Agnico Eagle’s Pinos Altos mine in northern Mexico reached a milestone event earlier this year when it transitioned from a combination surface and underground mine to a fully underground operation. The decision came after geological and economic studies revealed it would be a safer, more efficient and profitable way to mine the remaining orebody.

“Extracting this valuable ore without compromising employee safety was our top priority,” said Marc Legault, senior vice-president, operations, for USA and Latin America. “Given the strengthening market demand and gold price, we were determined to optimize this asset and move it totally underground.”

A comprehensive technical feasibility study was conducted, the first of its kind in Mexico and one that eventually gained international recognition from the American Rock Mechanics Association due to the level of complexity and safety measures, which would have to be put in place. The study outlined a work plan that required extensive coordination between the open-pit and underground operating teams, the technical services team, and the equipment and service providers to Pinos Altos.

“I want to thank everyone at Pinos Altos for helping us solve this complex mining challenge while keeping our people safe and meeting our production targets,” General Manager Marco Antonio Perea Gallegos said. “We have already produced 36,000 ounces of gold and by year-end, we expect to safely extract close to 100% of the minerals from the Santo Niño crown pillar.”

He added that the Pinos Altos team plans to take a similar approach to recovering the crown pillar reserves at its Oberon de Weber open-pit and underground facilities.