In spite of extreme cold weather arriving earlier than expected, Copper Mountain Mining Corp.’s careful planning, perseverance and high tech investment in reopening a 15-year dormant copper mine remains on track to achieve full production by June 2011.

It’s a full six months before startup, yet the mine already is rewarding the Princeton, British Columbia, region with new jobs and a promising outlook for an economic windfall from the billions of dollars of copper, silver and gold the mine will generate. It comes none too soon for this area of British Columbia, whose forest industry has suffered from both pine beetle devastation and a downturn in the forest industry overall.

During its previous life, the open-pit porphyry mine already had yielded 1.7 billion pounds of copper, 9.1 million ounces of silver, and 730,000 ounces of gold from 23 years of continuous production before it closed in 1996, when copper prices were low. Exploration in 2006 by its new owner, however, promised that the mountain would reward the company with another 17-years’ worth of production from its untapped mineral deposits.

Data-based Confidence in Projections

Combined evidence from past drilling and modern exploration convinced stakeholders that there still are at least 1.5 billion pounds of copper left, with precious metal credits of more than 450,000 ounces of gold and 4.5 million ounces of silver.

Earlier this year, Copper Mountain Corp. president and CEO, James O’Rourke, said the company anticipates full production to reach 35,000 tons per day, amounting to more than 100 million pounds of copper a year and reaping significant amounts of gold and silver as by-products. With operational and financing costs totaling about $1.30 per pound, the copper will sell at about $2.80, which O’Rourke notes is a significant margin.

The overwhelming evidence that there are significant resource deposits yet to mine come from nearly 5000 historical drill holes combined with more than 400 of the company’s own. Continued exploration of the deep-seated porphyry in the fall of 2010 further confirmed extrapolated predictions. And the life of mine strip ratio is estimated to be just 2:1.

High Profitability, Low Risk

Although reopening a mine of this size is a formidable task, the project did come with some built-in benefits, such as a ready, skilled workforce from previous mining operations in the area, as well as a pre-existing infrastructure at this site. Only 15 miles from the town of Princeton, a paved highway runs past the mine, and the site has ample water resources with an ideal location for processing the extracted ore. Copper Mountain partnered with Mitsubishi Materials early on, who provided ideal security for the venture with financial backing and by ensuring the mine a reliable buyer for the ore.

The conscious effort to reduce operational risk has been evident in every component of the enterprise, including choice of equipment. For instance, to move the 25 million tons of material by May 2011 in preparation for full startup in June, and then to move the additional 60.5 million tons anticipated during the first production year, all blasthole drilling has been relegated in a three-year agreement to Altas Copco and its Pit Viper series, as well as all drilling rig parts, ancillary equipment and tools.

Gary Wright, the Atlas Copco sales representative for southwestern Canada, says, “It’s good for startups because it creates a partnership with the manufacturer and the mine. It includes everything from service to the steel and bits and allows everyone to work together.”

The first rig, a diesel-powered PV-271, which has been in operation since September, was just joined by its electric counterpart in November. A second electric model, a PV-351, will complete the trio of Pit Vipers at the site in January 2011.

Alastair Tiver, Copper Mountain’s chief engineer, says a mix of electric and diesel is working well. “Use of electric allows us to lower operating costs,” he says. “The pit will be developed with a series of push backs, so having a diesel rig affords us some additional mobility to move a rig from one mining area to another, should additional drilling capacity be required.”

Strategy for Reaching the Metals

Peter Holbek, vice president of exploration and leader of the mine’s exploration teams, explains the three-pronged approach the company is undertaking to

realize the company’s production goals. They have incorporated and expanded all three pits of the mine under one, all encompassing “Super Pit.” First the company will drill in areas of known mineralization from the previous operation. Second, they will drill in outer target areas that, although they were drilled previously, were not fully explored. And third, they will go after deeper targets, confident in the corroborative data from the new and historical information.

The company purchased the original, diesel-powered PV-271 for its ability to move quickly into other areas without the need to relocate power. The decision to purchase electric-powered Pit Vipers was based on economy. Although they would have purchased a third PV-271, mine manager Art Pratico says the PV-351E was immediately available.

The current PV-271s, with their ample 2,600-psi air compressor packages, are well-matched to 105⁄8-inch Epsilon rotary bits, which will allow quick clearing of the holes.

Pratico says that the rigs are working well driving 25-foot steels while smoothly operating on the mine’s 15-meter benches to stay ahead of scheduling goals. The electric model does give them the benefit of lower operating costs. Other than that, the diesel and electric perform comparably.

Advantage of Working with One Provider

Copper Mountain Mining teamed with Atlas Copco for the complete supply of all required rock drilling tools. This provides not only the convenience of a one-source supply, but also means Atlas Copco is in frequent contact with the company, maintaining instant access to customer support. Service is instantaneous.

So how has the PV-271 been performing overall? Pratico says that he is pleased with the machine. The diesel rig already had logged 1,200 hours of operation. It not only performs well, but it is also being used as a trainer. The PV-271’s high-tech upgrades give operators rich options without alienating those who are new to the series. It “operates just like any other drill rig,” Pratico says, meaning it doesn’t require a steep learning curve to train an operator’s skills to proficiency on a Pit Viper. That drillers can acquire proficiency with the rigs quickly is just one more contribution to helping the mine keep on track for the June 2011 deadline.