West Africa remains an exciting region for SA-based explosives and blasting leader BME, which has recently won a full blasting service contract for a new open cast gold mining operation set to become the largest producer in Mali.
In the decade up to last year, 18 mines were opened in the region, compared to just four in South Africa. Reflecting this trend, gold production from West Africa overtook South Africa’s output more than five years ago.
According to Michael Klaasen, BME’s general manager of West African operations at BME, the company’s latest contract is with B2Gold Corp.’s Fekola Mine in the south-west of the country – scheduled to start commercial production in October this year. Located about 210km south of Kayes, Fekola is set to become B2Gold’s flagship operation out of its current stable of four operating mines around the world.
Based on the updated production plans, the Fekola Project is projected to produce an average of 375,000 to 400,000 ounces of gold per year for the first five years of production (2018 to 2022) and 365,000 to 390,000 ounces per year over the first seven years of production (2018 to 2024).
BME recently commissioned its F3 mobile emulsion manufacturing plant on the mine, with the capacity to produce 3,000 tonnes per month.
BME’s footprint of manufacturing plants has allowed it to transport emulsions the 150 km from its facility at another customer’s mine – where it has supplied blasting services for about ten years – to Fekola during pre-commercial production. The new on-site plant took over supplying Fekola soon after mid-year, and output levels will increase when the mine reaches steady state production.
“Ore blasting will be carried out using BME’s AXXIS electronic detonation system,” said Klaasen, “and we will be deploying four 20-tonne emulsion trucks and a stemming truck.”
While Mali is the busiest country for BME’s operations in the region, the company is also active in other countries. In Burkina Faso, it works in the gold, zinc and iron ore segments, and has also seen growing interest from stone and aggregate quarries – as a sign of improved levels of investment in infrastructure and road-building. Diamonds and iron ore are the focus in Sierra Leone. In Mauritania, it supplies a copper operation where reactive ground conditions are encountered, which call for the use of BME’s specialised emulsion HEF-RG. It also supplies a gold mine in Guinea.
BME is planning to grow its footprint into Cote d’Ivoire, where there is substantial mining interest as a result of the country encompassing a large part of the Birimian greenstone belt. Much has been achieved in developing infrastructure there recently, he said, and a number of mining players have been successfully applying for exploration, mining and related permits.
BME has eight remote manufacturing plants around West Africa to produce a range of emulsion explosives specially designed for specific opencast or underground applications. “We keep stock in magazines on site, bringing in additional raw materials in good time – which means four deliveries a year of Class 1 product – including AXXIS systems, Megamite, boosters and detonators – as well as emulsion raw materials,” said Klaasen.
It also required special security arrangements to get blast-related equipment and material to site from landing points, and border-crossings need to be considered as well.
With BME’s full service blasting offering, it measures the holes after drilling is completed by the mine or contractor, then primes, loads, stems and ties the blast – sometimes also conducting the blast itself unless the mine opts to employ their own blaster.
“We assist mines with the blast design, using our in-house BLASTMAP™ III software,” he said. “We also provide training on-site to the client’s blasting department in the use of BLASTMAP™ III, as well as any support they require on this front.”