Stepped-up activity at the Mount Gordon mine site as Capricorn Copper brings the operation back online is a welcome boost for Mount Isa, according to Commerce North West president Travis Crowther.
The new owners have confirmed that Mount Isa will be the focus of recruitment efforts and Mr Crowther said they had also indicated they would look to the city as a supply hub.
“The downturn in lead and zinc production (from Glencore from late 2015) has slowed the town a bit,” Mr Crowther said.
But Mr Crowther said the recent opening of CuDeco’s Rocklands copper project near Cloncurry had been a boost for the region and Capricorn Copper coming online was another plus.
“They will encourage people to live and work in the area where they are earning the money and that is always great,” he said.
He was commenting after Capricorn Copper revealed it had launched a $110 million capital program to restart the former Mount Gordon copper mine.
The site, about 120km north of Mount Isa, has been on care and maintenance since April 2013.
“We’re full steam ahead and at this stage we’ve got really supportive investors, which means we can press ahead with confidence,” Capricorn Copper managing director Carl Hallion said of the restart plans.
Mr Hallion confirmed that Mount Isa would be the focus of recruitment efforts for the 220-strong workforce at the site.
“We won’t be able to source all of our staff out of the Mount Isa region, but we’re really implementing employment policies that are targeting Mount Isa as our point of hire,” he said.
“If we don’t get the right candidates from Mount Isa, the structure and style of the remuneration we’re putting in place will look to encourage people to relocate to Mount Isa.
“There will be a bigger benefit in doing that and continuing to support the local region, which we think is really important.”
The company’s two next target areas were Townsville and Cairns, he said.
People from outside north-west Queensland would fly into Mount Isa and a bus will run to and from that city to take workers to the Capricorn Copper operation.
During their rostered days, workers will live in the 300-person camp on site.
“We won’t be hot bedding,” Mr Hallion said. “Everyone will have their own rooms.”
The company has engaged Hays to assist with recruitment and encourages jobseekers to contact that firm directly.
Mr Hallion said also Capricorn Copper would launch a new website in the new year with a careers path and detailed information about the project.
Approach aids environmental management
Capricorn Copper is refurbishing the operation’s mill at a cost of $27 million and expects to commission it in the third or fourth quarter of 2017.
“We would expect that to ramp up to steady state production through to the beginning of 2018,” Mr Hallion said.
One of the boons in the restart plan is the Capricorn Copper process flow design, which will include a water treatment plant and a sludge treatment plant.
This would deal with environmental management issues at the site involving contaminated water and high-density sludge, Mr Hallion said.
“In doing that we will actually be able to recover copper while we’re cleaning up and, at these prices, we’ll be able to cover the cost of the clean-up – so I think that’s a key focus for everybody,” he said.
“We have embedded the initial rehabilitation programs into the plant design and that helps us deal with water management going forward as well and we minimise the water consumption.”
Copper’s time to shine
Mr Hallion said there was strong demand for the operation’s high-grade concentrate (at more than 30 per cent copper).
“Essentially we’re seeing really strong fundamentals for copper and the optimism returning, so I think our timing with the restart is probably about as good as we could have hoped for,” he said.
“A lot of people have linked the recent jump in copper prices to the election of (US president) Trump and the view that he will kick-start the American economy, but the copper price rally actually started prior to the election.
“It was linked with LME Week when all the traders, smelters and key suppliers of copper concentrates and other metals get together in London and start to negotiate their annual contracts.
“There was a real shift in optimism and I think that was more the catalyst against the backdrop of some much stronger demand, particularly coming out of China.”
The team behind Capricorn Copper has worked to ensure the project was robust enough to survive prices below the $US2 mark, he said.
The price is now sitting around $US2.65 a pound and Mr Hallion believes it may strengthen to $US3 towards 2020.