Fosterville gold mine recently celebrated production of its one millionth ounce of gold based firmly within a history of refractory sulfide gold mining. Compared with other Victorian gold mines, the disseminated nature of the sulfide gold is a deposit style with low estimation variance combined with established processes to accurately delineate the controlling structures. The systems in place had been established and have worked effectively for the majority of the one million produced ounces.
By the end of 2014, diamond drill campaigns targeting the lower Phoenix orebody at depths of 800 m below surface began showing a change to the nature of the gold within the deposit. Coarse visible gold within 0.5–2 m thick quartz carbonate veins were being intersected with regularity showing the emergence of a different zone of gold mineralisation.
Data about the new and exciting discovery couldn’t be gathered fast enough, however, established systems and processes throughout the geology and processing departments were not developed to handle a coarse gold environment. Change would be commensurate with the size and scale of the discovery, and new learnings would need to be implemented quickly to keep in front of a mining schedule that was focused on producing tonnes due to the dropping grades of the sulfide ore.
Gold assays being returned were showing that the gold nature was different to those of other Victorian deposits. Comparative to the highly nuggety nature of gold found in other Victorian goldfields, the fine grained gold accumulations were dispersed in relatively consistent narrow linear trends grading consistently into the hundreds of grams per tonne. New drill intersections were being returned by the day and research to find developed orebodies that had published information into how to handle such a rapid change yielded few examples.
The challenge was to review and set new standards with regards to handling an orebody that transitioned the very nature of the gold being mined. This involved reviewing all steps in the estimation process including data capture and quality control and quality assurance through to mineral liberation through the mill. Difficulties also involved finding analogous orebodies that consisted of both free milling and refractory ores that were dealing with drill assays that were measured as percentages of gold.
Phillips, N, 2017. Fosterville gold mine – breaking the mould for Victorian gold, in Proceedings Tenth International Mining Geology Conference 2017, pp 393–400 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).