to reduce Macraes and Reefton's respective mine lives, with a proposed mothballing of New Zealand operations by the end of 2017.

Conversely, exploration and infrastructure expansion is ramping up at the Didipio open pit, targeting development of an estimated high-yield underground mine; with the copper by-product sales hugely offsetting gold production costs.

Oceana's more than 600 East Otago staff contribute about $300 million from wages into the economy, and there are a further 250 jobs at Reefton - both mines having shed more than 260 jobs during the past 18-months.

The 62ha Coronation pit was in December 2013 granted 178 consents for 35 years, along the divide of the Shag and Taieri Rivers, between Sister Peaks and Highway Hill.

Oceana was contacted and asked for an outlook on Coronation.

A spokeswoman responded that ore mining had begun at Coronation last September and gold processing would begin this quarter at the existing Macraes plant, and would continue until 2017.

''It [Coronation] was always part of the original mine plan and has not extended the life of mine,'' the spokeswoman said.

The pit contains about four million tonnes of ore at a gold grade of just over one gram of gold per tonne of ore and Coronation is expected to produce approximately 100,000 oz of gold, she said.

At the time of the 2013 consent applications for Coronation, when global gold prices were still buoyant (but starting to slide for a rout), Oceana had expected the Coronation development to extend the mine life by at least a year, to 2021.

However, by mid 2014, a $100 million cost-saving programme had been initiated, more than 250 jobs lost and Otago and the West Coast mine lives were cut by three years.

Oceana Gold proposed winding down 

• Frasers underground mine at Macraes, East Otago, scheduled to be mothballed by mid-2015.

• Reefton open pit operations scheduled to be mothballed by end of 2015.

• Macraes principal open pit scheduled to be mothballed by 2017.

• New Coronation open pit at Macraes being developed, but does not extend overall mine life.


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