Sibanye-Stillwater to slow Blitz PGM project as US tightens COVID-19 prevention measures

Stillwater Mine, Montana

PROGRESS at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Blitz project in the US has been hit by local health authority restrictions aimed at slowing the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus with the firm agreeing to reduce numbers working at the facility.

A supplier of capital equipment to the project – which was initially designed to take production some 300,000 oz 2E higher by 2022 – also declared a force majeure adding to the likelihood that delivery of the project would face additional delays.

The platinum group metal (PGM) and gold producer said in a statement today that it had also taken a wider decision to reduce the number of people working at all its US sites whilst maintaining output from current operations.

Production guidance for its US-based PGM operations, centred on the Stillwater mine, was put at between 660,000 to 700,000 oz for the 2020 financial year. Of this amount, Blitz was supposed to produce 100,000 oz, but it was more likely to produce at last year’s level of 50,000 oz, possibly more, said James Wellsted, spokesman for Sibanye-Stillwater.

When Blitz is eventually finished it will be part of a Stillwater, East Boulder complex producing 850,000 to 900,000 oz of PGMs annually. The 2022 deadline, however, looks somewhat more elusive. Sibanye-Stillwater said last year that Blitz might be eight months late after encountering unforeseen geological conditions.

Sibanye-Stillwater would demobilise contractors at its growth capital activities, such as the Blitz project, and allow for work from home for personnel not required on site. Face to face contact with external parties would be prohibited and site access to employees would also be prohibited, the group said.

As the Blitz project accounts for the majority of contract workers at its US PGM operations “… these decisions are likely to temporarily impact growth from Blitz in 2020 and delay the project’s development schedule,” the company said.

“In addition, we have received a force majeure notice from the manufacturer of the mills to be used in the expansion of the concentrator,” the company said. Further detail would be provided “… once we have concluded a full impact assessment”.

Said Sibanye-Stillwater today: “We are also making sure that these short-term disruptions do not impact longer-term business plans while ensuring we are well-positioned to safely and efficiently ramp-up operations in a timely manner once the worst of this global pandemic passes”.

It said PGM production was defined as a “critical infrastructure industry” by the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (an organisation signed into law by US president Donald Trump in 2018) as PGMs were deemed essential components of chemical, medical and biochemical applications.

“As the only primary PGM producer in the US, we will endeavour to maintain current production from our Stillwater and East Boulder mines, while maintaining throughput through our Columbus Metallurgical Complex in order to provide PGM’s to the critical sectors mentioned above,” it said.