"Economic forces drove the industry in Australia to move from the owner/miner model to the contract mining model earlier than the Americas, and it became the norm. This led to a greater focus on innovation in Australia that perhaps the traditional, multi-generational mining community in the Americas were more reluctant to embrace."
When we last spoke at PDAC 2020, Byrnecut was looking to diversify from its strongholds in Australia and Africa by making inroads into the Americas. Can you comment on the progress made on that front?
We are participating in an active tender in Peru, for a large underground project due to move into construction by the end of 2021. Byrnecut is still active with San Martín, our partner in Peru, looking at other opportunities we are looking at in South America, particularly in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, including a project for Nexa Resources.
In North America, we have shifted our near-term focus from the US to Canada, as a number of tender processes in the US were delayed due to Covid. Byrnecut is involved in the tender process for Newcrest’s Red Chris mine in British Columbia, and we recently picked up a job for Evolution Mining at its Red Lake mine in Ontario. We are mobilizing a small team to undertake a development improvement project at Red Lake, and if successful, this will be rolled out further into an underground exploration decline. We are also in conversation with Newmont regarding a similar project at its Musselwhite mine.
Why do you think the Australian industry currently has such a strong reputation for underground mining contractors?
In the 90s we looked to Canada as a leader for modern mining techniques, from areas such as the Sudbury Basin, which were at the forefront of modern technologies. However, over time a shift has happened, particularly in the way underground mining operations are run. Economic forces drove the industry in Australia to move from the owner/miner model to the contract mining model earlier than the Americas, and it became the norm. This led to a greater focus on innovation in Australia that perhaps the traditional, multi-generational mining community in the Americas were more reluctant to embrace.
In 2020, Byrnecut became the first company to trial tele-remote operation of Sandvik’s development drills at OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill mine. Which technologies have advanced during the pandemic?
Improving efficiency to make use of the 24 hour day was a trend before the pandemic, to make up for the time lost during shift changes. Our work with Sandvik at OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill mine is an example of this. Some of the technologies that have advanced during the pandemic include looking at fault find on equipment, and doing remote technical installations where the expert cannot be brought in from outside. I think mining will always require a certain level of face to face interaction, particularly for new projects and new clients, but if high-level expertise can be given remotely to solve technical issues at mine sites it will make a big difference from a productivity and efficiency standpoint.
To what extent has the pandemic impacted your business as an international contractor with a large workforce?
It has meant a lot of work, especially from an administration perspective. We have really appreciated the support of our workforce, having to work longer rotations, and in some cases not being able to leave the country they were working in for up to four months. We have had to adjust their work rosters on site to give them more time off while at the camp. This situation has also created more opportunities for Byrnecut’s local workforces, and our focus on expats training local capacity over the years has paid off. During the pandemic we have also utilized the reach of the Byrnecut Group, in particular Mining Plus, leveraging their people on the ground in regions such as North and South America.
Considering current metals prices and the outlook for commodities, do you expect more bulk mining projects with large tonnage to get the green light in the coming years?
Absolutely, and that is why we are so excited about opportunities in the Americas in the coming years. This is Byrnecut’s specialty – large-scale mining methods that drive down costs and allow for bulk mining lower grade material, such as large open stopes, sub level caves and block caves. Projects such as Yanacocha in Peru, transitioning from oxides at surface to sulfides underground, or Newcrest’s Red Chris in Canada, which could be a large block cave, are examples of the type of deposits that lend themselves to bulk mining methods.