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OK Tedi Mining Limited: Mining for Papua New Guinea’s Future

As a 100% Papua New Guinea-owned mining company, OK Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) is the longest-running copper, gold, and silver producer through its operation in the Star Mountains of the North Fly District in the Western Province. Holding a portfolio of several exploration leases, OTML is extensively involved in the community and development of Papua New Guinea which inputs a range of funding through Tax Credit Schemes and other infrastructure projects to develop the West Province region. Consequently, throughout the mining operation at the OK Tedi Mine, there is a keen focus on maximising the value of the region’s mineral resources for the benefit of the local community via responsible mining which delivers economic and social benefits to the people of Papua New Guinea.  

Mining in the Star Mountain region dates back to 1963 when copper mineralisation was first identified near the current OK Tedi mine site. However, it wasn’t until 1981 that OTML was incorporated as an entity from a resulting partnership between BHP, the Papua New Guinea Government, Amoco Corporation, and Inmet Mining Corporation. Mining operations under OTML commenced in 1984, first as a gold mine to exploit the gold-rich cap on the Mount Fubilan deposit in the Star Mountains. Then in 1987, it operated as a copper-gold mine for the bulk of the ore body. As of 2021, OTML was a fully owned PNG company following OMTL buying out Inmet Mining Corporation.  

By 2013, OMTL was fully state-owned with a 67% direct shareholding by the Independent State of PNG, with the people of the West Province holding the remaining 33% interest. Therefore, the mine operation is wholly owned by Papua New Guinea, which means that 100% of the benefits from its operations are distributed to the people of the Western Province and the State. Since its establishment in 1984, OTML has contributed on average 6.2% of Papua New Guinea’s annual Gross Domestic Product, due to the 5.17 megatons (Mt) of copper, 15.9 million ounces (Moz) of gold and 34.4 Moz of silver.  

Mining at the Ok Tedi Mine takes Mt. Fubilan Ore Reserves from the mine’s large open pit which operates using conventional drill and blast techniques to access the ores. The current pit design and pit sequencing have been expertly designed to maximise the value of the ore. After the ore is mined it is processed onsite through its onsite floatation processing plant which has the capacity to treat 2.4 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). At present, 60 thousand tonnes of ore are mined each day and delivered to the mill. Once the primary ore is mined, it is then crushed and ground using Semi-Autogenous Grinding and Ball mills to a final grain size of approximately 180 microns. Then, through a conventional flotation circuit, the finely ground material is treated to extract the copper, gold, and silver as a copper concentrate. Additionally, a portion of gold is separated using a gravity gold circuit.  

OTML has the Tailing Pyrite Plants (TPP) which is used to separate iron sulphides (pyrites) from the concentrator tailings. Once separated, the concentrates are then piped 156 kilometres south towards the Kiunga port facilities which are located on the Fly River. Here, the material is dried, stored, and shipped by barge down the Fly River to a storage vessel which is anchored in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour. As we can see, OTML’s operation is a complex but entirely robust system which works in step with the surrounding landscape to effectively move and separate the material to make the most of the ore resources for OTML, and then utilise the waterways to transport this material towards vessels where it can be prepared for markets.  

Furthermore, a key focus for OTML is its role in developing the local area and its operations to benefit the environment and surrounding community rather than be a considerable detriment to it. A crucial development for OTML is its OK Menga which is a hydroelectric run-off-river scheme which supplies about 75% of the project’s energy requirements with a maximum output of 57 megawatts (MW). Additionally, OTML has significant developments in Yuk Creek with the Tabubil Thermal Power station, which has a total combined installed capacity of 63MW which is used to supplement its hydroelectric power generation and meet the balance of power demand across the operation and for the surrounding region.  

OTML’s keen focus on the use of renewable energy highlights the company’s central commitment to a sustainable future to develop the future of Papa New Guinea. By developing its power output through these green sources, the company can lead the way toward a future that can both benefit from naturally occurring ore, whilst respecting and protecting the planet as much as possible. Furthermore, to ensure that the mine operations are benefitting the local communities of the mine complex, OTML has invested over 3 billion kinas into reducing the long-term impact on the river system including the removal of pyrite from tailings. In addition, OTML monitors limestone waste rock and participates in tailings to maintain the alkalinity of the river system and the dredging of sands from the riverbed downstream from the mine at Bige.   

OTML works to provide benefits for the local community through employment, education, health, local business, dividends, taxes and royalties, goods and services, tax credit scheme projects, training, capacity building, as well as economic and social development programs. OTML has developed a comprehensive community relations system which respects human rights and local cultures. The system includes comprehensive annual communication and information patrols to the 158 villages, as well as the timely resolution of complaints and grievances. Therefore, OTML remains committed to ensuring that whilst being the largest employer in the Western Province and one of the largest in the whole of Papua New Guinea through its operations prioritises excellence to maximise the value of mined minerals through responsible practices to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits to everyone involved.  

As OTML moves towards the future, a central development is the Townsville Prospect which is located roughly 4 kilometres north of the OK Tedi processing plant and is the most advanced exploration project for the company. The Townsville Prospect comprises a near-surface high-grade gold hydrothermal mineralisation and fault breccia’s grading up to 60g/t gold and deeper copper-gold calc-silicate skarns. The copper-gold mineralisation at Townsville extends laterally across 500m and vertically for roughly 600m. New geological models for the site have been developed as a result of the discovery of deeper copper, gold and silver skarn mineralisation through the recent drilling programs. Therefore, the continued development of mining resources in Papa New Guinea looks set to expand over the coming years even with just this prospect, which through OTML’s strict operations should bring continued economic and social development for the country for years to come.  

Ultimately, OTML plays a significant role in the mining industry, and an even bigger one in Papa New Guinea as it provides a considerable amount of employment and development opportunities for the local communities. As the company expands into further exploration areas such as the Townsville Prospect, OTML’s reputation continues to strengthen as a mine operator that not only wants to develop the local region but wants to respect the land from which it mines to make the most of the mined ore and does not result in excessive waste or damage.