Lucara Diamond Corp’s Karowe Underground Expansion project (UGP) in Botswana is moving ahead with mobilisation of shaft sinking teams commencing late in June, and pre-sinking activities scheduled in the September quarter.
The Karowe UGP, which is expected to extend the operation’s mine life to 2040, is in a fully-financed position, with the latest schedule expected to see underground production hit full production by the end of 2026.
The 2019 feasibility study for the project envisaged life of mine production of 7.8 Mct, a payback period of 2.8 years and an after-tax NPV (5% discount) of $718 million; all from $514 million in pre-production capital.
COVID-19 delays have pushed the project off the original schedule – both in terms of timeline and cost – but the company says it is now making headway towards a 2026 start to underground production.
Lucara said no “material variances” between the 2019 feasibility study and the current execution plan have resulted, despite the delays.
“Rather, during this period in 2020 and 2021, all critical path items were addressed and a concerted effort was placed on detailed design, engineering and procurement which have helped to significantly de-risk the project,” it said.
Out of the total capital budget, the company has spent $51.4 million on project execution activities through 2020 until the end of June 2021, including shaft and geotechnical engineering, procurement of long lead time and essential shaft sinking items, surface infrastructure and construction activities, bulk power supply power line engineering and procurement.
Mobilisation of the shaft pre-sink team has commenced with shaft pre-sinking on track to commence in the middle of the current quarter.
Detailed engineering and design of the underground infrastructure and layouts will commence this quarter and are expected to be competed in the September quarter of 2022, with no major changes from the 2019 study plan anticipated.
Underground mine development is scheduled to commence in the second half of 2024 with underground production ramp up starting in 2026. Full production is scheduled for the end of 2026.
At the same time, open-pit mining operations have been adjusted to limit the risk of production shortfalls during the ramp up of the underground mine operations commencing in the first half of 2026. The open-pit mine is expected to terminate in mid-2026, Lucara said.
Access to the underground mine will be via two vertical shafts, the production and ventilation shafts. The shafts will be concrete lined with the production shaft acting as the main air intake and the ventilation shaft as the exhaust.
The number of shaft stations and nominal elevations remain the same as the feasibility study, with the planned depth of the production shaft still at around 767 m. The final planned depth of the ventilation shaft has, however, increased marginally to 733 m, from 716 m.
A 7,200 t/d shaft operation using long hole shrinkage (LHS) mining will provide an additional 13 years of mine life to the Karowe operation after a five-year construction period. The 767-m-deep production shaft will be equipped with two 21 t skips for production hoisting and a service cage for man and material movement through the mine. This shaft will also serve as the main fresh air intake to the mine.
The pre-sink construction contract and shaft sinking equipment procurement were awarded to UMS Botswana and UMS South Africa, respectively. METS International Ltd, a subsidiary of UMS, was awarded the shaft engineering contract.
The company explained: “Detailed design and engineering work on the production and ventilation shafts is now 90% complete, and has resulted in the following changes to the 2019 feasibility study: i) production shaft diameter has increased from 8 m to 8.5 m, ii) ventilation shaft permanent headframe, hoists and internal conveyances have been removed, iii) parallel pre-sinking of both shafts, iv) ventilation fans and coolers to be located on surface, v) in-shaft grouting of water strikes changed from grout curtain installation from surface, vi) planned development of an additional sublevel to assist in drilling of drawbells, and vii) removal of 670L de-watering galleries.”
Increased schedule time related to shaft sinking has been a result of the increased production shaft diameter, time allowances for in-shaft grouting during sinking operations planned at known water strike horizons, holing through all shaft stations between shafts and additional ground support for underground stations/level breakouts, the company said.
UMS is in the process of mobilising crews to Karowe to initiate pre-sink works. Pre-sinking of the two shafts will run in parallel and start with mobile cranes and then transition to Scott Derrick cranes with the final depth of pre-sink at around 40 m below surface.
With the exception of an additional sublevel (340L) to assist with drill and blast of drawbells, the design, layout and infrastructure of the underground mine all remain aligned with the 2019 feasibility study, the company noted.
Temporary power for shaft sinking is required until such time as the upgrade bulk power supply infrastructure is commissioned in the December quarter of 2022. A three-phased ramp up of the generator capacity is planned to support the increasing power requirements related to the shaft sinking activities.
A power supply and services contract for the temporary generators has been signed with Aggreko International Projects Ltd. Mobilisation has been initiated with the generator pad established. Commissioning of Phase 1 is scheduled during the September quarter to support the start of pre-sink activities.
The Karowe UGP is targeting the substantial resources remaining below the economic extents of the open pit in the South Lobe.
The LHS method is planned to systematically drill and blast the entire lobe on a vertical retreat basis. In LHS, a significant proportion of the blasted muck is left in the stope during blasting and stoping to stabilise the host rock with only the swell extracted during the drill and blast phase. Mucking will take place from draw points from the 310L extraction level. Once the column is fully blasted, the stope will be drawn empty by mucking the draw points.
The bottom-up approach of the LHS mining method takes advantage of the higher value EM/PK(S) kimberlite unit at depth in the South Lobe at Karowe, and balances high initial capital costs with low operating costs while de-risking the project with respect to the geotechnical and hydrogeological aspects of the host rocks, according to Lucara.
A revised project cost and schedule has been developed that captures the detailed engineering and design work through 2020 until May 2021, incorporating all changes, improvements, and COVID-19 related delays. Overall capital expenditures, including contingency, have increased marginally by some 4%, to $534 million, driven by the increase to the production shaft diameter and additional mine development.
The schedule to 75% of full production has increased by 1.3 years, driven mainly by COVID-19-related delays to commence the shaft pre-sinking and additional planned time for shaft station break-outs and ground support, Lucara added.
During 2020, Lucara negotiated and signed a self-build agreement with the Botswana Power Corp (BPC) for the construction of two substations and a 29-km-long 132 kV transmission line from BPC’s newly established Letlhakane substation to the Karowe mine. The planned route follows an existing regional 400 kV line and then runs parallel to the existing 11 kV transmission line currently supplying bulk power to the Karowe mine.
The new power infrastructure will provide the required power for the current open pit, processing plant and the underground mine expansion. Commissioning of and handover to BPC is scheduled for the December quarter of 2022. Construction of substations is scheduled to commence this quarter and power line construction in the March quarter of 2022, the company said.
JDS Energy & Mining Inc is the engineering procurement and construction manager for the execution of the Karowe UGP and is currently building up the on-site project team in conjunction with Lucara’s owners team and working in close cooperation with the Karowe Diamond Mine operations team.