Rio Tinto has flagged creating a major new copper and gold mining province in Western Australia and is looking to have the first of what could become multiple mines in production by 2023.
The company is accelerating development of the copper-gold Winu mine after releasing long-awaited details of the size of the resource.
The mining giant has also discovered a new zone of gold dominant mineralisation about two kilometres east of the Winu deposit in the Paterson Province.
The maiden inferred mineral resource at the 100 per cent Rio-owned Winu project, reported at a 0.2 per cent copper equivalent cut off, is 503 million tonnes at 0.45 per cent copper equivalent (CuEq).
This includes a higher grade component of 188 million tonnes at 0.68 per cent CuEq at a cutoff grade of 0.45 per cent CuEq. Rio said study work to date suggests the copper mineralisation supports the development of a relatively shallow open-pit mine.
Importantly for Rio and the potential size of the mine, the deposit remains open at depth as well as to the north alnd southeast. Rio has already kicked off the approvals process as it looks to build on its iron ore and diamond mining operations in WA.
The company, stung by its destruction of ancient rock shelters in WA as part of an iron ore mine expansion, said the Winu project team continues to work with local Nyangumarta and Martu traditional owners and regulators to progress the agreements and approvals required for any future mine.
Rio is targeting first production from Winu in 2023, subject to securing all necessary approvals.
It said the new discovery of a new zone of gold dominant mineralisation at a prospect called Ngapakarra, as well as a number of other encouraging drilling results in close proximity to the maiden Winu resource, provided further encouragement about the potential for the development of multiple ore bodies within one system.
Rio Tinto group executive of growth and innovation Stephen McIntosh said the company was already looking beyond the Winu project to further investment.
“The additional exploration results reported today support our view that there is potential to develop the Paterson region into a large-scale operation over time through both our 100 per cent-owned tenements and joint ventures,” he said.
“We’ve so far carried out exploration activity in just 2 per cent of our tenements in the region and we’re building on this discovery at Winu with further encouraging results.”
Mr McIntosh said Rio was taking an agile and innovative approach at Winu, including studies for a small-scale, start-up operation focused on Winu’s higher-grade core. “We are also assessing options for future expansion in the Paterson region given the extent of mineralisation identified to date and our large land package,” he said.