BASE METALS

Orion looks to accelerate Prieska options

Staged development and fast-tracked open pit considered for South African copper-zinc mine

Haydn Black
Prieska last operated in the 1990s

Prieska last operated in the 1990s

The company declared Prieska shovel-ready in 2019, and fundable in 2020, but funding discussions remain incomplete, so more recently it has been rethinking its updated bankable feasibility study for the fully permitted project to take advantage of high metal prices with lower barriers to entry.
 
Orion believes it may be able to develop the open pit operation concurrently with the 33-month development phase of the 200,000 tonne per month Prieska Deeps mine, rather than over 19 months at the end of the project life as envisaged in last year's BFS.
 
If all goes to plan, it will allow Orion to generate its first concentrate much more rapidly by recovering the 1.12 million tonnes of shallow supergene sulphide ore grading 1.9% copper and 2.4% zinc.
 
The open pit could support two years of production, with processing from month 19, more than a year earlier than originally planned.
 
A phased start-up development, rather than the full-scale, three-year BFS dewatering and underground development scenario, would allow a smaller-scale phase one to be commence before the end of the year, as part of planned pre-construction works.
 
The staged development would also allow dewatering to start earlier, using a cheaper, modular approach.
 
The company is also commencing drilled from the existing underground workings to upgrade the open pit resources and evaluate options for extracting remnant ore within the pillars left behind during Prieska's former operations in 1991.
 
The 3500m program will be the first for the pillars that were left in a grid pattern for geotechnical reasons, and not for grade or quality. 
 
Orion's assessment is that many can be removed and replaced by backfilling cemented tailings into historical voids for ground stability.
 
Estimating resources would allow them to be included in mine planning.
 
The studies are expected by mid-year and could pave the way for a final investment decision.
 
Managing director Errol Smart said the potential to bring forward even a reduced scale operation at Prieska would be a major breakthrough for the project given high prices for both copper and zinc, and the continued long-term positive outlook for the metals. 
 
Orion is nearing completion of an independent technical review of the project it believes will be a milestone in filling Prieska's debt and equity finance needs.
 
Orion shares, which have traded between 2.2c and 4.5c, were up 2% today to 2.6c, valuing it at $113 million.
 

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