Chile-Argentina Tax Agreement Clears Way for Barrick’s Pascua-Lama Project
Pascua-Lama is designed to produce 750,000 to 800,000 oz/y of gold and 35 million oz/y of silver during its first five years of full production. Commissioning is scheduled to begin in late 2012, with an initial gold pour in early 2013. Anticipated total cash costs during the first five years of operation are $20 to $50/oz.
Mine life is currently estimated at more than 25 years at an average annual production of about 600,000 to 700,000 oz of gold and 20 million to 25 million oz of silver at a total cash cost of $200 to $250/oz of gold. The project has 17.8 million oz of proven and probable gold reserves and 4.7 million oz of measured and indicated gold resources (totals as of year-end 2008). Silver reserves total 718 million oz. The reserves are based on a long-term gold price assumption of $725/oz.
Mining will be from an open-pit at a rate of about 300,000 mt/d of ore and waste. The strip ratio will be less than 3:1. Ore will be loaded by shovels into 320-mt trucks and transported to a primary crushing plant at the edge of the pit in Chile. The crushed ore bin will feed ore to a 4.7-km-long, mostly underground conveyor system for transfer to the mill in Argentina.
Ore will be processed in a conventional mill at a rate of 45,000 mt/d (three trains each having 15,000 mt/d of capacity). In year three, one line will be converted to process refractory ore, including a flotation facility. The first two mill lines will continue to process nonrefractory ore at a combined rate of 30,000 mt/d.
The mill will produce both doré and a gold-silver-copper flotation concentrate at a ratio of approximately 83:17. Recoveries are expected to average 85% for gold and 81% for silver. Power will be sourced from Chile under a power purchase agreement.
Engineering for Pascua-Lama was about 75% complete as of early May 2009. Confirmed pricing had been established for long-lead-time items such as mills and mining fleet equipment, representing almost $500 million of the construction cost estimate. Barrick is currently awarding contracts; mobilizing for infrastructure such as roads, power line, camps, and basic services; hiring a workforce; and targeting a ramp-up of construction by September 2009, or earlier, weather conditions permitting.
Barrick’s interest in the Frontera district dates from 1994, when the company acquired Lac Minerals, including the Pascua-Lama exploration property and a 40% interest in the Veladero property in Argentina. Pascua-Lama gold reserves at the time totaled 2.3 million oz. Veladero, which is located wholly in Argentina about 10 km from Pascua-Lama, was 60%-owned by Homestake Mining.
Between 1995 and 1999, Barrick exploration established that the Pascua- Lama orebody was present in both Chile (75%) and Argentina (25%) and lifted the deposit’s reserve total to 17.1 million oz of gold and 560 million oz of silver. In 2000, Barrick said it would defer development of the project due to low gold and silver prices.
In 2001, Barrick acquired Homestake Mining and Homestake’s 60% interest in Veladero. Barrick proceeded with Veladero development, and the mine poured its first gold in September 2005. In 2008, Veladero produced 536,000 oz of gold at total cash costs of $496/oz. Veladero’s proximity to Pascua-Lama will provide numerous synergies to Pascua- Lama development.
The governments of Chile and Argentina approved the final Pascua- Lama environmental impact assessments in 2006. On-going negotiations regarding taxation and social issues continued through 2007 and 2008, while Barrick proceeded with project engineering. Finally, in 2009, Barrick has a deal and is proceeding with construction.