MMG Century Mines: Back in the zinc
At the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, with zinc prices taking a crash dive from approximately $4, 000 per ton to $1,100 per ton, the world’s second largest zinc mine was facing difficult circumstances. Later that year, a failure in the MMG Century pipeline resulted in a 79-day shutdown of the operation.
Today, however, the future looks incredibly bright for the company. Due to the ongoing loyalty and support of its employees, contractors, suppliers and surrounding communities, Century was able to reengineer its business into a more profitable and sustainable operation. In June 2009, Century also became part of MMG, which is owned by China Minmetals Corporation, a Fortune 500 company that is committed to delivering new opportunities for the resources industry. MMG is one of the world’s largest producers of zinc as well as a substantial producer of copper, lead, gold and silver, and has mining operations located in Australia and Asia.
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In 2010, production guidance is approximately 500,000 to 510, 000 tons of zinc metal in concentrate and zinc prices are creeping up to $2,200-2,300 per ton.
“We’re back to normal production rates now,” said General Manager of Century Mine, Karl Spaleck. “While 2009 was a very difficult time for us, our operation is much leaner and more sustainable now. This is due to the hard work, loyalty and commitment of our team at zinc.”
History of century
Base metals were first discovered in the remote Lawn Hill area in 1869, and the first mining lease was pegged in 1887 over what is now known as the Silver King vein deposit. The area encompassing these veins, which includes the Century deposit, was proclaimed the Burketown Mining Field in 1899. Exploration titles for the current mine lease were granted to CRA in 1987, exactly 100 years after the initial discovery of Silver King, hence why the mine is called Century.
Key infrastructure, such as telecommunications services and existing public roads, were upgraded so that mining operations could commence at the remote Century mine site. Construction began at the site in 1998, with commercial production commencing in 1999. Century was officially commissioned in 2000.
The ore body at Century is flat-lying and covers an area of 1.4 by 1.2 kilometers with a final depth of 344 meters. Conventional methods are used to access the deposit at the open-cut mine, and approximately 100 million tons of material, of which about 5 million tons is ore, is moved annually. Once mined, the ore is moved to the concentrator, where a conventional grinding and froth flotation circuit is used. Due to the particularly fine nature of the zinc sulphide in the ore and its association with silicates, Century ore requires ultra fine grinding to maximize recovery of zinc sulphides and achieve acceptable in-concentrate levels for sale.
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Following processing, concentrates are transported via a 304 kilometers underground slurry pipeline to Century’s port and dewatering facility in Karumba. From here, Century’s transfer vessel, the MV Wunma, transports batches of up to 5, 000 tons of concentrate to export ships anchored in a designated area offshore in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Export ships then transport the concentrate to markets in Australia, Asia, North America and Europe.
Century’s ‘license to operate’ is the unique Gulf Communities Agreement (GCA), a tri-partite agreement between the mine, the Queensland government and the four Native Title Groups of Waanyi, Mingginda, Gkutharn andKukatj.
The Gulf Communities Agreement is historic in size and scope, and is a living document that provides ongoing training, employment, business opportunities and compensation to the Waanyi, Mingginda, Gkutharn and Kukatjpeople as well as assurances regarding the environment and cultural sites.
Improving fly-in/fly-out rosters
The mine’s remote location requires fly-in, fly-out operations from Townsville and the Gulf communities ofNormanton, Doomadgee, Mornington Island, Mount Isa and Burketown for the company’s 540 employees and 250 contractors. Until recently, the majority of the operations workforce was on a 14 days on, seven days off schedule. “We’ve now moved to an eight days on, six days off roster to help support a family/work life balance and avoid fatigue,” says Spaleck. “This has meant employing an extra 80 people, but it is important that we are seen as an employer of choice and we offer better rosters as well as it.”
MMG holds interests in and manages exploration over 4,500 square kilometers of the Lawn Hill Platform. Joint venture partners include Smarrtrans Holding Limited at Wangunda and Icon Resources at Constance Range.
Mining Profile: Mike Henry, CEO, BHP
Mike Henry has over 30 years’ experience in the resources industry, working across the globe in Australia, Asia, North America, and Europe; he joined BHP in 2003. A member of the executive leadership team since 2011, Henry has held roles spanning operational, commercial, and technical.
Mike Henry graduated from the University of British Colombia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He began his career in the resources industry working for Japanese tech giant Mitsubishi. Henry’s first contact with BHP came in Australia in 1999 when he helped set up the company’s coal joint venture, the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA). By 2001, Henry had risen to Vice President of Business Development for the BMA before joining BHP’s energy coal business full time.
During his time at BHP prior roles have included President HSE, Marketing & Technology 2013-14 and President of the company’s coal business from 2015-16. Prior to succeeding Andrew McKenzie as CEO in January 2020, Henry served as President for Operations, Minerals Australia focusing on iron ore, copper, coal and nickel. Henry led 40,000 people across six assets, with revenues of $29bn, EBITDA of $16bn and a capital spend of $3bn
Under Henry’s leadership, BHP’s Minerals Australia business reduced the frequency of high potential injuries by 60% and, for the first time, became the world’s lowest-cost major iron ore producer.
Mike Henry’s exposure to the company’s global marketing efforts between 2010 and 2015 saw him earmarked for the top job at BHP, developing crucial relationships with the mining giant’s customers in China and Japan.
“His operational experience, his commercial experience, his strategic skill, his global experience … that makes him a great candidate to be the next CEO of BHP,” said outgoing CEO Andrew MacKenzie of Henry’s appointment to the role last year.
Inclusion & Diversity
Growing up in a biracial family with a mother of Japanese heritage who worked as a nurse in emergency services, Henry witnessed and experienced both ends of the inclusion spectrum.
“[Inclusion & Diversity] is quite personal for me.. I am absolutely convinced that having an inclusive culture and diverse workforce is mission critical for BHP,” he says. “Inclusive, diverse teams perform better – because they promote safety, productivity and wellbeing. Getting this right will be a serious competitive advantage for BHP. It will help us secure and motivate the best people, we’ll be more creative, and we’ll make better decisions.”
Henry spent the first half of his career in an environment where he was not from the mainstream, but where people went the extra mile to ensure he felt wholly included. “Without exception, it’s been in high-inclusion environments that I’ve thrived,” he recalls. “Where I’ve felt most fulfilled as a person. When I’ve been most committed and motivated, and where I’ve made my most significant contribution. On the rare occasion when I’ve been in an environment I experienced as less inclusive, I haven’t been at my best – a lost opportunity for both me and those around me. I have two adult daughters and my aspiration for them is that they are able to realise their dreams and potential, unconstrained by gender, or race. I need to demonstrate the values and leadership that reflect where I’ve come from and the world that I hope for and believe is possible.”
Having lead teams globally, across cultures and disciplines, Henry’s experience has been that the teams that have unlocked exceptional outcomes have been those that are highly inclusive. “There’s been an excitement and enthusiasm in those teams that sees people challenge themselves, reach higher, and be more creative,” he notes.
“Those teams are the ones that everyone wants to be part of, and the ones that truly innovate and push the organisation to new frontiers. Being part of those teams and leading them has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career. I am passionate about seeing people stretch themselves, learn that they’re capable of more than they perhaps thought and experience the joy of realising great outcomes.”
What does the future hold? "BHP is a company that is steeped in history,” said Henry on his appointment last year. “The one constant for the whole of BHP’s 153-year history had been great people. If you’ve got the right people you can do amazing things."