BY CRAIG GILBERT
Falconbridge Ltd.?s general manager of its Sudbury Mines and Mill Business Unit stood up before city council Thursday and told them the Levack-Onaping Mine will likely be closed before 2009.
However, Parviz Farsangi is optimistic projects like the smaller Nickel Rim and Fraser Morgan discoveries may yield new operations by that time.
The reality of deep mining, Farsangi said, is that no mine produces ore cheaper nor at a higher grade than when it started.
The deeper you go, logic dictates, the farther you have to come back up.
Other fixed costs include aging equipment that has to be replaced, standard wage increases and the rising Canadian dollar, as well as operational deficiencies that can be reduced increase the mine?s efficiency.
?It?s not that the workers are lazy,? Farsangi clarified, but it is inherent that operating mines don?t run at 100 per cent efficiency.
Farsangi did note the relatively good price of nickel the industry is enjoying right now.
It will take big thinking and smaller ore bodies like the two mentioned that will brighten the future of the company and its Sudbury operations, he said.
Those finds have nickel of relatively good grade, Farsangi said. Further, Falconbridge is spending close to 30 per cent of all its exploration dollars in the Sudbury area.
The decision to look for smaller ore bodies with good grades of nickel and other group metals came earlier this year.
Farsangi said a diamond drilling operation worth between $2 to $3 million dollars is going on right now to find the best place to a sink a shaft and begin tapping that Nickel Rim deposit.
?We need more Nickel Rims,? Farsangi said. Frankly, five or six, more specifically, would be nice.?
Smaller, open pit mining operations are cheaper, Farsangi said, and would take the pressure off the deep mining operations.
The big thinking will come in the form of breakthrough projects the company, its unions and staff must work together to develop, he said.
There are projects in the works right now that could revolutionize mining, he said.
?A lot of others in the industry want it to happen, and we will make it happen.?
A ?3M? coating for the walls of mine shafts, for example, two or three millimetres thick, could make the mines much stronger, cheaper and easier to maintain.
?This stuff is doing amazing things in the lab,? he said. The question, he said, will it hold up in the field?
The company is also looking at a silica gel backfill. Conventional backfill, Farsangi explained, requires water be added to flush it down to the frontier of the excavation work and pumped out once it gets there, which is very costly.
The silica gel, in theory, turns into a substance
Farsangi likened to toothpaste when water is added, flowing down to the backfill site and doing its thing without the costly step of pumping the water back out.