Vale’s newest mine opens in Sudbury
By Paul Brent
Mining’s past has met mining’s future in Sudbury with the official opening of Vale’s Totten Mine on February 21, 2014.
Totten, which is Vale’s first new mine in the Sudbury Basin in more than 40 years, was shut down in 1972 as uneconomic to operate but is viable once again, thanks to advances in mining technology.
The copper, nickel and precious metals mine represents a significant investment for Vale, which spent seven years and approximately $760 million developing the project. During construction, the mine employed about 500 people and will employ a permanent workforce of approximately 200 people during its expected 20-year operational lifespan.
“Vale’s Totten Mine will be a big engine of economic growth in the North, creating good jobs people can be proud of,” Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, said at the official opening of Totten Mine in Worthington, Ontario. “I want to thank Vale for supporting sustainability and respecting surrounding communities. I know this development will benefit this region for years to come.”
It is expected that Totten Mine will produce more than 25 million pounds of copper and 20 million pounds of nickel annually, as well as significant amounts of precious metals. The mine’s daily output will be approximately 2,200 tons per day once full production is reached in 2016. The mine’s daily production also represents an estimated 12 per cent of the ore feed to Vale’s Clarabelle Mill in Sudbury.
At this early stage, the expected life of Totten Mine is 20 years, an estimate which comprises 12 years defined as current reserves and an additional eight to 10 years of production based on mineral resources and exploration targets that are currently known.
Originally two shafts were sunk at the site in the 1960s and mining took place at Totten from 1966 to 1972. The mine was closed following this period, due to unfavourable economic conditions. Feasibility studies to reopen the mine were conducted from 2000 to 2006 and development of the mine started in 2007.
Dubbed Vale’s most modern underground mine, Totten Mine represents some of the industry’s most advanced mining technology, featuring leading-edge automation, safety and environmental management systems. That technology includes a wireless underground communication system, location tracking on mechanical and personal protection equipment, as well as its state-of-the-art remote-operated control room. Industry-leading environmental design features, which minimize Totten’s environmental footprint, include three water treatment plants, enclosed material-handling facilities and progressive closure planning designed to keep rock and waste ore from leaving the site. “This is the first place to use all the technology that we have kind of played with in other sites,” says Jack MacIssac, Vale’s automation and electrical lead. “Our ventilation system is all centrally controlled, the tracking system can actually locate people and equipment, so we can identify what kind of piece of equipment is in a certain area and adjust the ventilation to accommodate that piece of equipment.”
That ventilation on demand system is a more efficient system because it only sends fresh air to areas of the mine in use and it can adjust as necessary when larger pieces of equipment are brought into specific areas. The system will also help to control temperatures underground at Totten because running ventilation fans increases underground temperatures, so minimizing their usage is a significant accomplishment.
The Distributed Control System (DCS), considered the “backbone” of Totten Mine, allows underground systems such as process water control, fuel delivery, ore and waste material systems and ventilation to be controlled remotely from the central operations control centre. Surface systems are also operated remotely by the central DCS system including the hoist, air intake and vent fans, water treatment facilities and the backfill plant.
An ethernet and fibre-optic infrastructure allows for wireless communication underground, meaning that supervisors will be able to use mobile phones and tablet computers while working underground. It also powers a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) system that will allow workers and equipment to be “tagged” to enhance safety and operational efficiency. For example, RFID tags will communicate the required ventilation in a given area, based on the number of people and the size of equipment in the area. These RFID tags also increase safety by allowing the control room to know instantly where employees and equipment are located in the event of an emergency. Production and maintenance data from mobile equipment such as scoops, trucks and drills can also be captured via the wireless network. That information can be analyzed for predictive maintenance on equipment and real-time production data can be captured for immediate reporting and analysis.
Including the Totten Mine project, Vale has spent $3.4 billion in capital spending since 2007 on projects to modernize and optimize its operations in Sudbury. Totten Mine is Vale’s sixth mine in the Sudbury Basin. The mining company’s other operations include the Creighton, Stobie, Garson, Coleman and Copper Cliff mines. Vale plans to return the area to its natural state at the end of Totten Mine’s operation life.
Totten Mine will also support the community and First Nations. An Impact Benefits Agreement between Vale and the Sagamok First Nation commits to the sharing of economic benefits of the mine and will result in business, training and employment opportunities while continuing to fulfill environmental stewardship responsibilities within their traditional and treaty territory for the duration of this project.
“We continue to discuss and make the environment a priority,” says Chief Paul Eshkakogan of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. “The biggest resource that we have here in our community is our young people. They are trainable, they want to learn and I think that the company has understood that very well. We want our people to get a career out of this, a lifelong career, and earn those good wages that are available.”
Currently, a number of Sagamok members are working at Totten Mine or are in training to join Totten Mine. A number of Sagamok businesses are also involved in the provision of goods and services at the mine.
“We really do see this as a template for our future and want Totten to be a model for our future mining projects,” says Kelly Strong, Vale’s vice-president of Ontario operations. “From environmental aspects, from community, technology and productivity, we want to see those things emulated in our future projects.”