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In August 2019, Imperial and Newcrest Mining Limited formed a joint venture for the operation of the Red Chris mine, with Newcrest acting as operator. Imperial retains a 30% joint venture interest, and Newcrest holds a 70% interest. The joint venture partnership will leverage Newcrest’s unique technical expertise in block caving operations.
Red Chris 2020 metals production was 88.3 million pounds copper and 73,787 ounces gold. Imperial’s 30% portion of production for 2020 was 26.5 million pounds copper and22,136 ounces gold. Metal production guidance (100%) provided by Newcrest for the period July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 is in the range of 55.1 to 66.1 million pounds copper and 45 to 55 thousand ounces gold.
Several improvement initiatives were implemented in 2020 to improve efficiencies across the site, including optimization of haul road conditions and dumping locations to reduce truck cycle times, introduction of just in time fueling to increase operating time, installation of a dispatch system in the mine, and installation of lighter weight boxes on 797 trucks to increase capacity. Six new launders were installed and are expected to increase the mass pull in the rougher circuit and lead to increased recovery of copper and gold. A concept study for additional column capacity was completed. The installation of additional cleaner flotation capacity is underway and is expected to further increase metal recoveries.
Newcrest has initiated a pre-feasibility study on the development of an underground block cave mine. Completion of this study is expected mid-2021. Thereafter, a feasibility study is planned for delivery mid-2022.
Construction of a portal site for an exploration decline into the deep East zone commenced in early 2021. The development of a block cave mine will be subject to completion of a successful exploration program and further studies, market and operating conditions, and a positive decision to mine. The exploration decline will be constructed to provide access for underground drilling to provide more detailed geological and geotechnical information on the initial block cave.
Drilling has confirmed the presence of higher grade pods within the deep East zone, and a number of options are being studied to mine one of the pods by underground methods other than block caving. The aim of this smaller scale underground mining would be to increase cash flow prior to the start of the block cave operations.
Red Chris Development Company Ltd., a subsidiary of Imperial, holds 30% interest in the Red Chris copper/gold mine in northwest British Columbia, 80 km south of Dease Lake. The Red Chris property encompasses 23,142 hectares, and is comprised of the main and south claim groups, consisting of 77 mineral tenures, five of which are mining leases.