Australian gold producer Newcrest Mining has opened the country’s largest underground operation.

Cadia East gold mine is part of Newcrest’s Cadia Valley Operations near Orange, central-western New South Wales.

Cadia East has been developed as a large underground panel cave gold mine and is the first of its type in the country, claims the company.

Newcrest managing director and CEO Greg Robinson said the official opening was a credit to Newcrest’s dedicated and skilled people.

"Cadia East is a large, long-life asset and a cornerstone of our company’s strategy. It is one of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world, with 2.8 billion tonnes of ore estimated to contain 37 million ounces (Moz) of gold and 7.5 million tonnes (Mt) of copper," Robinson said.

The construction of the Cadia East project was divided into two phases, Cadia East Panel Cave one and Panel Cave two.

Newcrest has already spent around $2bn on the development of Panel Cave one, its related infrastructure and the expansion of Cadia’s processing plant from 24Mt to 26Mt a year.

"Through extensive planning and teamwork, we have built a highly efficient, low-cost mine more than 1.2km under the surface."

The company began construction on the $340m to $380m Panel Cave two following the recent commissioning of its underground west crusher. Commercial production at Panel Cave two is expected to begin in 2015.

Cadia East has already produced more than 230,000oz of gold and 15,000t of copper at the end of March this year, as Newcrest expects the overall Cadia Valley Operation’s production to reach 700,000oz of gold in 2016, and even higher in 2017.

When the mine reaches full operational capacity, it will be the largest metalliferous underground mine in the country and one of the largest in the world, claims the company.

The entire project is expected to boost the local economy, provide around 1,900 direct and direct jobs, create $1bn in direct and indirect regional output, generate $550m in direct and indirect regional value-add and yield more than $160m in annual household income.

Robinson said that, with an approved mine life of 21 years, Cadia East will deliver significant economic benefits to the local community, the workforce and suppliers, local, state and federal governments, and of course Newcrest’s shareholders for the long-term.

"Through extensive planning and teamwork, we have built a highly efficient, low-cost mine more than 1.2km under the surface. We have continued to utilise the latest technology and challenged ourselves to improve bulk underground mining methods along the way," Robinson added.

Image: A bogger draws ore from a drawpoint on the Cadia East Panel Cave one extraction level. Photo: courtesy of Newcrest Mining Limited.