Initial underground mine production has successfully commenced at Xstrata Copper’s Ernest Henry Mining operation in northwest Queensland, marking the site’s transition from open-pit mining, which is now complete, to underground mining and magnetite processing. This is a major milestone in the progression of Xstrata Copper’s A$589 million project to extend its Ernest Henry operations to at least 2024.

During the first phase of underground operations, ore will be trucked via a decline at rates of approximately 3 million metric tons per year (mt/y) producing about 25,000 mt of copper and 35,000 oz of gold in concentrate. Following the commissioning of the underground shaft in 2013, production will ramp up to 6 million mt/y producing 50,000 mt of copper and 70,000 oz of gold in concentrate.

Ernest Henry Mining’s General Manager Myles Johnston said the major shaft underground mine and magnetite processing plant will create and sustain jobs and provide ongoing economic benefits for Queensland. “We’re proud to celebrate the transition from open pit to underground mining and magnetite processing, representing the beginning of a new and extended future for our Ernest Henry operation,” Johnston said. “The project creates 330 jobs during the construction phase and 400 full-time jobs from 2013, extending the operations by at least another 12 years.”

Xstrata Copper expects an additional 100 full-time jobs to be created from the development of the newly acquired Mount Margaret Mining Project, which it purchased from Exco Resources earlier this year. If approved, this project will further add to the production profile of Ernest Henry.