Profile: Xtrata’s Kidd Mine and Kidd Metallurgical Site

This Ontario operation comprises one of the world’s largest cooper reserves, deepest mines and most up-to-date processing facilities.

 

What a difference six months makes. Late last year, Xstrata Copper announced a $121 million upgrade of its Kidd Mine operations in northern Ontario. Even at the time, the move, which would add 3.4 million tonnes of ore to its mine plan and extend it projected life by one year until 2017, may have seemed risky. World economic growth and copper demand had been slowing. But no one foresaw that copper prices would plunge from their mid-year high of $4.08 per pound to $1.32 per pound by year end. 

 

Yet Tom Semadeni, Kidd Mines’ general manager, puts a positive face on things. “Don’t forget that this mine has been in operation for more than 40 years. During that time we have been though many ups and downs and we will almost certainly see more,” said Semadeni. “The Kidd Mine contains one of the world’s largest copper reserves and one of the deepest profiles. Making significant structural changes requires a substantial amount of work. You don’t schedule these sorts of moves based on short-term market fluctuations.”

 

Semadeni’s coolness under pressure is understandable. A long-time industry veteran, he has been around the track more than once, having spent more than 20 years as mining engineer at Falconbridge. Semademi took charge of the Kidd Mining operation around the time that Xstrata acquired Falconbridge in November 2006,

 

However his responsibilities are no piece of cake. As if the new expansion weren’t enough, last year the Kidd Mine lived through a planned maintenance shutdown, an additional three week outage so that the company could reduce its dependence on marginal offshore concentrate, coupled with a strike at the mine’s adjoining metallurgical site. In short, Semadini has his work cut out for him.

 

Kidd mines: a long and prestigious history

The Ontario based Kidd Mining and Processing facilities, which form a key part of the Canadian division of Brisbane-based Xstrata Copper, have a long and prestigious history. Xstrata also manages units in Australia, Chile and Southern Peru. Xstrata Copper and is currently the world’s fourth largest copper producer, boasting annual capacity of more than one million tonnes. Furthermore, the company claims that it has the potential to double that output solely.  Xstrata Copper in turn is one of several commodity business units owned by parent company Xstrata Plc, a diversified group based in Zug, Switzerland, which operates in 18 countries and whose shares are listed on the London and Swiss stock exchanges.

 

The Kidd Mines ore body, which ranks as one of the largest based metals deposits, was first identified in 1964. However company geologists believe that those deposits, which are located in the Kidd Township, which is about 22 kilometres north of Timmons Ontario, were created more than 2.7 billion years ago. Mining at the site, which contains copper, zinc and several other minerals, began as an open pit format and over time evolved into a traditional underground mine. Once the new investments in the Kidd operations (which have already began) are completed, the mine, already the world’s deepest, will  be deepened from its current 9,100 foot depth to 9,500 feet.

 

Processing operations: the Kidd Concentrator and Kidd Copper and Smelter Refinery

The Kidd processing operations include two main facilities; the Kidd Concentrator and the Kidd Copper Smelter and Refinery. The processing operation’s primary goal is to become a competitive mineral and metals processor not only for company sourced, but also for purchased feeds. According to Thomson Hickey, general manager at the Kidd Metallurgical site, the two operations employ about 875 people, about 125 of which work at the concentrator, 250 in the copper operations, 350 in the zinc facilities, with the balance comprised of service staff.

 

Because of the weak terrain surrounding the mine site, the processing facilities were built up 30 kilometres away. Ore from the mine is delivered to the Kidd Concentrator, via a company-run rail service. The Concentrator’s key processing function is to produce copper and zinc concentrates, as well as to treat all ore that comes out of the Kidd Mine, in two of the four grinding and flotation circuits located at the facility.

 

The economically viable minerals in the ore are separated from the waste and from each other through a multi-step process. Steps include dry-crushing and grinding the ore into finely-sized slurry, which is then fed into flotation cells. After that the minerals are separated out and the un-recovered  material (known as tailings) are pumped into a 1200 hectare containment area, where the water it is treated prior to release into the environment, with strict adherence to government regulations.

 

The concentrator facilities, set up in the 1960s, continue to perform surprisingly well even today. As recently as 2006 (40 years after the operation began) the facility, which includes a crushing plant, multiple rod mill and ball mill, grinding lines, flotation cells and a slew of other equipment, set numerous production records. After it leaves the Kidd Concentrator, the copper concentrate is sent to the Kidd Copper Smelter and Refinery  facilities, which were inaugurated in 1982, and which Xstrata officials regard the as among the most technologically advanced anywhere. 

 

There the copper concentrate, along with concentrates brought over from other mines in North America and South America, is fed into the smelter, which boasts annual capacity to produce 150,000 tonnes of blister copper.  That blister is then refined and cast into copper anodes, and then is further purified. The refinery, which is quite flexible, also produces significant quantities of slimes that have heavy silver, gold and platinum components.

 

“Yet ironically despite the fact that our name makes it appear that we are a copper facility, our second highest dollar value output is from zinc,” says Hickey. The Kidd Zinc Operations have a similar work flow as the copper production facilities. Zinc Concentrate produced at the Kidd Concentrator is brought over and then roasted to burn off the sulphur, which is converted into sulphuric acid. The remaining zinc is converted into an oxide powder called calcine, which is then further refined and processed into sheets of high grade zinc. These are then melted and cast into ingots weighing between 25 kilograms and one tonne.

 

Like Semadeni over at the Kidd Mine site, Hickey is highly focused on environmental and sustainable development issues. “During recent years, Xstrata has spent tens of millions of dollars on the environment,” sais Hickey. “This includes construction of a bag house to trap air emissions at the facility, as well as the installation of additional tailings treatment technology and the implementation of better communications with all of the facility’s stakeholders.”

 

That said, last year output at metallurgical site suffered somewhat due to a 36 day strike which reduced throughput at the Kidd smelter by 25% to 340,000 tonnes. This contributed to a 36% decrease in copper cathode production at the refinery. 

 

 

 

 

Mine safety and sustainable development

According to Semadeni, mining has almost always regarded both a hazardous industry and one which leaves a large ecological footprint, a reputation that Kidd Mines is working hard to change. “It is totally unacceptable in this day and age people should worry about getting hurt at work,” says Semadeni. “The Kidd operations have always been regarded as a relatively safe mine. We have won more than 50 awards over the years for safety, including 27 in the last 35 years.”

 

“But that has not stopped us from doing more. During the 2006 to 2008 period alone, we managed to reduce disabling injustices at our facilities by close to 80%” said Semadeni. At Kidd Mines, recent safety measures include enhanced monitoring of all behaviors, ensuring procedures are followed, as well as making sure that all risks are identified and managed before they occur. “Furthermore, our concept of safety extends to all mine stakeholders. To us it does not matter what color your coveralls are. We want you to feel secure. So those statistics include contractors, not just employees.”

 

Xstrata’s focus on safety and other corporate and social responsibility measures have paid off. Mine officials cite the company’s safety record in deep mining, coupled with the confidence that it has inspired in both employees and the surrounding community as key factors in obtaining approval for the new expansion. According to Semadeni, the company’s positive environmental sustainability record also makes it much easier for the larger pension plans, which are concerned about their public image, to invest in the company.

 

The other good news is despite the timing challenges posed by the planned expansion announcement at the Kidd facilities, recent weakness in copper prices should prove to be a surmountable obstacle.  That’s because while copper demand is weaker right now, the new upgrades to the mine will be only be complete by 2010, by which time the global economy will almost certainly have bottomed out and mineral demand is expected to have picked up again.

 

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a CIM Magazine’s Quebec correspondent.

 

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