JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The final shipment of zinc from Vedanta Resources' Lisheen mine has brought zinc supply from the Irish mine to an end, opening up an opportunity for the Gamsberg project, which is inching forward at a carefully measured pace in South Africa’s Northern Cape.
Lisheen’s closure means that some 120 000 t of zinc a year will no longer be going into the market from the discontinued mine in Ireland’s Tipperary province, leaving Southern Africa in the wings to offer part replacement and part growth to Vedanta’s zinc portfolio going forward.
The Lisheen mine consisted of an underground mine, concentrator and backfill plant, and typically produced 300 000 t of zinc concentrate and 38 000 t of lead concentrate a year.
But now mining and milling have given way to fully pre-funded rehabilitation in a style that is winning plaudits.
Land has been leased to a private wind-farm company and there are many wind turbines on site, which put power into the national grid, with royalties accruing to Vedanta.
“When I was there to do an official closing ceremony on November 30, Vedanta received accolades from Environmental Minister Alan Kelly and Tipperary county councillor John Hogan,” Vedanta Zinc International CEO Deshnee Naidoo told Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online in a telephone interview.
Through life extensions at both Lisheen and Vedanta’s Black Mountain operations in South Africa, the India-rooted London-listed diversified mining company has received substantial payback of the $1 338-million that it paid Anglo American Zinc for the assets nearly five years ago.
The rehabilitation commitment is now to establish a fully capped tailings management facility (TMF) at Lisheen and restore the plant area to greenfield.
By the time mine production ceased, progressive TMF restoration was already 60% complete, allowing for productive agricultural land and successful animal trials to be approved by the Irish Department of Agriculture.
Hopefully, a green energy hub/bio economy campus will also eventuate, as work with the Ireland’s Environmental Ministry proceeds to attract “green” businesses to the site.
“When you look at the site, you can see wind turbines, 60% of the TMF capped and grazing on 20% of it. It makes a good picture of mining and sustainability coexisting,” Naidoo commented to Mining Weekly Online.
Among several post-closure initiatives has been the emergence of a contract mining company, Lisheen Mining Services, which has been set up by former employees to offer rapid mining development.
Lisheen’s low staff turnover has meant that virtually the same team that started the mine and ramped it up has also seen to its closure.
The emerging Lisheen Mining Services and the planned engagement of other personnel in consulting services, including maintenance strategy work, engineering services and safety, are poised to restrict the dissipation of highly regarded Lisheen skills, Naidoo told Mining Weekly Online.
Over its 17-year life, 22.4 million tonnes of ore were mined at Lisheen, at an average grade of 11.63% zinc and 1.96% lead.
Being prioritised is going beyond physical closure into the aftercare of the site to ensure its long-term success, with an aftercare fund being established to cover the required six-year monitoring and 30-year aftercare period.
From the outset, Lisheen operated under an integration pollution control licence from Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency, which sets out stringent environmental controls enshrined in the European Union’s regulatory framework.
As part of its outplacement training programme, Vedanta has supported employees to pursue further education and training and find alternative employment.
In these markets, Gamsberg is proving tough to finance but a modular advance is being maintained with more than five-million tonnes of waste being moved since the first blast on July 27.
The diversified Vedanta produces aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, silver, iron-ore, oil, gas and commercial energy at operations in India, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Liberia, Australia and Sri Lanka.