Dual-listed gold miner Resolute Mining is looking to replicate Randgold Resources’ success by operating four to six African gold mines and producing around 700 000oz to 1moz of gold per annum, MD and CEO John Welborn tells SA Mining in an exclusive interview.
ASX/LSE-listed Resolute currently owns three gold mines (two in Africa and one in Australia) – the Syama mine in Mali, the Bibiani mine in Ghana and the Ravenswood mine.
Randgold, which was recently acquired by leading gold producer Barrick Gold, operated five active gold mines in Africa, as well as an additional gold exploration project in the south-east of Senegal.
“We are building mines that have long lives, are highly mechanised and use new technology to ensure that we are competitive in any gold price environment. In the last 12 months Resolute produced around 240 000oz of gold from its African operations (Syama), with 60 000oz from its Australian asset (Ravenswood). Going forward we anticipate more gold coming from our African assets, through stepping up production from our Syama asset,” says Welborn.
Syama underground project development
Resolute’s flagship project, Syama Underground Mine in Mali, recently achieved commercial rates of ore production having mined and hauled in excess of 80% of nameplate mine capacity.
Syama has been an open-cut mine for the past 20 years and currently operates two separate processing plants and a satellite open-pit mine located to the south of the Syama Underground Mine. Having reached a depth of 200m at its open-pit operation, Resolute took the decision to expand its operations under the existing open pit.
According to Welborn, the Syama orebody is about 1km in length and 200m deep, “which is where the open-pit operation ends and the sublevel cave begins”. Interestingly, the orebody is open at depth “in every direction”, which bodes well for the gold miner.
Even if Resolute mined the Syama reserve for the next 14 years, the company will only reach 600m depth, explains Welborn.
Syama underground consists of a 3moz reserve resource with a grade of just below 3g/t.
“While the grade is relatively low for an underground mine, the bulk mining method lends itself to repetitive non-selective activity. This method of operation delivers the efficiency of the Finsch Diamond Mine in South Africa. We are seeing efficiency gains from automated long-hole drilling with more metres drilled with greater accuracy than manual drilling. Unlike a manual mine, there are no shift changes meaning that the mine can operate 24/7, 365 days a year.
“Ultimately, we want to demonstrate that the mine can produce 300 000oz of gold at an all-in sustaining cost of $750/oz on a sustainable basis,” states Welborn.
Mechanisation and automation at Syama
“In reality, we are not changing anything dramatically – the fact is that mining is extremely slow to adapt to change. With Syama we are really just catching up with the advances that technology has to offer. At Syama we are building one of the most advanced, technology-driven, safest and efficient mines in the world. It is certainly exciting to be at the cutting edge of this development, which has been three years in the making,” states Welborn.
While a lot of the automated equipment at Syama mine has already been adopted by industry-leading mining houses looking to improve efficiency and closing safety gaps, Syama will be the first mine where automated drilling, automated loading and automated haulage all come together under one operating system provided by Sandvik.
“Apart from the automation, the communication and mine management system that we have implemented is industry-leading. In the next six to 12 months, we are looking to demonstrate the ability to control day-to-day operations in real time rather than evaluating it in hindsight.”
While the expectation that increased investment in technology would see a reduction in employment levels, Syama continues to employ a significant workforce of around 1 800 people.
“Given that the Syama orebody is an extremely complex metallurgical project, we operate a number of complex circuits requiring an extensive labour force. Added to this, we are active explorers; we are active in the community and committed to training our local people – all of which requires a large workforce. In fact, the implementation of automation allows us to train our Mali workforce to operate hi-tech equipment to ensure future sustainability. Importantly, the move to hi-tech mining is associated with higher-paid mining jobs,” says Welborn.
With the completion of the Syama underground project at hand, Resolute’s technical team will relocate to Bibiani in Ghana to complete the evaluation of bringing this asset back into production. Bibiani has a 2.5moz gold resource at a grade of 3.6g/t.
“Ghana is a really exciting opportunity for us in terms of current value and potential value. We will make a decision on timelines and capital investment on Bibiani towards the end of this year.”
Australian asset development
Although Resolute’s long-life Australian asset delivers around 20% of its gold, the mid-tier miner in line with its African-growth-focused strategy is evaluating its Australian portfolio.
“Given our focus on growing our African footprint, we are currently reviewing our Australian asset. For sure we will not be looking to develop another project in Australia,” Welborn noted.
Despite its proposed intention, the London-listed gold producer was recently granted a further three mining lease applications over areas that support the Ravenswood Expansion Project (REP) in Australia. The three new leases extend the surface area of Resolute’s existing tenure and include areas within the operational footprint of the proposed Buck Reef West open pit and nearby land required for infrastructure (roads and water management).
According to Resolute’s latest announcement, Ravenswood Mineral Resources has increased by 24% to 5.9 million ounces of gold and Ravenswood Ore Reserves increased by a million ounces, or 58%, to 2.7 million ounces of gold.
With its focus on growing its asset base, the London-listed miner remains committed to exploration and has allocated $15-million per annum towards progressing its exploration activities. Resolute has “made two exciting discoveries” – Nafolo, located directly adjacent to the main Syama orebody, and Tabakoroni, located 35km south of Syama. Resolute is currently mining an open pit at Syama and with a resource of 1moz at grades of 5g/t, work is under way on a future underground mine at the site.
The company also has a stake in six exploration companies, namely Orca Gold, Oklo Resources, Mako Gold, Manas Resources, Loncor Resources and Kilo Goldmines.
London Stock Exchange listing
The African gold miner recently listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
“Given that we are an Australian company with assets both in Australia and Africa, a key part of the strategy was to be dual-listed. The London listing illustrates our focus on our African operations and the intention of possibly discovering, acquiring and operating a more diversified African-focused portfolio. We are looking to be a highly efficient gold miner delivering associated benefits to all our stakeholders, including shareholders, government and the communities in which we operate.”
According to Welborn, larger companies like Randgold have demonstrated that the LSE was a natural home for capital-efficient African gold operating mines. “By listing on the LSE that is what we are hoping to demonstrate.”