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Optimising Open Pit Design With Simulated Orebodies and Whittle Four-X — A Maximum Upside/Minimum Downside Approach

R Dimitrakopoulos 1, 2 , L Martinez 3 and S Ramazan 4

ABSTRACT

The management of cash flows and risk during production is a critical part of a surface mining venture as well as an integral part of a strategy in developing new and existing operating mines. Orebody uncertainty is a critical factor in strategic mine planning, the optimisation of mine designs and long-term sequencing. Traditional optimisation approaches are not developed to account for in situ grade variability as well as effectively deal with, incorporate and take advantage of geological risk. This paper presents a new approach to mine design based on risk quantification and alternative strategic decision-making criteria. This new approach deals with quantified geological and grade uncertainty in the context of optimal pit design, where designs and long-term production schedules are optimised under uncertainty. The method is founded on the definition of two components. The first component includes the key project performance indicators to be considered, such as the minimum annual ore production, amount of metal produced in given mining periods or discounted cash flows over the life of a mine. The second component includes the decision-making criteria, such as a minimum acceptable project NPV, the minimum acceptable risk in meeting given production targets, and the minimisation of cash flow risk in the short-term, while maximising the potential for profits in the future. An application at an open pit epithermal gold mine presents in a step-by-step fashion the optimisation of its mine design and sequencing under conditions of geological uncertainty.

INTRODUCTION

Open pit mine design and long-term sequencing is an intricate and critically important part of mining ventures. It provides the technical plan to be followed from mine development to mine closure having a profound effect on the economic value of the mine. Mathematical methods provide analytical tools used for optimising open pit mine designs. The most established and frequently used approach is based on the Lerchs-Grossmann three-dimensional graph theory (Lerchs and Grossmann, 1965). This theory is implemented in the Whittle Four-X software as the nested Lerchs-Grossmann algorithm (Whittle, 1988, 1999) and remains an efficient and expandable pit optimisation method (Muir, 2005). Despite the routine utilisation of mathematical optimisation in mining practice, traditional open pit optimisation is affected by uncertainty in the key input parameters leading to suboptimal net present value (NPV) solutions and deviations from production plans. A critical source of technical risk is geological, including the expected ore grade and tonnes within a given design layout. The importance of geological risk to pit design and mine planning is well acknowledged in the technical literature. For example, Baker and Giacomo (1998) show that out of

1. W H Bryan Mining Geology Research Centre, The University of Queensland, Brisbane Qld 4072.

2. Currently: Department of Mining, Metals and Materials Engineering, McGill University, Montreal PQ, H3A 2A7, Canada. Email: roussos.dimitrakopoulos@mcgill.ca

3. School of Economics and Finance – Faculty of Business, Queensland University of Technology, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane Qld 4001. Email: l.martinez@student.qut.edu.au

4. Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM), Kalgoorlie WA 6430.

48

mining projects in Australasia, nine realised reserves less than

20

per cent of the originally expected, and 13 over 20 per cent

more reserves than forecasted. For Canada and the USA, Vallee (2000) refers to a World Bank survey by Buetel Goodman & Co (1990) showing that 73 per cent of mining projects failed due to problems in their ore reserve estimates, and led to a loss of $US1106 million in capital investment. A study by Dimitrakopoulos, Farrelly and Godoy (2002) tests the performance and limitations of a traditional optimisation approach through the resulting predicted project NPV using an estimated orebody model and its application in Whittle Four-D. Conditionally simulated orebody representations were used to assess grade uncertainty within the pit limits producing results that highlighted a substantial risk associated with the traditional design. This risk assessment indicated a five per cent probability of the traditional design to realise its predicted NPV equating to a value that is 50 per cent less than what the simulated approach provides. In addition, this example shows substantial negative differences in expected quarterly discounted cash flows (DCFs) and a shorter life of mine, considering grade uncertainty within the ultimate pit. This study demonstrates the limitations of traditional technologies, which combine estimated smooth orebody models with complex, non-linear pit optimisation algorithms that assume certainty in their inputs. Assessing grade risk suggests that there is a probability that a given design may perform better than forecasted; thus, there is an upside potential associated with the orebody considered, similarly to a downside risk where forecasts are not materialised. Seeking mine designs and long-term extraction sequences that have the possibility of capturing the upside potential of the deposit and at the same time minimise any possible downside risk is desirable and now possible. Figure 1 elucidates the concept of ‘maximum upside/minimum downside’ mine designs based on grade risk. It shows the distribution of DCFs for a pit design that can be generated from simulated orebody models and used to assess the mine design and production sequence. With a defined point of reference such as the minimum acceptable return (MAR) on investment, the distribution that minimises risk or downside and maximises reward or upside leads to selecting a preferred design. Note that in general the MAR is different than the average or median of a distribution. This paper presents a new approach to developing open pit mine designs that capture the upside potential of the deposit whilst minimising downside risk for key project performance indicators, such as periodical DCFs and amount of ore tonnes and metal production. The methodology employs conditionally simulated orebody models to quantify grade risk and Whittle Four-X with the Milawa NPV scheduler option (Whittle, 1988). The approach complements other advancements moving towards developing optimisation under uncertainty as presented in this volume (eg Godoy and Dimitrakopoulos, 2005; Froyland et al, 2005; Grieco and Dimitrakopoulos, 2005; Menabde et al, 2005; Ramazan and Dimitrakopoulos, 2005). In the following sections, the approach for maximum upside/minimum downside proposed herein is first detailed and followed by an application at a typical low-grade open pit gold mine. Subsequently, the effect of the gold price on preferred designs is assessed and conclusions follow.

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Uncertainty in DCF Risk Reward MAR Average
Uncertainty in DCF
Risk
Reward
MAR
Average

MAR: Minimum Acceptable Return

FIG 1 - Uncertainty in a distribution of a key project performance indicator (DCF), reward or upside potential and downside risk with respect to a point of reference such as minimum acceptable return (MAR).

QUANTIFIED RISK AND AN UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE APPROACH TO OPTIMISATION

The maximum upside/minimum downside approach to open pit optimisation suggested here is based on the quantification of geological uncertainty through the generation of a series of equally probable representations of the orebody. Conditional simulation (eg Benndorf and Dimitrakopoulos, 2005) may be seen as a family of techniques that allow the generation of these orebody representations, all reproducing the in situ variability, the available conditioning data and information, the data histogram, and spatial continuity of the orebody. The steps taken by the upside/downside approach are as follows:

1. Conditionally simulate several orebody models using the available data.

2. Implement Whittle Four-X with the Milawa NPV scheduler option to design a pit for each simulated orebody model; each design maximises the discounted net value to be generated from the mine, within operational constraints such as slope angle, mill plant capacity and total mining capacity of available equipment.

3. With the pit limits and sequence of extraction including annual production generated, quantify grade risk in each pit design for the selected key project performance indicators, such as total project NPV, periodical amount of ore material to feed the mill, metal production and cashflows. Risk analysis is performed similarly to Dimitrakopoulos, Farrelly and Godoy (2002). For a given schedule, a set of DCFs is calculated using each of the simulated orebody models for the material in each cut-back or year of production. Similarly to cashflows, distributions can be generated for any other indicator including ore tonnage and metal quantity considering mill capacity and market demand providing the reference levels needed.

4. Discard pit designs that may not meet the key project performance indicators deemed necessary, for example the tonnes of ore that is required at the mill, or cash flows to be met in a given production period and so on.

5. Using the distribution of possible values for any project indicator as found in step three, calculate the upside potential and downside risk for selected project indicators with the remaining designs using a point of reference (eg minimum acceptable return on investment, mill demand, market specifications). Select the designs that meet the preset decision making criteria. A comparison of two designs for a given orebody is shown graphically in Figure 2. Given a value of a project’s MAR, the expected DCF above this value provides an assessment of the upside potential whilst the same measure below the MAR is considered the design’s downside risk indicator. Different criteria and key project performance indicators lead to selecting a desirable pit design. The discussion on the effect of metal prices on the pit design process above is deferred until a later section.

The approach outlined above provides a process that leads to the selection of a single pit design that captures the upside potential of the orebody and minimises the potential downside risk, given the available data and information integrated into the simulation process. A case study presented next illustrates the practical aspects of the approach.

Upside MAR Downside Pit design 1 2 DCF ($)
Upside
MAR
Downside
Pit design
1
2
DCF ($)

FIG 2 - Upside potential and downside risk for two pit designs for the same orebody.

APPLICATION AT AN EPITHERMAL GOLD DEPOSIT

A typical Australian disseminated low-grade epithermal quartz breccia gold deposit occurring in volcanic rocks and sediments is used to illustrate the approach for the pit optimisation procedure outlined above. The mine produces free milling and refractory ores delivered to a CIL processing plant, with a floatation circuit added for the refractory ore. General information on the deposit and resource as well as the details pertaining to the simulated orebody models are available from previous studies (Farrelly, 2002). Figure 3 shows an east-west section of the orebody with closely located drillholes and their three-metre composite grades. This same cross-section will be shown in figures through out the study. The first priority of this mine is to meet mill ore demand, particularly during the first year and is deemed in the present case a higher priority than the economic performance of the operation over the life-of-mine. Optimisation and the development of a mine design for each of the simulated orebody models are generated in all cases using the parameters given in Table 1. In the example presented here, 13 simulated orebody models are used and are sufficient to illustrate the practical aspects of the suggested approach. After designing the ultimate pit limits and generating the corresponding pit shells for each of the 13 simulated orebody models, the mill’s demand for one million tonnes of ore per year

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OPTIMISING OPEN PIT DESIGN WITH SIMULATED OREBODIES AND WHITTLE FOUR-X

OPEN PIT DESIGN WITH SIMULATED OREBODIES AND WHITTLE FOUR-X F IG 3 - Cross-section showing geology

FIG 3 - Cross-section showing geology and closest drillholes from the epithermal gold deposit considered in this study.

TABLE 1

Technical and economic parameters considered for developing mine designs for the gold deposit under study.

Description of technical and economical parameters

Values

Pit slope

54°

Mining cost

$1.0 per tonne

Processing cost for oxide ore

$8.195 per tonne

Processing cost for fresh ore

$16.86 per tonne

Mill recovery for oxide ore

90%

Mill recovery for fresh ore

84%

Discounted rate

8% per year

Gold price

600Au$/oz

is considered and three cut-backs are generated as an approximate annual schedule using the Milawa-NPV option of the Whittle Four-X software. Figure 4 shows cross-sectional views of the 13 designs generated indicating differences in terms of location of cut-backs to be mined periodically and the ultimate pit limits between the designs. Differences in the schedules often result in significant variations in expected cash flow returns. It is appropriate to note some aspects of the designs generated above. Firstly, an optimal design based on a given simulated orebody model is not, in general, optimal for other conditionally simulated orebody models. Secondly, although the simulated orebody models are equally probable, the corresponding designs are not; there is no reason, for example, why there cannot be less designs than simulated orebodies being optimised. Thirdly, the optimisation process is a non-linear function and, therefore, it is not possible to select ‘representative’ realisations of the orebody to generate ‘optimistic’, ‘average’ or ‘pessimistic’ scenarios. For example, a decile, say 90 per cent, with respect to a potential grade tonnage curve of the resource in the ground will not provide a similar or even predictable decile of any project performance indicator. These aspects of the designs make the selection of a single optimal pit more complex than the traditional pit design approach. The risk analysis discussed next is proposed as a tool that can be used to choose the best design from the available designs. ‘Best’ is considered here the design that minimises the potential for losses whilst maximises the possibility of better financial performance.

1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4
1 1
2 2
3
3
4 4
5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8
5 5
6 6
7
7
8
8
9 9
9 9
13 13
13 13
12 12 10 10 11 11
12 12
10
10
11
11

Cutback - 1 Cutback - 2

Cutback - 3

FIG 4 - Cross-sections of 13 pit designs and their cutbacks generated from optimising individual simulated orebody models.

Selecting the pit design: risk analysis on key project performance indicators

For the gold mine considered in this case study, the key project

indicators are DCF, periodical ore tonnage and metal content. For

a given mine design a distribution of the discounted economic

value, total ore tonnage and recoverable metal content for each cut-back is calculated using each of the simulated orebody models. Figure 5 illustrates this process. The distributions of the key project indicators are calculated for the three cut-backs (CB-1, CB-2 and CB-3) with respect to pit design number two, where each simulated orebody model is represented by a single bar in each cut-back of each indicator. This process is repeated for all 13 designs.

Prioritising the importance of the key performance indicators is important for the approach used here. In this case study

meeting ore production targets is the more important performance indicator in the first year of operation. However, it

is common, for example, that repayments of possible loans and

hence the recovery of the initial investment makes DCFs more significant in the first year rather than later years. Figure 6 plots the risk profile of the key project indicator ore tonnage, within the first cut-back for the 13 pit designs. Considering the mill feed requirement of one million tonnes of ore and the requirement that there is a 70 per cent chance of producing at least one million tonnes leads to designs two, four, six, and 12 being retained for further assessment. The remaining designs are excluded from further study, whilst the selected designs will be tested with the second performance indicator of interest, DCF. Figure 7 shows the DCF project performance indicator for the selected designs within the first, second and third cut-backs. The MARs considered per cut-back are $12M, $2M and $1M during the first, second and third years of operation, respectively, and are shown in Figure 7 as cumulative DCF. If C t is the MAR value in period t, it is possible to calculate the upside potential, UP i , and downside risk, DR i , of design i using the following:

UPC

i

=

(

j

t

DR

i

=

j

(C

t

+

)P

V

jj

)P

V

jj

(1)

(2)

where V j is the total discounted economic value to be generated for simulated orebody model j; if V j is greater than C t then V j is represented as V + j , otherwise, V j is represented as V - j ; P j is the

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R DIMITRAKOPOULOS, L MARTINEZ and S RAMAZAN Simulated orebodies: 1 2 ……… 13 Pit design 2

Simulated orebodies: 1

2

L MARTINEZ and S RAMAZAN Simulated orebodies: 1 2 ……… 13 Pit design 2 24 16

………

13

Pit design 2
Pit design 2

24

16

8

0

DCF (m$) CB-1 CB-2 CB-3
DCF (m$)
CB-1
CB-2
CB-3
ORE (mt) 3 2 1 0 CB-1 CB-2 CB-3
ORE (mt)
3
2
1
0 CB-1
CB-2
CB-3
Metal (mgr) 4 3 2 1 0 CB-1 CB-2 CB-3
Metal (mgr)
4
3
2
1
0
CB-1
CB-2
CB-3

FIG 5 - Illustration of the steps used to quantify risk in a given pit design.

1.3 CutbackCutback -- 11 1.2 1.1 1.0 0.9 0.8 012 3 4 5 67 8
1.3
CutbackCutback -- 11
1.2
1.1
1.0
0.9
0.8
012
3
4
5
67
8
9
10
11
12
13
Average
Pit Designs
Ore Tonnage (M tonnes)

FIG 6 - Comparing risk profiles for ore tonnage within the first cut-back for 13 pit designs generated using simulated orebody models. Arrows on top indicate selected designs with at least a 70 per cent chance of being above one million tonnes of ore.

probability from simulated orebody model j. In Equation (1), j refers to the index of the simulated orebody models that have a total discounted economic value greater than C t during period or cutback t, and in Equation (2), j is the index of simulated orebody models where V j C t during period or cutback t. Figure 7 shows the V j values for each design as cumulated over the production periods, or cut-backs. If cumulated values are used, this case study shows a value of $12M for C 1 , $14M for C 2 and $15M for C 3 . Table 2 shows the UP i and DR i values for the selected designs within each cut-back to be mined in successive production periods. The table shows that design 12 has a somewhat higher UPwithin the first cut-back and also shows zero risk for the same cut-back. However, it has the highest DR during the last year of production (-0.96M$). Designs two and six also have relatively high UPvalues, zero DR for cut-back one and DR values are better within the second

cut-back than those in design 12. Both designs two and six have relatively higher total upside potentials with less risk over their production life than the two others. It is worth noting for reasons of comparison that the design and sequence generated using a smooth estimated orebody model of this deposit and traditional optimisation approach as reported in Dimitrakopoulos, Farrelly and Godoy (2002) has a 15 per cent chance of not achieving the MAR specified during the first year, eight per cent during the second production period and 31 per cent during the last year.

EFFECT OF PRICE VARIABILITY ON AN OPTIMAL DESIGN

Designs two and six are selected as the best performing mine designs based on the quantified risk of project indicators for a fixed gold price of 600Au$/oz. To assess the impact of gold price variations on the total upside potential of the project Figure 8 shows the total upside potentials of the selected designs, two and six, when the gold price is increased from $600/oz to $650/oz and to $700/oz. The upside potential of design two decreased significantly when the unit price is increased to $650. This unexpected reduction in UPindicates that design two is sensitive to price variations. This sensitivity is confirmed by the significant increase in the UPvalue to $5.4M when the gold price is $700/oz. Design six shows an increasing trend on the total UPvalue as the price is increased. Although UPvalues of designs two and six are comparable to each other at $600/oz, the difference becomes significantly large when the price is increased to $700/oz. The increasing difference in the UPvalues indicate that design six provides the highest upside potential should there be an increase in gold price to $700/oz and would potentially generate larger revenues. Figure 9 shows the expanding pit design number six for the different gold prices considered.

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OPTIMISING OPEN PIT DESIGN WITH SIMULATED OREBODIES AND WHITTLE FOUR-X

21 21 Upside Potential (M$) Metal Price Metal Price Cutback - 1 Cutback - 1
21
21
Upside Potential (M$)
Metal Price
Metal Price
Cutback - 1
Cutback - 1
Pit Design
Pit Design
18
18
$600/oz
$600/oz
$650/oz
$650/oz
$700/oz
$700/oz
15
15
1.8
1.8
0.7
0.7
5.4
5.4
12
12
2
2
MAR
MAR
9
9
22 22
2 2
4 4
6 6
12 12
Pit design
Pit design
22 22
1.9
1.9
4.0
4.0
9.7
9.7
Cutback - 2
Cutback - 2
6
6
18.5 18.5
Z
15.0 15.0
Section 10000-E
MAR
MAR
North
11.5 11.5
2 2
4 4
6 6
12 12
Pit design
Pit design
FIG 8 - Upside potential for designs two and six for different
gold prices.
24 24
Cutback - 3
Cutback - 3
19 19
MAR
MAR
14 14
$600/oz
$600/oz$600/oz
9 9
2 2
4 4
6 6
12 12
Pit design
Pit design
$650/oz
$650/oz$650/oz
FIG 7 - Comparison of risk profiles for the key project indicator
DCF per cutback for selected pit designs.
$700/oz$700/oz
$700/oz
TABLE 2
DCF (
DCF (
MM
$)
$)
DCF (
DCF (
$)
$)
DCF (
DCF (
M
$)
$)

Upside potential and downside risk values for selected mine designs within each cut-back.

Design

Upside potentials (UP M$)

Downside risk (DR M$)

 

CB1CB2

CB3

 

CB1CB2

CB3

2

2.3

2.41

1.8

0.00

-0.08

-0.20

4

1.3

2.1

1.6

-0.78

-0.15

-0.51

6

2.4

2.43

1.9

0.00

-0.02

-0.28

12

2.9

2.4

1.2

0.00

-0.16

-0.96

CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER WORK

Geological uncertainty has a significant impact on the real value of mining projects. A new approach was proposed for designing open pit mines based on geological uncertainty that combines conditionally simulated orebody models and optimisation with Whittle Four-X. The approach is based on developing designs that capture maximum upside potential whilst minimising downside risk. The utility of the approach is that it allows the use of traditional and commercially available optimisation tools to address risk issues and produce better designs. However, two main weaknesses may be identified. The approach may be operationally tedious, particularly in the case of larger orebodies, and depends on the ability to efficiently simulate orebody models

FIG 9 - Pit design six and its expansion for different gold prices.

at the scale required for managing substantial volumes of data. This suggests how it is imperative to consider conditional simulation methods that are truly efficient and can facilitate studies, such as the one here, within weeks rather than months. In this volume, this area of concern is addressed by Benndorf and Dimitrakopoulos (2005). An additional issue is that conventional optimisers cannot really provide the optimal upside/downside solution for a set of criteria. The solution provides a single design preferable to those remaining in the group of designs being compared. However, one cannot ensure that the approach will generate the best possible design and mining sequence over the life-of-mine for the criteria used conditional to the understanding of the orebody being considered. The ability to provide truly optimal upside/downside approaches where the upside/downside profile of a mine design is defined by the user requires further development and forms the key reason for research in stochastic mine planning (eg Ramazan and Dimitrakopoulos, 2004, 2005; Dimitrakopoulos and Ramazan, 2004; Godoy and Dimitrakopoulos, 2004). Although this study focuses on specific key project indicators, the method presented is general and suitable for any user-defined decision-making process and indicators that may be chosen. The approach can be used in any type deposit and open pit optimisation study.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The work presented herein was part of a research project funded by Anaconda Operations, Anglo Gold, BHPBilliton, Highlands Pacific, MIM Holdings (Xstrata), Pasminco, Rio Tinto and WMC Resources.

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