After experiencing frightening stripping ratios in 2017 at the Wiluna Gold project, Blackham Resources now appear to have unearthed enough high-grade ore to produce a solid 2018. The company mined almost as much gold in the last month of 2018 as the entire September quarter and is building high-grade stockpiles for the first time in almost a year.
Gold production from Blackham Resources’ Wiluna project powered ahead at the end of the December quarter, reaching record weekly production equal to almost 90,000 ounces a year.
In a market update, Blackham reported a significant turnaround in mining and processing operations as the December quarter progressed following delays earlier last year stemming from pit wall slippages.
Mill throughput reached a record 443,000 tonnes in the December quarter, up 17% from the September quarter.
While average mill feed grades dropped from 1.4% to 1.1%, access to high-grade zones in the M4 and Galaxy pits was achieved late in the quarter. This resulted in record weekly gold mined of 1,685 ounces in the last week of December, equivalent to 87,620 ounces a year if sustained across 12 months.
Mining operations also turned a corner, allowing Blackham to build significant high-grade stockpiles for the first time since March 2017.
During the month of December, 137,000 tonnes of high-grade ore at 1.6 g/t gold was mined from the M4 and Galaxy pits. A total of 8,038 ounces of gold was mined for the month, which is just below the amount for the entire September quarter.
A further 51,000 tonnes of ore grading 1.6 grams per tonne was stockpiled during the quarter, setting the company up for a solid start to the first quarter of calendar year 2018.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all was the sharp drop in the stripping ratio, which plummeted from 26.8 to 1 in the September quarter to 10.5 to 1 in the December quarter. This figure is expected to reduce to 7 to 1 over the next 3.5 years of production, less than 50% of the 16.5 to 1 stripping ratio achieved in the first half of 2017.
The strong improvement in production performance is a healthy sign for Blackham, which is in the final stages of locking down a significant recapitalisation.
The company said it is now expecting to produce 250 000 ounces of gold from free milling ore over the next 3.5 years with further extensions and targets being pursued.
Blackham’s Executive Chairman, Milan Jerkovic, said: “The recent mining and production levels support our belief that the delays in accessing high-grade open pit ore are now behind us and that 2018 will be a transformational year for Blackham, during which we expect to deliver increased grades and gold production whilst reducing strip ratios and mining costs, thereby generating strong operational cash flows. Our grade control drilling program is ongoing and will underpin our mine scheduling and allow us to continue to build our high-grade stockpiles.”
He added that the recently announced recapitalisation strategy was progressing very well with the support of Blackham’s secured lender, Orion Fund JV, and key mining contractor, MACA.
Gold production is expected to increase during the second half of FY18 and beyond due to high-grade ore from the M4 and Galaxy open pits now being available to feed the process plant on a continuous basis, followed by the M1 and M2 coming into production.
After a shaky start to production, Blackham now look to have turned the corner and all eyes will be on the next two quarters of production figures from the Wiluna gold operation.