When Taseko Mines Ltd. acquired Gibraltar Mine in 1999, it was closed.
Opened in 1972, with an anticipated mine life of 22 years, the mine operated for 26 years.
In 1998 people had given up on the mine, says Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison.
“She was old, tired and worn out and no longer profitable. The plan was to bulldoze her, but in 1999, Ron Dickinson and Ron Thiessen recognized the value of the deposit and the value of the infrastructure at Gibraltar and Taseko bought her, a place to run care and maintenance,” Battison told the crowd gathered at the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce luncheon on March 29.
The company saw value, when the world view was to shut it down and reclaim it, Battison suggests.
For five years, and at a cost of $10 million, the mine lay in what he likened to a “self-induced coma” with 10 employees monitoring its “vital signs.”
In 2004, the company crossed its fingers and restarted the mine with a 40-month mining plan.
“We grew from 10 employees to 280. Since first breathing life back into Gibraltar, we have invested heavily in her. Such is the measure of our confidence in the deposit, our people, and in this community,” Battison says.
By the end of 2012, Taseko will have invested $700 million in new state-of-the-art mining and building equipment in six years.
All of the original 1970 vintage core parts and appendages have been replaced and the capacity to produce doubled.
Battison said Gibraltar has been transformed into a “leading edge” mining facility.
“Right now today up at Gibraltar we are right in the middle of Gibraltar Development Plan 3. A $325 million construction program that will more than double production capacity to 180 million pounds of copper every year, “ Battison explains.
This summer, the construction work force required for the expansion will peak at 270 people, which means there will be 770 people working there in the summer. Upon completion, he adds, there will be 150 permanent new jobs staying on.
Gibraltar is the lowest grade copper mine in the world, Battison says, adding that mining people from other countries visit to see how the company operates and how it turns a profit with such low-grade material.
“Frankly it’s not easy,” Battison admits, but credits the company’s success to employees like general manager Ross MacLean, his “highly skilled” engineering staff and more than 500 employees, who he says are all Canadian and mostly British Columbians who call Williams Lake and the Cariboo home.
While there are different definitions for sustainability, Battison suggests what’s happened over the years at Gibraltar represents true sustainability.
“Built in the 1970s, with a projected operating life of 21 years, operating for 26 years, and reopening after five years, new investment and commitment has transformed her.”
Taseko recently commissioned a report that estimates the economic impact of Gibraltar has resulted in $1.2 billion in total mine revenue and $979 million in gross domestic product generated from the profits.
According to the report, consumer spending has increased by $576 million because of Gibraltar, residential investment in the province has increased by $174 million, non residential investment is $520 million higher and the federal government has received $408 million in additional revenues, while the provincial government has received $371 million.
Battison says the current projected mine life of Gibraltar is another 27 years, which means that Gibraltar’s total operating mine life, past and future, will be in excess of 60 years.