The conclusion of a three-year, $6.2 billion project for the first phase of one of the world’s top copper-gold mines is finished as concentrate shipments are now under way at Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia.
Rio Tinto Copper CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques praised the “vision and hard work of thousands of people” to “convert the rich resources beneath the desert into real wealth and opportunity for all stakeholders—including the Mongolian people.”
Copper concentrate export permits are in place, together with Oyu Tolgoi board approvals, according to Rio Tinto officials. Oyu Tolgoi is 66%-owned by Turquoise Hill Resources and 34%-owned by Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi, a fully Mongolian government-owned business. Rio Tinto holds a 51% share of Turquoise Hill.
The timing, noted Jacques, couldn’t be better. “Oyu Tolgoi starts at a time copper assets are scarce and the outlook for copper continues to be strong,” he added. Average annual production from open-pit and underground mine development through 2033 stands at 430,000 copper metric tons (mt) and 425,000 gold oz, according to Rio officials.
The dimensions of the operation are staggering. As the largest industrial plant ever built in Mongolia, Oyu Tolgoi’s copper concentrator contains enough steel—23,098 tons—to build three Eiffel Towers with enough cable—581 km—to stretch from the mine to the capital of Ulaanbaatar. The open-pit mine will be deep enough to stack the Great Pyramid of Giza on top of itself four times over.
The deepest underground shaft, meanwhile, lies eight times deeper than the English Channel between France and the U.K., noted company officials, while the overland ore conveyer can parallel San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Altogether, the mine is anticipated to represent 30% of GDP in a landlocked desert nation with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies bolstered by mining.
Benefits to the Mongolian economy, said company representatives, include $1.1 billion in government taxes and payments through Q2 2013 and $1.1 billion in products and services already purchased from Mongolian suppliers between 2010 and 2012.
Oyu Tolgoi portends to generate job creation for years to come, according to Rio Tinto. As of Q2 2013, for instance, 10,888 Mongolians were employed at Oyu Tolgoi—representing 89% of the project’s workforce. Mongolians also represent 70% of Oyu Tolgoi engineers. To date, Oyu Tolgoi financial support has financed $126 million in education programs for 6,600 trainees across Mongolia.