Sunday, October 25, 2020

BCL mine embarks on exploration to extend its life-span

BCL Mine, the oldest copper and nickel miners in the country, has embarked on desperate moves aimed at extending the life span of its operations beyond 2014, but officials have warned that it could only be possible “if the price is right”.
The mine, which is the life-blood of over 80,000 people in the township and the surrounding areas of Selebi Phikwe, started some underground explorations late last year following an appeal by its chief executive officer some two years ago.
“There are what we call some anomalies and what is being done is drilling to try to identify some resources and the project is expected to last for two years,” Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Waters Affairs, Kago Moshashane, said.
He said the extension of the life span of the mine will depend on a number of factors including the discovery of resources and whether the price in the market is right.
“If the price is right, relative to production costs, then we will certainly see its life going beyond 2014,” he said.
BCL Mine, which started in 1974, operates four shafts that run tens of kilometers across the township. Currently, the exploration is centered between shaft No.3 and Selebi. Shaft No.3 runs for over twenty kilometres from the southeastern side of the town up to Makhubu. The Selebi Shaft is from the same area but is runs north.
The mine is rich in copper but has small deposits of nickelÔÇöone of the metals which is doing exceptionally well, thanks to the stainless steel hungry markets of China and the rest of the Asian markets.
Copper has also done well in recent years reaching an average price of US $6 000 per tonne before the end of the past year before sagging to US $5 820 per tonne or US $ 2.64 per pound on January 4, 2007.
That has kept the mine afloat since 2003- when it last applied for shareholders’ bailout. Part of its success is being attributed to the industrious General Manager, Montwedi Mphathi, who, according to the government enclave, “ is a spectacular work-horse” who has beaten some expatriates who headed the mine before.
Since he took-over, he has managed to turn-around the mine by splashing in appropriate technology to keep the mine competitive against its peers in the southern African region.
At the time he took the reigns, the mine was under intense speculation of being written off as it was expected to close by 2010. But that was not the first time for the mine to be too close to closure. Initially, it was to shut down in the 1990s, but later the dates were shifted to 2004 and, subsequently, to 2006.
The new developments at the mine include the spending on concentrate ÔÇô by installing new large volume roughers cells and cleaner tankers ÔÇö and the use of computer laizers in its underground mining operations which improves the precision to ore with matte and the improvement in the float. The developments also improved the distribution control system in the operation of the mine.
The move has resulted in the mine production reaching three million tonnes of ore that translate into 35,000 tonnes of metals. The mine’s attempts to explore more resources is also expected to be aided by bullish outlook on the copper prices which are expected to be on the historical highs.
According to JP Morgan, prices are expected to average US $ 6390 per tonne during the first half of the year, while Goldman Sachs JB predicted prices as high as US $ 7500 per tonne during the entire year due to increased Chinese imports and supply disruptions similar to those of 2006. However, Macquarie and Merrill Lynch analysts were the only ones who were not bullish as the said prices are expected to be below the 2006 levels of US $ 6000 per tonne.
Further, it is also expected that the mine’s nickel production and the life span of mine will be boosted by the introduction of Activox technology which is at Tati Nickel Mine at Phenix. The new technology will enable the mine to extract the previously less commercially viable metal at low prices and lower pressure which does not have provision for shut-down as under the present system. That can also enable the mine to go back to its previous cut to try to salvage whatever was left behind.
Shareholders at BCL Mine, which are Botswana government and LionOre International, also own Tati Nickel mine.

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