Taseko copper project achieves production milestone

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The Florence in-situ copper project 65 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. Source: Taseko Mines Ltd.

Taseko Mines Ltd. [TKO-TSX; TGB-NYE American] on Friday April 12 announced the first copper production from its 100%-owned Florence Project in Arizona. Florence is an in-situ copper recovery project, located midway between Phoenix and Tucson, near the community of Florence.

The facility is expected to produce an average of 85 million pounds of copper annually for 20 years at an average operating cost of US$1.10 a pound.

In September 2017, with all permits in place, the company made the decision to proceed with construction of the Florence Copper Phase 1 in-situ copper recovery facility.  Probable reserves at the site stand at 345 million tonnes, grading 0.36% copper.

The Phase 1 facility, which includes 24 injection, recovery and monitoring wells and an SX/EW plant, was completed in the third quarter of 2018.  In December 2018, wellfield operations were commenced and injection and recovery systems fully ramped up.

On Friday, the company said the production test facility is fully operational, from the wellfield to the SX-EW plant and producing copper. Over the past three months, approximately 1.5 million tonnes of copper ore has been contacted underground with leach solution.

Taseko shares advanced on the news, rising 5.19% or $0.04 to 81 cents. The shares trade in a 52-week range of 60 cents and $1.80.

The company said copper concentrations in the solution has recently risen to levels which have allowed the SX/EW to begin operation and produce copper.

As reported in Taseko’s 2017 technical report, the initial leaching period has taken approximately three months and all results are in line with the company’s expectations.

With the entire test wellfield and SX/EW plant now operating as a continuous unit, TKO plans to use the coming months to refine operational parameters, which will help with the ramp up of the commercial plant.

Meanwhile, Taseko aims to have a financing package in place to enable it to start construction of the commercial facility in the new 12 months.

Taseko’s flagship asset is its 75%-owned Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine near Williams Lake in south-central British Columbia. It ranks as the second largest open pit copper mine in Canada and the largest employer in the Cariboo region.

Gibraltar is expected to produce approximately 130 million pounds (plus or minus 5%) on a 100% basis in 2019. That is comparable to levels achieved in 2018.

Copper price volatility made the sector a challenging environment for many aspects of Taseko’s business in 2018, the company has said. In 2018, the price of copper fluctuated between US$3.25 and US$2.60 a pound.

“Even though we expect higher copper pricing in 2019, we have made a number of mine plan adjustments and spending curtailments to address the current weaker pricing environment,” Taseko President and CEO Russell Hallbauer said recently.

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