Progressing towards Per Geijer
400 metres. To date, exploration drifting from the Kiruna mine towards the Per Geijer deposit has progressed that far. Eachblast brings the drift about 4.52 metres closer to the future.
“It´s going very well. A very dedicated group of people is helping to do this in the best way possible,” says Jim Lidström, production manager for the development section in the Kiruna mine.
The Per Geijer deposit has high phosphorus content. Phosphorus is one of three nutrients in mineral fertiliser and is essential for world food production. This is one of several reasons why LKAB will explore the deposit in greater detail.
“We’re driving about 100 metres per month of a total of 8,000 metres,” explains Jim Lidström.
Exploration drifting in the direction of Per Geijer starts at the 910 m level in the Kiruna mine and will take considerable time to complete. About eight years is the current estimate.
“Flexibility and the capacity to help out and make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible; that’s why it’s going so well. This group sees the possibilities, they lend a hand and help one another,” says Jim Lidström.
Dan Pop, rock technician and one of ten people working on the drifting project, concurs, commenting on the level of commitment,
“As soon as task is completed, the next crew is right there and ready to take over. For example, if we tell the chargers that we’ll be ready at 5 p.m., they’ll be on site 15 minutes ahead of time.”
And, to drive the exploration drift, in addition to the ten co-workers in the development section, close collaboration with other functions in the mine is essential. This involves everything from explosives charging to media, i.e., water supply and ventilation. Quite simply, a lot of elements must fit together and be precisely timed – every blasting cycle and every day – before the detonator button can be pressed and the project is taken a few more metres towards the future.
“For this to work, good communication is crucial,” adds Jim Lidström.
With a single European phosphorus producer, Per Geijer could be the key to greater self-sufficiency for Europe. In addition, LKAB can already present mineral resources of rare earth metals amounting to nearly one million tonnes. This makes Per Geijer the largest known deposit of its kind in Europe.
“Per Geijer could play a decisive role for meeting Sweden and Europe’s demand for phosphorus and rare earth metals, as well as securing operations in Kiruna beyond 2060,” says Magnus Backe, area Manager at LKAB in Kiruna, continuing,
“It is very important that we explore the deposit more closely to determine the potential for production. But we are definitely not there yet. One of the key issues we have to address is that we must be able to run a possible mining operation with as little impact as possible. Reindeer herding takes place in the area, and possible land impact resulting from the mining of Per Geijer gives rise to challenges associated with national interests. We must show great respect for that and our ambition is to be able to coexist. That is a central issue for the future,” says Magnus Backe.
LKAB holds an exploration permit for the deposit, which means that LKAB has an opportunity to survey the properties of the orebody. This is always done initially to determine, among other things, how the orebody lies, its conditions and extent, and whether it is mineable.
There is no mistaking the dedication shown by the group driving the exploration drift. Much of the work has to do with continuous improvement.
“We haven’t stood still for more than one day – and that was a planned stop,” explains Jim Lidström.
For example, every blasting round is evaluated, so as to improve drilling plans, and minor repairs on rigs are done on site.
“I’ve worked here for 15 years and I still think tunnelling work is fun,” says Jim Lidström.
The initial blast towards Per Geijer was fired on Thursday, October 27th. Since then, drifting has advanced more than 400 metres. The 6 x 6-metre tunnel will pave the way for continued, largely ‘invisible’, exploration.
“Exploration drilling in the deposit will start from a depth of about 700 metres from surface level. Data from these efforts will be decisive puzzle pieces for the ongoing project,” says Magnus Backe, adding, “At present, we are far from developing a mine. First and foremost, we must establish the right conditions to be able to increase our knowledge of the deposit”.
Text and photo: Josefine Ejemalm
Facts in brief:
- Exploration drifting towards the Per Geijer deposit starts at the 910 m level in the Kiruna mine.
- An approximately eight-kilometre-long exploration drift has progressed about 400 metres so far.
- Exploration drilling will start from a depth of about 700 metres in the Per Geijer deposit.
- No mining will take place; instead, drifting and exploration drilling will take place.
- Exploration drilling will be done, for among other reasons, to test the content of iron, phosphorus and rare earth elements in the ore.