OASIS – Long Canyon has a few more hoops to jump through before it can be called a mine, but Newmont Mining Corp.’s project is well on its way.
Newmont acquired the gold deposit from Fronteer Gold Inc. on April 6, 2011. Four years later, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the record of decision for the mine on April 7, 2015. This year the site has been moving toward full production mining.
Gordon Mountford, general manager for Long Canyon operation, previously said Newmont’s investment in the project is $293 million.
“We’re on track and on budget,” Mountford said at the beginning of August.
The mine site is about 30 miles east of Wells on the eastern side of the Pequop Mountain Range in Elko County and about five miles south of Interstate 80 at the Oasis exit. Long Canyon’s ground breaking was April 17, 2015.
Construction for the project facilities began in May 2015 and by the beginning of August 2016 almost all the buildings were complete and material was being moved from the pit.
The administration facility, truck shop with wash bay, heap leach pad and ponds have been completed. The geology building and CIC – or carbon in columns – plant still had a few odds and ends to finish.
Process Superintendent Clayton Prothro said the CIC building was about 95 percent complete at the beginning of August.
“Now we’re down to the fine detail work of commissioning the pumps, verifying the flow meters, the instrumentation,” he said.
The site put material on the heap leach pad at the end of May, which was ahead of schedule, Mountford said. The site wasn’t scheduled to have material on the heap leach pad until August of this year.
“Having mine experts on site, they saw we had ore when we didn’t expect it,” Prothro said. “So we put it in a pile until the heap leach pad was ready.”
The heap leach is scheduled to receive solution the first quarter of 2017, Prothro said.
“If all the commissioning goes well, there’s an opportunity to improve on the schedule,” Mountford said.
Before solution can be applied, the site has to receive approval from the state to begin processing ore on the heap leach pad.
“We do have the permits for the pad and the ponds,” Prothro said. “I don’t have it for the facility yet, because we’re still working on it.”
Based on the size of Long Canyon’s plant, it needs about 100,000-square foot of open area to get the amount of flow needed to run the pumps at a steady state, he said. Once that amount of material is put on the heap leach pad, the site can start processing the ore. The heap leach pad is 3 million square feet, Prothro said.
“It’s good for 9 million tons, and we can expand to the left for a total of 41 million tons on the heap leach,” he said. “This allows for eight to 10 years of mine life.”
“It takes time to get the pumps tuned right to get them to respond to level changes, flow changes and just make sure they’re going to do what we expect them to do and keep everything in containment the way it’s designed,” Prothro said.
All the ore at Long Canyon is oxide.
“We anticipate it to be a rather easy ore body to process,” Prothro said.
Employees and Equipment
The site had about 190 employees in August. They are all new jobs.
“If we’ve transferred people from other locations, they’ve been backfilled,” Mountford said.
Prothro said the site has 80 to 85 percent of the needed staff, and is still hiring. When Long Canyon is full-staffed it will have about 270 employees. While some worked at other sites, those are all new jobs to Elko County, said Mountford.
The fleet on site consists of six 240-ton 793 Caterpillar haul trucks, a loader and a Hitachi 3600 shovel. In 2017, a second fleet will add another shovel and six more trucks, Mountford said.
Facilities and the Environment
Many of Long Canyon’s buildings have innovated features and some make the buildings more environmentally friendly.
The four-bay truck shop has a connected warehouse and a nearby wash bay.
The doors that allow vehicles entry aren’t heavy metal doors that roll up tracks, but rather open and close like a window blind. The doors, which are made of a heavy material, fold and when they are down seem to let some diffused light into the building. The doors are called the Megadoor and are made by Assa Abloy.
Each building was painted sage green to help it blend into the desert environment, said Dan Anderson, Newmont’s regional environmental affairs manager.
“Driving from Salt Lake City to Reno, you have eight minutes of view of Long Canyon,” he said.
Anderson said they wanted the buildings to blend with the surrounding vegetation.
He said many times people paint water tanks or buildings a desert tan color, but that hue stands out in a sagebrush covered landscape.
Before choosing a color, Long Canyon ordered six panels and visually observed them at a distance to see which color blended the best, Anderson said.
“Desert tan stuck out like a sore thumb,” he said. “The green that was chosen really minimizes the visual impact. … You can’t see the buildings from a distance.”
Another design feature that minimizes an impact to the environment is the lighting fixtures. All of the outside lights are LED and are called dark-sky lighting because they don’t shine into the sky, Anderson said.
“They are super high-intense lights,” he said. “They shine onto the ground and have more lumens hitting the ground than conventional street lights.”
The wash bay also has environmental features. It collects the water used to wash vehicles and recycles it. The wash bay has three cells, said Rocky Pray, Long Canyon project manager.
The sediment settling pond pit helps collect the dirt in the water and an oil skimmer collects the oils that are washed off the vehicles. The sediment that is collected is put in a pile to dry and it is either reused or disposed of as waste, Anderson said.
The water is reused in the wash bay and for dust control.
“As long as the oil skimmer works, we can use it,” Pray said.
“There’s a lot of neat features,” Prothro said about the buildings. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It’s nice to see these progressive things going on and new things coming into the industry.”
The fine details for the geology building were in the process of being completed in August. The inside of the core sample area has extra features to help employees.
“The core tables are at an angle so geologists don’t have to bend over to look at the samples,” Anderson said.
Since before Long Canyon construction began, Newmont designed certain aspects of the site to be more environmentally friendly.
After public scoping, all the facilities, except the pit, were moved north away from Big Springs. The spring supplies about one-third of West Wendover’s drinking water, Anderson said previously.
Moving the facilities allowed the deer corridor to expand from 500 feet to 2,500 feet. The corridor allows mule deer from the Area 7 herd to move through the site.
Anderson said they put collars on some of the deer, so they know the herd still moves freely through the area. The collars showed they moved through the bottom in the corridor and some have been near the top of the mountains, above the pit, he said.
“The deer continue to move right through the property, which is very promising,” Anderson said.
Prothro said miners also have seen elk in the valley.
All mines celebrate safety milestones and Long Canyon is no different even though it is still considered a project.
At the beginning of August, the site celebrated six months with zero harm.
“Fantastic job so far on the safety front,” Mountford told the miners during the celebration lunch. “If we can do this at six months, there’s no reason we can’t do this day in and day out and continue to celebrate our safety.”
He said it takes a lot of teamwork and commitment to reach safety records.
“I do look forward to the upcoming safety journey training sessions that we’re going to be having,” Mountford said. “All that’s going to do is give you some more tools to put in the toolbox to make sure that we can be safe each and every day and make sure we can go home to our loved ones.”
Part of that safety journey includes employees having the right personal protection equipment. Outside the male and female locker rooms are vending machines containing PPE, said Pamela Smith, Newmont external relations manager.
She demonstrated how employees can use their identification card to purchase the smaller items needed to do a job, such as different types of gloves. The vending machines allow quick and easy access to equipment. Smith said many sites have gone to the vending machines, rather than a warehouse to get basic items.
Designed for Closure
Long Canyon’s designs also will help the site close faster once mining is done, Anderson said.
“Most miners at the end of the mine life have to spend time cleaning up waste dumps,” he said. “We’re reclaiming the waste dump from the bottom up, so when we’re done dumping we just finish the reclaiming, instead of having to re-slope everything.”
The heap leach also will be slope as material is put on the pad, Prothro said.
“We save money to slope it as we go,” Anderson said. “The slope will mimic what is there naturally.”
The CIC facility also was designed to help with closure. It was designed to run as a dry facility, so the ponds outside the building are precipitation event ponds.
The cyanide solution that processes the ore goes from the plant to the heap leach and then back to the pregnant tank and back to the facility.
“There’s no open solution for the critters to get into,” Prothro said.
One of the event ponds had water in it in August because it was holding snowmelt. Prothro said he held onto the water to help with the start up of the plant when they are ready to start processing the ore.
The plant needs enough water to move the solution through 30 feet of ore when processing starts, he said.
Despite only fresh water being in the ponds, they were lined with textured material so any small animals that crawled into the ponds could get out. The ponds and the CIC building also have a fence around them to help keep animals out of the facility.
“It’s better environmentally as a dry facility,” Anderson said.
The ponds are permitted to handle the cyanide solution if something should happen that allowed solution to leave the system.
The dry system also accommodates for the shallow ground water table, Anderson said.
The ponds also were designed with closure in mind. They are wide but not deep so they can be converted into evaporation cells at the end of mining, Anderson said.
“This is a major divergence of the mining process,” he said about the facility.
Prothro said the main reason the dry facility is cost effective is because of the compact design of the site.
“We’re only 1,500 feet to the discharge point,” he said.
Despite being designed for closure, Anderson and Prothro see many years of mining ahead for Long Canyon. They are excited to see the site go from project to a full-fledged mine.