Murray & Roberts Cementation has been selected by De Beers as the preferred contractor to undertake the development of an underground mining operation at Venetia Diamond Mine. This project is in a feasibility stage and will be considered by the De Beers Board in 2012.

Based near Musina in Limpopo Province, Venetia is South Africa’s biggest diamond mine representing about 40% of the country’s diamond output. Should the project be approved Venetia Mine, it is expected to be in production beyond 2045. Although it has always been a conventional opencast operation, the mine is now approaching the time at which the decision has to be made as to whether it will be mined more effectively as an underground mine than as an opencast mine.

De Beers is in the process of an advanced feasibility study to phase in the new underground mine, nominating Murray & Roberts Cementation as the preferred contractor. The feasibility study is being conducted by a De Beers team, together with their consultants TWP and Quoin and assisted by Murray & Roberts Cementation.

The study is expected to be completed early in 2012, and will go through a financial modelling process before being submitted to the Shareholder Boards in mid-2012. The project will only proceed if granted final approval by the Shareholders.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is poised to completely abandon the traditional South African approach to shaft sinking in favour of a Canadian model that undertakes all activities in the sinking cycle in-line — with no two jobs taking place simultaneously.

“Based on this bold new approach, we believe we were nominated as the preferred contractor for Venetia,” Allan Widlake, Murray & Roberts Cementation’s business development executive, says. “If the underground project is given the green light, this mine could become the first to benefit from our progressive new methodology.

“The primary driver in the transition to this methodology is safety — given impetus by all stakeholders in the mining sector to achieve ‘Zero Harm’ in safety terms. Companies, the unions, the Department of Mineral Resources and mining consultants alike seek ways to improve safety during shaft sinking and to restrict the use of certain equipment that may have contributed to safety incidents in the past.”

Widlake believes this practice will bring about the same safety statistics currently being recorded by Murray & Roberts Cementation’s sister companies in Canada and the USA — a full shaft completed without one Lost Time Injury. This ‘Zero Harm’ performance is attributable both to technology and to a higher skills-set among the personnel involved.