South Africa – Only a year has passed since Vedanta Resources announced that it would begin development of the Gamsberg zinc project. Today pre-start development work is already in full swing with about 300 workers on site. Written by Chantelle Kotze.
The Gamsberg project, which is said to be one of the world’s largest undeveloped zinc deposits, is located in Aggeneys in the Northern Cape and hosts 214 Mt of defined mineral resource.
As part of Vedanta’s vision to create an integrated zinc business in southern Africa, the company has approved a capital investment of US$782 million over the next three years to do so.
The majority of the investment, approximately $630 million, will go towards developing the 4 Mtpa run-of-mine open pit zinc mine, a concentrator plant and associated infrastructure at Gamsberg.
The balance will be used to convert the refinery at Skorpion Zinc in Rosh Pinah, Namibia, enabling it to refine zinc sulphide concentrates from the Gamsberg mine into Special High Grade zinc metal. This will entail the installation of a 150 000 tpa integrated roaster with acid plant and calcine leach section at the existing Skorpion Zinc refinery.
The first phase of the Gamsberg open pit mine, which is expected to have a life of mine of approximately 13 years is currently on track to begin producing first ore in 2018. This phase will see Vedanta mine 4 Mtpa of ROM ore, producing 250 000 tpa of zinc metal in concentrate.
Phase 1 of Gamsberg will partially replace the loss of production from the Lisheen operation in Ireland that ceased in November 2015 and was operated by Vedanta subsidiary, Zinc International since acquisition in 2010.
Meanwhile, the refinery conversion at Skorpion will enable Vedanta to extend the life of the Skorpion Zinc Refinery beyond the life of mine, which is expected to close during the 2018/19 finacial year.
Vedanta Resources CEO Tom Albanese believes that output from Gamsberg, coupled with extending the life of the refinery at the Skorpion operation, will see the southern African region emerge as one of the most important suppliers of refined zinc globally.
Current work programme
Since the announcement of the project in November 2014, the next critical milestone at Gamsberg was achieved on 27 July, when Vedanta broke ground on the project. Pre-start activity and V-cut development work to access the ore body is under way.
The initial pre-stripping work entails the stripping of 70 Mt of overburden waste (overburden removal), which is expected to take 24 months.
Since the first blast, about 3Mt of waste has been drilled, blasted and hauled, says Vedanta’s Zinc International CEO Deshnee Naidoo.
In addition to working on the pre-start mining activities at Gamsberg, Vedanta Resources has been in discussion with engineering, procurement and construction contractors with regards to the plant and equipment needed for Gamsberg.
“While we have not signed a contract for the plant as yet, we have been in active discussion in choosing the contractor, starting the basic engineering work and then only concluding the agreement and placing the orders when the time is right, Naidoo says.
An important part of the work programme till now has been ensuring the preservation of the biodiversity at Gamsberg.
Naidoo says that Gamsberg is located in the ecologically-sensitive Succulent Karoo biome and Vedanta has therefore developed a clear approach to meet the sustainable development challenge of balancing the social and economic benefits of developing the Gamsberg project with the need to protect and preserve the unique arid zone biodiversity in the area.
In doing so, Vedanta has carried out robust public consultations and engagements with local farmers, communities, employees and other stakeholders through every stage of the project.
Naidoo explains that the company has designed this mine to avoid adverse impact where possible, but where impacts are unavoidable, the company has committed to remedy or offset the impact.
Illustrating this, Vedanta has translocated about 60 000 succulents from the Gamsberg mining area to a nursery, for use in concurrent rehabilitation at a later stage.
“This is in line with our clearly defined biodiversity action plan which outlines how we will go about avoiding, minimising and remedying the impact that the mining activity will have on the environment.
As part of its biodiversity plan, Vedanta signed a biodiversity offset plan in October with the Department of Environment and Nature Conservation to address residual or unavoidable impacts.
The offset plan has been developed in line with the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme guidelines and International Finance Corporation’s standards to deliver ‘no net loss’ or ‘net positive impacts’ on biodiversity features.