November 2006

Casa Berardi reopens this month

By H. Ednie

Downview collar

The Casa Berardi gold mine will awaken this month as it enters production after a decade-long shutdown. Aurizon Mines Ltd. has proven their abilities as a junior company to be an operator at this Abitibi operation, and joins the many other gold producers in the region.

“It is like the end of the 1980s in Abitibi today—there is a lot of money, a lot of activities, and a lot of projects,” said Michel Gilbert, vice president, Aurizon Mines. “It’s an exciting time to be in the gold business.”

Reconstructing Casa Berardi

The former mine closed around 1996, as remaining reserves were too deep for the existing ramp access. The only way for it to be economic was to sink a shaft. Aurizon acquired the mine and launched an exhaustive exploration program that found zone 113, with enough resources to justify development.

Dumas Construction was contracted for the shaft sinking and underground development, which is now complete.The shaft was built so it could be extended to 2,000 metres and handle 2,200 tonnes per day, though for current operations it extends down just to the 760 metre level.Three ore zones underground will be mined, the 113 zone hosting about two-thirds of the total reserves, and the Lower Inter zone the bulk of the remaining third. The remainder is small deposits, existing when the mine closed a decade ago. The existing fleet was rebuilt, and two new scoops purchased from Atlas Copco.

Modifications have been made to the mill. A gravity circuit was added, using the Ghekko intensified leaching process, and two new Knelson concentrators were purchased. Rehabilitation of the existing facilities was required to get the mill up and running again.

Not a risky business

The major challenge of rebuilding Casa Berardi was financing, Gilbert said.“This is a deep mining project acquired by a junior company at a time when the gold price was low,at $250,”he said.“It has been a step-by-step process to acquire financing. Five feasibility studies were done to secure startup of an operation that is efficient and economic at low prices.”The last feasibility was done by Roscoe Postle and Associates, assuming a $500 per ounce gold price.

The only way to convince banks to back the project was to lower any risks. “Most people involved in the process were in the gold industry for 20 years, so we merged experienced mining guys with engineering expertise,” Gilbert explained.

The detailed engineering was done with the feasibility study to lower the risks and secure costs. And any technology issues were addressed. For example, a deep collar was required. Thiessen was contracted to construct a frozen collar 42 metres down—a new technology in the area. It was completed prior to financing. “All high risk components were done prior to financing,” Gilbert said. “The result—our startup is below budget, and on schedule.”

Golden future

Casa Berardi is named after the township in which it is located. All townships in the area are named after battles of the second world war.

Between 250 and 275 people will be required at full production. Current reserves of 1.1 million ounces allow a seven year life of mine, but the company believes that could easily be extended. Aggressive exploration will continue, to delineate the zone and find more deposits in the area. “Casa Berardi could be the core of the company on which we could build,” Gilbert said.

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