The Christmas Creek deposit is located 40km east of the Cloudbreak deposit. Image: courtesy of Geez-oz via Wikipedia.
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The operations at Christmas Creek are combined with activities at Cloudbreak. Image courtesy of Fortescue Metals Group.

The Christmas Creek iron ore mine is operated by the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), Australia’s third-largest iron ore producer. The mine is part of FMG’s integrated mining operations, which include, an established FMG mine.

Operations at Christmas Creek are combined with activities at Cloudbreak. Both deposits are located 110km north of Newman, in Western Australia’s east Pilbara region and extend between 250km and 325km south-east of Port Hedland.

Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak iron ore mines

Christmas Creek is 40km east of Cloudbreak. Ore from Christmas Creek is transported to Cloudbreak’s ore processing facility, where it is blended with Cloudbreak’s output. Christmas Creek ore is transported to Cloudbreak via a road train.

Christmas Creek is significantly larger than Cloudbreak. The mine’s first overburden blast was completed in February 2009 and production began in May 2009. Both mines are operated by FMG. To boost integrated mining operations, Fortescue approved a two-phased A360m ($330m) expansion programme in October 2009 for the Christmas Creek mine.

The phase one expansion began in November 2009 and came online in April 2011. It increased the company’s combined annual production capacity from 35Mtpa to 55Mtpa by June 2011.

The Christmas Creek mine started to produce about 23Mtpa of ore post-expansion. By December 2009, mining at Christmas Creek increased by 33%. Approximately 657,632t of ore was mined, surpassing its design capacity of 500,000t a month.

In November 2010, FMG approved an $8.4bn expansion programme to increase the capacity of its Pilbara iron-ore operations to 155Mtpa by 2014. The programme also includes an additional investment of $1.3bn in the second phase expansion of the Chichester hub, comprising of the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mines.

Phase two expansion of the Christmas Creek mine was completed in September 2012. The new expansion increased capacity to 115Mtpa and came online in December 2012.

The current combined annual production capacity of Cloudbreak and Christmas Creek mines is approximately 100Mtpa from three ore processing facilities (OPFs).

Fortescue Metals Group’s (FMG) Christmas Creek mine expansion

Phase one expansion involved the construction of a 50km railroad from Cloudbreak to Christmas Creek mine. The railroad is an extension of an existing 260km rail line which connects Cloudbreak to Port Hedland. A set of five new trains make a round trip between the mine and port to transport 55Mtpa of ore.
The line carries ore along a 1,435mm gauge heavy haul railway. The mine is also connected to Port Hedland via a 2.4km airstrip and has road access to the Great Northern Highway.

The expansion also included the construction of a 20Mtpa ore processing plant at Christmas Creek, which was completed in March 2011. It allows both mines to operate concurrently and makes FMG one of the leading iron ore producers in Australia. In the last quarter of 2009, an upgrade of the existing Christmas Creek camp began with the units reaching the site by December 2009.

The upgrade increased the room capacity within the camp to 800 rooms. The room capacity at Karntarma operations village was increased from 800 to 1,600 in January 2012, to accommodate the Christmas Creek mine workers.

Design of a train loadout system began during the last quarter of 2009. The system includes a stockyard, which feeds a stacker and a reclaimer to a 16,000tph ore car loading facility.

The contract for the earthworks for the railroad and the ore processing facility site was awarded to NRW Holdings.

The phase two expansion also included the construction of a second ore processing facility, as well as a remote crushing hub, a new airstrip, a 6.3km overland conveyor system, expansion of the power station and construction of access roads.

Construction of road works, accommodation and bulk earthworks began in June 2011. The mining contract for the second phase of expansion was completed by September 2012.

Geology and reserves of the Christmas Creek deposit in Western Australia

Christmas Creek is composed of flat-lying ore deposits. They include iron, silica, aluminium and phosphorous minerals.

The reserve base at Christmas Creek is much larger than the deposit at Cloudbreak.

The current total reserve of Christmas Creek is estimated to be 843Mt, with proven reserves of 315Mt. The reserve base at Cloudbreak is 560Mt including proven reserves of 266Mt.

The Cloudbreak and Christmas Creek deposits comprise 1,404Mt at an average Fe grade of 57.1%, a net improvement of 86Mt due to the re-optimisation of pit designs and additional infill drilling.

Mining and processing at the East Pilbara-based mine

Christmas Creek is mined using methods adopted in open-pit mines, which are similar to those used at Cloudbreak.

New pits are opened progressively after backfilling old ones through strip mining. Instead of the traditional techniques of drilling, blasting and excavating, the Cloudbreak deposit was mined using about 2,500 Wirtgen surface miners. Each miner weighed 100t and had 1,000HP.

At Cloudbreak ore is supplied to the processing plant via overland conveyors. The conveyor system covers the entire strike length of the Cloudbreak and Christmas Creek deposits.

The Cloudbreak uses relocatable conveyors which, once an area is mined, can be transferred, lengthened, or shortened. The conveyors currently span 10km, extended because of the effectiveness and reliability of this revolutionary infrastructure from the original 5km length.

The processing plant at Cloudbreak crushes and screens high-grade ore to produce both lump and fine products.

Infrastructure at Christmas Creek

The Christmas Creek OPF infrastructure is now being upgraded to have a wet high-intensity magnetic separator (WHIMS) plant to further increase output rates and boost the performance of the ore. The construction of WHIMS will be completed by the end of 2020.

Contracts awarded for operations at Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak

Downer EDI was awarded a six-year mining services contract valued at A$3bn ($2.73bn) in August 2010. Truck fleet services are provided by the Gulf Group. Design, engineering and installation of the temporary camp, site connections and commissioning were carried out by Decmil Australia under a $36m contract.

Sitech installed GPS guidance system in mining machines and provided site office software and other associated communication infrastructure.

In April 2011, FMG appointed TETRA and Sepura to install a new communication system to be used during phase II expansion works. The system features TETRA’s DAMM infrastructure along with Sepura’s handheld and mobile terminals.

FMG signed an engineering and procurement contract with the China Gezhouba Group for phase II expansion of the mine. In May 2011, Easternwell was contracted for the supply of a drilling rig for the drilling work at the mine.
In July 2011, Mineral Resources was awarded a $1bn contract to design, construct and run the second ore-processing facility and other related infrastructure at the Christmas Creek mine. Crushing Services International (CSI), a subsidiary of Mineral Resources, is the prime contractor for the construction works.

Contractual work encompasses the construction of 25Mtpa crushing and processing circuit, a 7km overland feed conveyor, a scrubbing and wet screening circuit and a jigging circuit.

UEA Civil & Mining was contracted in August 2011 to design, supply and integrate three additional surface mining machines at Christmas Creek.

PLWA Group and its joint venture partner ToxFree Solutions were awarded a three-year multimillion-dollar contract by FMG in February 2012 to design, maintain and operate a waste and recycling transfer station at the Christmas Creek mine. The contractual scope also included operation and maintenance of landfill at the Cloudbreak mine.

Financing FMG’s Christmas Creek iron ore mine project

The expansion was financed by FMG. The project was originally going to be funded by Chinese investors. However, after an agreement to borrow approximately $6bn from the investors was delayed, the company decided to use its own funds.

The second phase of expansion was jointly funded by FMG and Mineral Resources.

Macmahon Holdings was awarded a $1.8bn contract for the expansion of the Christmas Creek Mine in January 2013. The contract includes the procurement of drill and blast, overburden removal, ore harvesting and maintenance services at the mine for five years.