A $589 million mine extension has commenced operation in north-east Queensland.

Glencore’s Ernest Henry Mine near Cloncurry in north-west Queensland is transitioning from open pit mining to underground shaft mining following the opening of a $589 million underground mine extension.

The mine extension consists primarily of a one-kilometre deep shaft, which is expected to dramatically increase the production volume as well as extend the operational life of the copper project by facilitating access to deposits situated deep beneath the earth.

The extension will provide access to over 50 kilometres of underground development via a six-kilometre decline. It entailed the construction of a 75-metre high permanent headframe to accommodate the hoisting system, which is capable of lifting around 1,000 tonnes per hour.

Related infrastructure included an underground primary crusher, as well as 1.2 kilometres of below surface and overland conveyors used to transport ore to and from the hoisting system.

Following the opening of the mine extension, copper production at Ernest Henry is expected to double to around six million tonnes of ore per annum in 2015,  producing 50,000 tonnes of copper and 70,000 ounces of gold in concentrate.

“This investment in Ernest Henry has effectively added 14 years to the life of the mine to 2026,” said Glencore COO for North Queensland copper, Mike Westerman. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to sustain production at a higher rate, continue to support around 500 employees plus contractors and deliver ongoing benefits to the Cloncurry community and economy.”

Xstrata, which owned of the mine prior to its takeover by Glencore, approved the massive $589 million investment back in 2009 in order to facilitate the shift from open pit mining to underground shaft mining.

The investment is expected to give a pivotal boost to Glencore’s copper operations, given that assets in Mount Isa and at Ernest Henry accounted for around 14 per cent of global production in 2013.

At the opening of the mine extension, Andrew Cripps, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, hailed its contribution to the regional economy of north-west Queensland.

“The $589 million commitment to continue to grow the mine will provide a major boost to Queensland’s economy and has secured jobs that would not have otherwise existed,” he said. “The transition to underground shaft mining will see mine operations extended to at least 2026 and provide jobs for more than 500 employees and contractors.”