"Gold Field’s vision is to be the most sustainable gold producer in the world. This has been embedded in the design of our project. We have managed to build a very good relationship with all the stakeholders in the area, and we invested a lot of effort and money into creating a sustainable design that ensures water use is kept to a minimum. We have introduced filter tailings that allow us to recover most of the water and we will produce a dry tailing that will be moved with trucks to be compacted."
What have been the biggest advances on Gold Field’s Salares Norte project over the past few years?
Since 2017, Gold Fields has completed a pre-feasibility study (PFS) at our Salares Norte project. We had two phases of the study – an interim feasibility study and a definitive feasibility study (DFS). The DFS, approved by the board in February 2019, was based on developing Salares Norte as an open pit mine with combined counter-current decantation (CCD), Merrill-Crowe and CIP processing at an average 2 million mt/y plant throughput. We have commenced with a detailed engineering phase and are progressing well with 52% already completed. We are in a very unique position and, according to our plans, we will move into production with more than 80% of the engineering completed.
Gold Fields has also completed all the baseline studies for the environmental impact assessment (EIA), and we presented our EIA to the authorities in July 2018. We have been through the entire approval process and have made all relevant amendments to our EIA. We are now expecting the consolidated evaluation report to be completed and approved by mid December 2019. Our permitting timeline was very fast compared to industry norms in Chile as it only took us 18 months. This quick timeline was possible because of the strength of the project characteristics.
Gold Field’s vision is to be the most sustainable gold producer in the world. This has been embedded in the design of our project. We have managed to build a very good relationship with all the stakeholders in the area, and we invested a lot of effort and money into creating a sustainable design that ensures water use is kept to a minimum. We have introduced filter tailings that allow us to recover most of the water and we will produce a dry tailing that will be moved with trucks to be compacted.
What is the business case for the Salares Norte mine?
Salares Norte is a very rich deposit with high grade gold and a lot of silver. Including silver as gold equivalents, the mineral resource is 4.5 million oz and the mineral reserve 4.1 million oz. Approximately 90% of the value and volume is in gold and 10%. Our strategy at this high-grade, open pit, gold-silver project is to stockpile the ore. We will then be able to select the right grade of gold and silver to process in the plant. We currently have an 11.5 year life of mine with a production average of 350,000 equivalent oz/y gold. We expect that for the first seven years of operation, we will be in the order of 400,000 to 450,000 equivalent oz/y gold. This makes the project very attractive and the investment recovery very low at approximately 2.5 years. In our financial model for the PFS we have used a price US$1,200 and with today’s gold price, Salares Norte would be very profitable.
Salares Norte is one asset in an entire land package that Gold Fields controls. What is Gold Field’s vision for the overall project, beyond Salares Norte?
We have different properties in the area of Salares Norte and we have concentrated our search efforts in this area. Gold Fields was able to consolidate some properties around our current project, and three years ago, we started with a systematic approach to do exploration on these properties. Our aim is to define targets, which we will then drill out. Because of our extensive work on Salares Norte, we have the ability to read the surface better and understand the potential of what we have.
How do you plan to incorporate innovative technologies?
Salares Norte is a very low-cost operation and we still have potential to add additional resources in addition to our main project. We expect to start operations in 2022 and we are in the process of designing a mine of the future. We are trying to implement advanced technologies into our design such as connectivity solutions. Salares Norte is very isolated and we are 150 km away from power infrastructure. We will power the mine through diesel, but we have also incorporated solar energy solutions in our strategy.