CopperChem has invested more than $14 million at its Cloncurry processing facilities as it prepares to start mining a cluster of gold projects in the region.
The operation will employ 100-120 people, including 50-60 CopperChem employees engaged in processing, technical services and management roles.
Contractors will be engaged for the open-pit mining, crushing and haulage to Cloncurry.
The company is also working to bring the Mt Colin underground copper mine online later this year, followed by its Barbara copper project located north of Mount Isa.
The developments spring from what chief executive officer Rob Cooper describes as a period of real transformation for the company.
“Almost three years ago we started the process of re-evaluating our existing projects, and at the same time developing a strategy to take the company forward,” he said.
“At that time CopperChem did not look like a great investment. It was at a crossroads.”
He said the management team methodically worked through the agreed strategy for CopperChem’s revival, ticking off elements slowly to ensure the changes were sustainable.
The company’s hydrometallurgical and copper concentrator at Cloncurry had been placed on care and maintenance in late 2015 after processing ore from the Great Australian copper mine for about 12 months, Mr Cooper said.
The second half of 2017 saw CopperChem install a CIP (carbon-in-pulp) facility at the complex, utilising elements of the existing plant, at a cost of about $12 million. The company has also spent about $2.5 million to extend the tailings storage facility at Cloncurry.
“The facility will process the gold from a number of small deposits, and hopefully in the future there may be some third-party ore feed as well,” Mr Cooper said.
“With some future modifications, the facility will also be able to treat copper-gold ores rather than just gold or copper ores”
The Wallace South gold deposit will be first cab off the rank, followed by the Wynberg project which CopperChem purchased from Caravel Minerals in 2016.
Mr Cooper said they were the two most advanced resources within the wider Wallace Gold Project, which itself is comprised of a number of small gold assets within 40-50km of the Cloncurry processing facility.
The company also holds a cluster of copper projects in the area, including a number owned through sister business Exco Resources. (They are both subsidiaries of Washington H Soul Pattinson and Company).
“With the commodity price increases we’ve seen in the last six months, we’re in the early stages of commencing the Mt Colin underground and the Barbara open-cut mine,” Mr Cooper said.
All going well, mining will start at Mt Colin this year and Barbara would come online six to nine months later.
In addition to these near-term gold and copper projects, the CopperChem and Exco businesses hold a wealth of prospects and exploration tenements in north-west Queensland, as well as a small heap leach gold operation nearing the end of its life in South Australia.
The Stockman project in Victoria rounds out CopperChem’s current portfolio and represents the cornerstone of the company’s future.
The massive sulphide-style copper-zinc asset was purchased from Independence Group last year for $47.2 million in cash and royalties.
“The company has come a long way in the last couple of years and we are now positioned to develop projects at the right time to take advantage of the improving commodity prices,” Mr Cooper said.
“There’s still a lot of work to do but we have a sound strategy, a good mix of commodities and some good people working to deliver our current suite of projects.”