The Bawdwin mine was discovered 600 years ago. Located in Myanmar, 150km from the Chinese border, the site was originally used by Chinese miners and then British. Prior to his presidency in the US, Herbert Hoover reengineered and refinanced the entire operation, which led to the mine becoming the greatest producer of lead and silver in the world during the 1920s and 1930s. “This is the mine that made Herbert Hoover his fortune, which allowed him later in life to go about his humanitarian pursuits, that ultimately led him to become the President of the United States. It is a great piece of history attached to our mine” says John Lamb, Chairman and CEO of Perth-based mining company Myanmar Metals Limited.
The mine continued operations until World War II, when the mill was destroyed. “The site was nationalised during the 1940s and the level of production fell to a fraction of its former self. The mine has had a subsistent existence since, until one of our shareholders, Mark Creasy, recommended it to us,” continues Lamb. As the company intends to become a major regional producer in Asia, the mine seemed like the perfect project. “We think there is good value in Myanmar and in this mine. The nation is completely under-explored, in our opinion – the opportunities there are enormous. This mine, therefore, fits perfectly into our strategy.” The CEO reveals that, for Myanmar Metals, this project is hugely significant: “At this point we’re a one asset company – we had some other tenements in Australia and those really paled in significance compared to this opportunity, so we have focused our efforts on Bawdwin. This asset will be the making of Myanmar Metals.”
Lamb reveals that the company and its two local partners – collectively, the Bawdwin Joint Venture - are yet to put a figure on the Bawdwin Mineral Province’s full potential, as the large site is around 38 sq km and relatively unexplored. The mine will produce lead, silver, zinc, copper, nickel and cobalt – with silver and lead being “very important in the renewable energy market, for generating and storing solar energy”. The Bawdwin Joint Venture, together with Titeline Drilling and geological support provider Valentis, has identified seven high priority exploration targets which all have similar geophysical signatures to the historical mines on the site, and has declared at least 94mn tonnes of resources within the historical workings to-date.
“The value of our Joint Venture partners cannot be understated”, Lamb says. “While we are the market-facing partner and we bring considerable mining expertise, our partners are both sophisticated and highly capable local operators, each with a large workforce. They are major economic participants within Myanmar, and we gain credibility from their good reputation, while their local operating skill fills a big gap in our knowledge”.
Myanmar Metals and its partners anticipate decades of production from the site, which could have a huge effect on the local community. “Like any major mineral asset located in an otherwise impoverished area, this has the ability to completely transform the local region. Agriculture is the largest source of employment in the area, and facilities are modest,” notes Lamb. “The mine can provide employment, as well as developing local businesses to supply all manyer of products and services such as food for the workers, cleaning services and high-vis clothing. I am sure the effects on the local community will be profound. We’re already seeing that with the arrival of two doctors (the first to work in the Bawdwin village for decades) and development of a new local clinic with an ambulance and emergency capability.
As well as it’s prioritisation of the local community’s benefit from the project, Myanmar Metals is also ensuring environmental impact is limited. The Joint Venture is currently conducting a year-long environmental and social impact assessment as part of its corporate social responsibility strategy. “We’ve got Coffey-Valentis leading the assessment for us. It includes all manner of metal testing, baseline measurements, water quality and soil quality sampling,” says Lamb. Following feasibility work, which will finish at the end of this year, a foreign investment permit is expected to be in place by March next year. This can lead to construction commencing by mid-2020, with production set to launch in late 2021. The company and its partners anticipate pilot scale production that could commence as early as 2019 to be around 200,000 tonnes of ore per annum, with full scale production set to reach 2mn tonnes when the new mine and mill are commissioned in 2021.
“The study also requires an enormous amount of consultation – to determine the background attitudes towards mining, which we’re finding are favourable, and to allow people to have a say in what they want to get out of the mines in terms of business development opportunities. Our plan is to bring the latest Australian approach to environmental care, safety and community relations,” adds Lamb. The company has built a strong relationship with the Myanmar government, which controls mining leases and assets.
“It is our intention to make Bawdwin the flagship project in a renewed Myanmar minerals sector: the example for other aspiring foreign companies that shows how a Joint Venture with local partners could be structured for success, and sets the expectation of international good practice in environmental, safety, technical and community relations management” he said. Myanmar Metals and its partners deal with the state authorities through a consultation process, as well as organising visits to the mine for government workers.
Due to the age of the mine, and the fact it hasn’t been operated at a commercial scale since World War II, new technology will need to be introduced to bring the project up to date. “One thing that’s different about Bawdwin is that we’ll be mining a modern open cut mine, which means we’ll utilise modern mining practices as we mine our way down through a historical underground. We'll be employing technologies, such as ground-penetrating radar that looks into the ground to find old voids. Advances such as modern trucks and excavators, modern drilling and blasting technology, and the latest geological modelling – which is supplied by CSA Global – and real-time tracking of ore and concentrate will also be used,” Lamb reveals.
According to Lamb, the local community surrounding the mine are very connected: “The mine is in an interesting location in the country, as it is set in rural Shan State where - surprisingly - you’ll find people connecting to social media because the 4G network works everywhere. The locals have connection with the world, they have an awareness and you need to make use of that resource – it’s at your peril if you don't.”
As operations on the mine continue to develop, Myanmar Metals will ensure its relationship with the community evolves, strengthens and offers benefits to both the locals and the business.