Canada

Agnico Eagle Mines

Introduction

Mining for gold in the Canadian arctic is a challenge not to be taken lightly, but one such company which is defying the odds is Agnico Eagle Mines Limited (Agnico), a Canadian-based gold producer with operations in Canada, Finland, and Mexico, and exploration and development activities extending to the United States and Sweden.

When it came to deliver reliable, resilient, and dependable communications in one of the harshest, most unforgiving environments, Agnico selected TETRA radio communications technology from PowerTrunk for their exploration and production operations.

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Agnico Eagle Mines

Mining for gold in the Canadian arctic is a challenge not to be taken lightly, but one such company which is defying the odds is Agnico Eagle Mines Limited.

About

Meliadine, Amaruq, and the Meadowbank Complex Gold Mines

The Meliadine project, located in the low Arctic of northern Canada, is Agnico Eagle’s largest development project based on mineral reserves and mineral resources. The project has 3.4 million ounces of gold in proven and probable reserves and a large mineral resource.  Agnico Eagle has said the mine could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year over a 14-year lifespan and hopes to run the mine until 2033 and possibly longer. The Meadowbank open-pit gold mine in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut was Agnico Eagle’s first low Arctic mine.

The Meadowbank mine is expected to produce 220,000 ounces of gold in 2018, and 60,000 ounces gold in 2019, which is anticipated to be the last year of the mine production.  In February 2017, Agnico Eagle approved the Amaruq satellite deposit at Meadowbank for development pending the receipt of the required permits. The Amaruq ore will be hauled by truck to the plant at the Meadowbank site for processing and is expected to extend the life of the Meadowbank Complex another 7 years.

Challenge

Remote Location & Extreme Weather

Open pit and underground mining operations all have built-in hazards that exist wherever they are located, but the gold mines in Nunavut have some additional unique challenges to manage.  One of the first obstacles to tackle is that the high-grade gold project is located near the western shore of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut,  and 400 km south of the Arctic Circle.

These remote locations mean that all of their equipment, fuel, and dry goods depend on a single annual delivery which arrives via a warm-weather sealift barge to Rankin Inlet or Baker Lake. Personnel, perishables, and lighter goods arrive at the local airport and newly constructed all-weather access roads are needed to reduce the transportation and logistical costs for exploration and development work.

Ensuring the safety of its employees is the mine’s number one priority and the greatest threat that workers have to contend with is the harsh arctic weather conditions.  During winter, outside air temperatures can drop to -50C (-58F), which means that strict safety procedures have been implemented. Workers must always be pairs and are not allowed outside for more than 10 minutes at a time to perform tasks.  After this time they must return indoors for a minimum of 30 minutes in order to maintain proper body temperature before venturing outside again. Workers must check each other to make sure that they are completely covered and have no exposed skin which will suffer 3rd degree frost bite within minutes.

Besides the risks to people, communications equipment such as the radios in trucks and portable radios used by workers outside must withstand these extreme temperatures and cannot fail.  Proper radio and battery maintenance procedures must strictly be maintained in order to guarantee ongoing operations.

TETRA Network

01 Agnico Eagle first selected TETRA in order to maintain effcient voice and data communications, essential to provide safe conditions for all their employees. “We also elected TETRA to greatly improve the safety of our workers as well as to simplify the maintenance and management of the radio system,” said Philip Quessy, Agnico’s IT General Supervisor for Nunavut.
02 From a single PowerTrunk-T core infrastructure and 1 base station in 2015, their TETRA network has grown significantly. The move to production and additional personnel signified an increase in radio communication and the security procedures which need to be applied. It therefore prompted a significant expansion of the existing TETRA network which will now be used by everyone on the site, from housekeeping personnel, to heavy vehicle machinery, and underground miners.
03 The Meliadine mine is now operating a fully redundant core TETRA infrastructure with 3 site base stations (SBS), and an additional mast-mounted base station (MBS) providing coverage for 500km2 area. The mine also extended their TETRA coverage underground over a standard UHF leaky feeder system. 2 MBS provide coverage for about 6-8km of underground drilling tunnels, with the deepest part reaching 350 meters (about 1,150 feet) below the surface of the ground.
04 The Amaruq mine has deployed its own core network with 3 SBS and 1 outdoor MBS for providing radio communications for area of about 3600km2 and another single indoor MBS for about 1km of underground tunnels
05 In total there are over 500 radios deployed with Agnico Eagle and every piece of light and heavy equipment including pickup trucks, drills, scoops, jumbos, loaders, graders, and forklifts are equipped with IP67-rated SRG3900 mobile radios. To date all radios and accessories have resisted the extreme low arctic temperatures and the water/salty environment.

TETRA has also proved to be reliable when used over Agnico’s satellite link. The company installed a TETRA base station at their offices in Val-d’Or, Quebec and connected it to the TETRA core infrastructure located at the mine site using a satellite teleport based in New Orleans, LA. Although the signal was travelling over 6,000 km (3,500 miles) they were able to expand their TETRA network to their corporate office and communicate with other users on their portable radios at the mine. Usually this type of radio communication is hindered due to the inherent latency delays in a satellite link. But the mine’s robust PowerTrunk-T architecture means that even these extreme connection conditions are not prohibitive to establishing workable situations.

“The success of this communication path opens the possibilities of some mine related jobs being re-located down south, which in turns saves money regarding travel, lodging, and other related expenses,”

– Quessy explained.

Technology that we used


TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) is the accepted digital radio standard for critical communications. TETRA is an open standard where the focus is on meeting the critical communications needs of public safety and security agencies and an increasingly wide range of other market sectors. The technology has been standardized by ETSI (The European Telecommunications Standards Institute).

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