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Perilya powers up

Thursday, 10th November, 2011

FORWARD PLANNING: Perilya’s general manager for Broken Hill Andrew Lord (right) at the Potosi site with plant metallurgist, Dion Woodman. FORWARD PLANNING: Perilya’s general manager for Broken Hill Andrew Lord (right) at the Potosi site with plant metallurgist, Dion Woodman.

Perilya Resources has ramped up work at its Potosi lease, 1.4 kilometres east of Broken Hill.

It is a project that began without great fuss or fanfare in August this year, but will culminate in the employment of 100-plus miners in addition to Perilya’s current staffing at its Southern operations.

Reporter Paula Doran toured the Potosi site this week with the company’s local operations general manager, Andrew Lord, to find out more about the quietly advancing multi-million dollar project which is about to become the newest mine on the Broken Hill horizon.

And while Potosi won’t necessarily be producing much after five years, it will improve processing efficiency, according to the boss.

It’s a rare glimpse on a Tuesday afternoon seeing the workings of Broken Hill’s newest mine in development - Perilya’s Potosi lease on the eastern fringes of the city.

Just over the rise from the Imperial Lakes off the Sydney road, Perilya’s general manager for local operations, Andrew Lord is my guide, allowing me an insight into how to build a mine from scratch (almost).

We swipe our cards at the gate and enter Potosi country that is already fitted out with a huge workshop (the shed of most men’s dreams) in front of the administration area. This is where the heavy mine trucks and equipment will be serviced on site.

As Lord explains, the company has set work in motion at Potosi without fuss or fanfare, but with a steady gaze to making full use of its production room in the southern operations concentrator.

“If we didn’t have room for the Potosi ore in that concentrator, then this project would not be viable. The plan here relies fully on bringing the ore from Potosi site to the southern operations.  

“The concentrator is currently working at 80 per cent; Potosi will lift that and see greater efficiencies in the South.

“What that means is that the modest grade ore at Potosi is able to be utilised without having to spend any additional capital in the South to make it happen.”

At Potosi, it is hot and dusty but an air of efficiency is evident amongst the site contractors, from Brisbane firm Redpath.

Later, Perilya’s site superintendent Dean Johnstone will tell me that the biggest challenge yet faced at Potosi was to find the right staff. Having won the tender for the job, Redpath workers (some fly-in-fly out, others local) dot the lease, with a normal number of 15 there during the day, and 10 through the night.

Once the portal from Potosi is connected to the nearby-bye Silverpeak opening, production at the mine will be commissioned and Lord estimates a workforce of just over 100 will be hired, in addition to those now working at its southern operations.

The company plans to crush the ore extracted on site, load it onto trucks and then transport it to the South. It’s here that the greatest controversy thus far in Potosi’s development comes into play.  

“The haulage road is very important,” says Lord. “Obviously I understand that people don’t want trucks to be driving through their neighbourhood. If we can get that haulage road moving and work with Council, then that’s certainly something we will push towards.”

As it stands, the specially built haulage road that has been pinpointed as a priority by City Council is yet to find the $8 million funding necessary to make it happen.

When we drive out of Potosi an hour later, and the proposed route is pointed out, it almost seems too simple an option not to happen. To rumble trucks through the streets of Broken Hill? Or not? 

For now though there is a swathe of other plans on the minds of those at Perilya.  The Potosi site is heading for a two-year development, and then a three-year production period. Not long compared to the “mothership” in the south, where over a century after its first ore was brought to the surface, modern day miners are still extracting remnant ore from a complicated system of shafts.

Having mined in Broken Hill for 33 years, Johnstone tells me what a breath of fresh air it is to work at Potosi: “It’s virgin ground. You know that when you plan to go forward, you will.”

Lord backs that theory. “Mining at the South is a very complex operation. There is a higher level of activity, and every time you get those interactions you get complications.”

But in the heat of the afternoon in the open pit formerly mined by Pasminco, which now houses the portal to Potosi’s decline, the discipline with which this project is going forward seems far from my visualization of remnant mining - a little bit here, a little bit there.

As we watch, an explosives vehicle prepares to travel into the open portal to detonate the second of two charges for the day. This is where the advance is made and the steady extraction of dirt and rock is made in a snake-like curve towards Silverpeak.

By joining one portal to the other the company will eventually have greater loading options for the ore, essentially creating one long tunnel which the man sitting next to me in the car hopes will produce a consistent 40,000 tonnes of ore (principally zinc) per month.

Only once have I been in the bottom of an open pit mine. Like that first time, there is a certain awe at standing at the foot of a massive rock wall, even though this one is small, I am told.  

I think I’d be pushing the friendship if I asked to have a closer peek into the actual tunnel, particularly as I watch the word “explosives” disappear deep into the cavern; but for now I am content with the adventure of knowing what is happening in my own backyard: a modern mining development that is a part of the nation’s historic mining country.

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