Massive slip at Macraes Mine

BLAIR ENSOR AND WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 17:21 20/04/2014
Macraes mine
Wilma McCorkindale Zoom
WIDE VIEW: Large slip at the Oceania gold mine at Macraes, believed to have been triggered by an earthquake.
Macraes Goldmine
FROM THE AIR: Oceana Gold's gold mine at Macraes Flat, east Otago.

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New Zealand's largest gold mine has been shut down after a massive slip.

Fairfax Media understands a huge volume of rock slid 100 metres into the Macraes Mine, which is located about 100km north of Dunedin, yesterday.

Staff working at the open pit mine had to be helicoptered out because the slip cut off all road access.

No one was hurt.

A statement from Oceana Gold New Zealand this morning said a section of the mine's west wall failed following heavy rainfall.

The wall was being continuously monitored and there were no personnel working in the open pit at the time of the failure, the statement said.

Access to the underground mine was cut off by the slip but the underground mine itself was unaffected. All underground personnel were brought to the surface safely.

It was expected that there would be minimal impact to production in the short-term, the statement said. The processing plant continued to operate drawing on stockpiled ore.

Authorities had been advised and the company was working closely with them while the incident was investigated.

Only a few staff were on site last night.

A WorkSafe New Zealand spokesman said the agency had been made aware of the slip and a specialist mine inspector ''is heading out there'' today.

The top of the slip could be clearly seen from the road into the mine, a scar of grey rocks tumbling down the terraced mine site.

However, those wanting to get closer for a look were out of luck. The road into the mine was shut off by large steel gates. Several sightseers trying to get access to the viewing platform on the edge of the open cast area were turned away by security staff.

A 3.4 magnitude earthquake had been recorded 25km north-west of Palmerson by Geonet at 9.16am yesterday at a depth of 6km.

In the town of Palmerston, about 30 minutes from the mine, locals seemed largely unaware there had been an earthquake but the slip had tongues wagging.

One local, whose close relative worked at the mine but who didn't want to be named, believed some of the mine's explosives personnel had narrowly missed being crushed in the slip.

They had been in their club rooms at the site, which was apparently hit by slip debris, just minutes before the fall.

Jim and Beth Moffat, who spend their weekends running a bookshop in Palmerston, reckoned the slip may be a stroke of good fortune.

"The slip may well be full of gold," Moffat said.

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In January this year, more than 140 people employed at the mine were made redundant.

Union representatives said at the time that the Oceana Gold Corporation, which owns Macraes Mine, cut nearly 25 per cent of the mine work force in response to plummeting gold prices.

The job losses included direct employees and contracted staff.

A company production report released in January said that due to the continued low gold prices the mine life was "now the end of 2017".

In 2012, Oceana Gold was given a written warning after serious safety incidents occurred at the Macraes mine.

Extraction fans in the underground section of the mine stopped twice, on June 5 and July 16, potentially exposing miners to diesel fumes and dust buildups, and also compromising fire safety.

Miners were not evacuated for 50 minutes after the fans stopped when regulations require immediate evacuation if the fans are shut off for more than 30 minutes.

There were also two "high potential" incidents - in which someone could have been killed or seriously injured - at Macraes in 2011, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment reported.

On November 16, 2011, a truck rolled backwards down a slope in the mine before running up the side of the tunnel and almost tipping over.

On April 22, 2011, steering failed on an integrated tool carrier - a kind of lifting device - being used by miners, prompting a written warning to the company that maintenance checks should be done daily.

Among other incidents, a dump truck driver in the mine suffered a compression fracture of the spine after tipping the vehicle's rear section, and a worker fell from a bulldozer, breaking his leg.

The Macraes mine has been in operation since 1990 and has produced over 3 million ounces of gold, the company's website said.

- The Press

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