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Big Bell expansion approved by Westgold board

Updated: May 2

Westgold Resources has received board approval to expand its Big Bell underground gold mine. Credit: File

Westgold Resources has extended the life of its Big Bell underground gold mine near the town of Cue in Western Australia to 16 years after the company’s board approved an expanded new model for the operation.

Management says the expanded mine will provide baseload feed for the Tuckabianna and Bluebird processing hubs, while its ore will be supplemented with high-grade product from the Bluebird and Great Fingall mines. The company expects to extract 15.7 million tonnes of ore from the upgraded mine for 1.5 million gold ounces, while grades are predicted to lift from 2.5 grams per tonne gold to 3g/t, with first ore set for the first half of the 2025 financial year.

The development of the underground mine will incorporate a new, long-hole open stoping operation below the existing sub-level cave (SLC). The base model for the operation outlines annual production of 93,000 ounces at an all-in sustaining cost (AISC) of $2388 per ounce, with a peak production rate of 134,000 ounces expected for the 2030 financial year.

Using a base case assumption gold price of $2900 per ounce, Westgold expects a payback within five years. However, using a spot price of about $3080 per ounce, the company expects positive cashflow in the first year of production.

Drilling conducted earlier this year was used to update the mineral resource at Big Bell by 55 per cent to 20.7 million tonnes at 3.04g/t gold for more than 2 million ounces.

Management says it has also identified further potential for resource expansion on the northern side of the SLC. Three drill rigs are currently active at Big Bell and the company expects to have results from the initial drill-testing of the zone available in coming months.

There are very few mines in the Australian gold sector that can boast a 16-year mine life. Big Bell has delivered nearly three million ounces of gold production to date and with this expansion now approved, the mine is set to ring true to its name. Westgold Resources managing director Wayne Bramwell

Big Bell is 25km west of Cue and 50km from the Tuckabianna processing hub. Mining at the site began in the early 1920s as an underground mine. The current open-pit void was excavated between April 1989 and 1993, with a portal cut in late 1993 by previous operators to provide underground access.

The modern underground mine started in 1994 and was closed in June 2003, with the sub-level caving operations rebooted by Westgold in mid-2016.

Late last month, management kicked off its installation of the decline into the historic Great Fingall mine. It has outlined production of 2.5 million tonnes of ore at about 5g/t gold for 383,000 ounces at an AISC cost of $1801 per ounce.

It is expected to deliver more than 45,000 gold ounces per year once it reaches a steady state of operation over an eight-year mine life, with an initial investment of $30 million spread over the next two financial years.

The company is also in the throes of a $25 million exploration program on the back of increasing its combined mineral resource by 311,000 ounces earlier this year.

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