In the middle of the Andes Mountains, close to the border with Chile, at an altitude of almost 5,000 metres in the Department of Iglesia, some 350 km from the city of San Juan, works being carried out by the Barrick Gold mining company, in partnership with the Chinese firm Shandong Gold, are progressing at a steady pace.
In the inhospitable mountainous terrain, where the atmospheric pressure of oxygen is half of that at sea level, the Canadian firm is developing a new strategic investment in the country, with the aim of extending the useful life of the Veladero mine until at least 2030. The construction of Phase 6 of the Valle de Lixiviación ("Leaching Valley') is in progress, on a 45-hectare site.
The purpose of this mega project is to help the company to deposit 58.3 million tons of rock ore, which will allow the recovery of approximately 1.2 million ounces of gold and thus extract the so-called "rich solution," which is a mixture of gold and other elements.
This mega-ming project, which has an overall budget of US$145.5 million, created approximately 1,100 jobs (direct and indirect) and is expected to be ready by July 2020.
"We have been working on Phase 6 since August, and in April we started manufacturing the solution filters. My task is to supervise the work, which is quite complex because we have to maintain verticality and requires a lot of tomography to make it perfect, to the millimetre," engineering student Jesús Sirviente told Fortuna.
With the construction of the new power line, they expect that it will mean 20 percent less consumption and a reduction in the mine's carbon footprint.
In the leaching valley, raw materials are chemically dissolved to form metal-containing solutions. This desired element leaching process is done selectively, so that they can be separated from the rest of the undesired materials.
For this project, the Canadian company proposed that the tenders for most of the budgeted works be carried out by companies from San Juan Province. Also at the labour level it had an impact: 75 percent of the personnel working on this work is from the province.
Another strategic work is the construction of a new power line and the replacement of the current diesel fuel-based system for generating electricity throughout the premises (camp and plants).
There are currently 25 generators that consume 200 litters per hour (30 thousand per day approximately) of fuel, so they expect it will mean 20 percent less consumption and a reduction in the carbon footprint.
"We are looking to power Veladero and replace the current generation. Our future transformer station will be located in the closest space to Chile,” explained engineer Jorge Mira, in charge of the project in Pascua-Lama, to Fortuna. “In addition to various transformers, the company has installed 220 towers that average 45 metres in height.”
“With this we save 1,100 trucks of fuel per year, 60 thousand litres per day. With the [laying out of the] electrical system, an optical fibre will come," he concluded.
To complete the construction, 438 people were initially hired and it is currently at its peak with approximately 730 people. A total of US$37.6 million was invested and it is estimated that it will start operating in June 2020.
Finally, the construction of an airstrip was initiated. With an investment of US$ 6.6 million, it is located near the Zancarrón River, close to the Veladero area.
According to the company's communications to Fortuna, the objective is that the mining company's senior personnel can stay longer in the work area, and that in case of an accident, emergency situation or inclement weather blocking the road, the transfer will be faster.
At present, to reach the area one has to travel by truck for seven hours and travel more than 150 kilometres through the mountains.
For its construction, 80 people were hired. It is estimated that the work will be completed in April 2020 and will be more than 1,500 meters long.