Western Areas Ltd – More Than Nickel & Dime

We learn how Western Areas’ nickel mining operations could be the foundation of a sustainable future.

In Western Australia, this year Western Areas Ltd is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and it’s been a busy couple of decades.

We’ve been listed on the ASX since July 2000, over that time we have opened up two of our current operations at our Forrestania operations, namely, Flying Fox mine and the Spotted Quoll mine,” says Dan Lougher, CEO of the company. “Both operations produce some of the highest-grade nickel sulphides in the world.”

As well as these operational sites, Western Areas is also deep in the development process for a new mine that should begin to see production towards the end of this year.

“We have another operation we’re currently developing called Odysseus, which is located at the Cosmos operations. It will have a life-of-mine of over ten years, an order of 211,000 nickel tonnes in reserve, with first ore production expected around September 2021,” Lougher tells us. “We purchased the site in October 2015 from Glencore. We’re fundamentally an explorer, finding new mines and developing the mines independently, and have been doing so for 20 years. We sell a high-grade nickel concentrate grading around 15% nickel. Our contracts are with BHP Nickel West as well as Jinchuan, the largest Chinese nickel cathode producer.”

A 2020 Odyssey

Lougher considers the purchase of the Odysseus site a great deal for Western Areas, and one he’s keen for the company to build on.

“We purchased Odysseus as part of the Cosmos complex in 2015. It was previously run by Jubilee Mines, a small junior in the late 90s. They sold that on and we purchased it for around A$24 million, so we got a bargain,” he says proudly. “We have an excellent street address for nickel sulphides, between two Nickel West operations, so it’s got extensive infrastructure. We can access grid power and gas. In addition, we have a 550-person camp and a concentrator which is currently under care maintenance that will soon be upgraded to a 900-ore-tonnes per annum capacity. We’ve got the Odysseus orebodies and adjacent to that AM6 where the combined nickel reserve position is. So, in a nutshell, we’ll be mining there well into the 2030s!”

As well as developing this new site, Western Areas is pushing to transform its mining operations to fit into a greener, more sustainable future.

“We’ll certainly be going into sustainable power for the long-term with a combination of solar, gas and potentially wind turbines, to the order of 25 megawatts,” Lougher says. “We’re also currently developing a hoisting shaft that will be one of the few developed in Western Australia right now. That will be used for hoisting ore and waste rock from around 1km depth. So, the consequence of that will be we don’t have to use a significant amount of diesel trucks, and we’ll need less ventilation and have fewer refrigeration requirements for cooling the air.”

Western Areas is pushing forward with new Environmental and Social Governance, making sustainability part of the company’s day-to-day activities.

“When you design and run mines, major stakeholders expect us to follow guidelines and use our business practices to help build a better and greener world,” Lougher says. “All of these concerns play a part in our ongoing mine designs.”

Mining is not an industry many immediately associate with sustainability, but the industry has a crucial role to play in building a sustainable future.

“With mining, there’s a view that it’s dirty, but copper and nickel and other minerals we produce are used in creating that greener world,” Lougher explains. “There are parts of the community that believe we’re not doing enough, but we’ve got projects, we’re doing more to improve efficient extractability of the ore, so it doesn’t use as much energy. Every little bit helps.”

This push for a more sustainable future also opens up a promising market for the minerals Western Areas is mining.

“Iron ore is still going strong. Gold is going stellar, and of course, copper and other base metals like nickel are seeing growth on the back of the technology of electric vehicle batteries,” says Lougher.

Western Areas is well-positioned to meet this growing demand with two very high-grade operations in production, a very strong exploration skillset internally and a demonstrative track record of discovering and building operations.

“We now have a position where we have probably one of if not the best project being developed which will see us well into 2030,” Lougher tells us. “That’s an exceptional record. We are an explorer, builder, miner, and we’ve got some great contracts coming into the market for our high-grade nickel concentrate.”

A Culture of Success

This record wouldn’t have been possible without an exemplary team, and talking to Lougher it’s clear he’s proud of Western Areas’ technical group.

“We pride ourselves in doing as much work internally as possible, not relying on external consultants,” he tells us.

This team is the result of a long-term investment in the staff of Western Areas.

“We have a culture that has been developed over the last 20 years where we have a significant portion of our staff staying with the company for ten years or more,” says Lougher. “I’ve been here for over 14 years. It’s a good place to work with a low turnover but for mining and other key activities such as exploration drilling, we rely on contract staff.

Looking forward, Lougher is looking to take that team from strength to strength.

“We’ve got two main operational mining hubs which have got significant amounts of nickel in the ground. We’re innovating with our introduction of heap leaching,” he says. “We have a mineral recovery enhancement project using bacteria and acid to extract nickel from difficult ores.”

Looking forward, Cosmos will become the growth and future of the company. The Odysseus site will be at the centre of this growth, as Lougher tells us, “We’ll be developing Odysseus, and the Cosmos operation as it has a large amount of nickel with plenty of room for exploration and further discoveries. Once we’re up and running towards the end of the next year, that will provide significant growth for the company. We think it’s a great company, 20 years in the making and at least another 20 years to go.”

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