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Newmont Musselwhite - a Pretty Exciting Place to Work

Dec 6, 2023

100 percent owned and operated by mining giant Newmont, and located about 500 kilometers north of Thunder Bay on the traditional territory of North Caribou Lake First Nation, the Musselwhite mine commenced commercial production in 1997. Today, the mine employs about 1000 full-time employees and contractors; in 2022, the mine produced around 173,000 ounces of gold and had just under two million ounces in reserve at year-end.
In Newmont’s own words, the mine consistently meets expectations and safely produces gold at a low cost – but if that sounds boring, think again. According to General Manager Mark Kiessling, who addressed the topic during his 2023 Projects in the Pipeline Conference presentation at the CEN CAN Expo, Newmont Musselwhite is a pretty exciting place to work. “I’ve been at Musselwhite now for about 15 months, and what excited me about coming over here was that this project did not only have the longstanding history – but also the potential for growth,” he explains. “You could just sense the potential for this operation as it makes its transition.”

Putting Community Partnerships into Action
In 2022, Musselwhite commemorated 25 years of commercial operation by hosting several hundred guests, including Indigenous leaders and community members, government leaders and business partners. The number and variety of attendees present illustrated the historic partnerships through which Musselwhite came to be, and the value that the mine continues to deliver to northern communities. Musselwhite was one of the first mines in Canada to enter into a comprehensive agreement with First Nations communities and is today proud to have formal agreements with the North Caribou Lake First Nation, Cat Lake First Nation, Windigo First Nations Council, Wunnumin Lake First Nation, Kingfisher Lake First Nation, Shibogama First Nations Council and Mishkeegogamang First Nation. These agreements include environmental protections and provided signatory members with business opportunities and economic benefits, which have contributed more than $100 million in direct cash benefits over the life of the agreement.
Today, a quarter of the mine’s workforce is Indigenous and Musselwhite has strong programs aimed at increasing First Nations employment at Musselwhite. “We have a strong focus on delivering on our commitments,” says Mark. “We’re going to continue to look at the local hiring.” The mine owes much of its success to listening. Opening up channels for communication within First Nations communities helps the operation better understand how to support and engage prospective employees or vendors – and has resulted in initiatives like a traditional leave program and improved workplace training.
One of the most impressive projects to come out of the relationships that Musselwhite has built with local First Nations (was contemplated in the early days of the Musselwhite Agreement), and that speaks to the mutual trust developed, is the $1.8 billion Wataynikaneyap Power project – which will connect several remote First Nations to the Ontario power grid and end their reliance on diesel generators. Wataynikaneyap means “line that brings light” in Anishininiimowin, and the company was originally incorporated through an agreement between 13 First Nations and Goldcorp, a predecessor of Newmont, with a goal of First Nations eventually owning 100% of this important infrastructure. This Indigenous-led, historic project also leverages federal government support and will solve a longstanding infrastructure challenge to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity that is essential to unlocking and driving community development. This year, Musselwhite will celebrate its own connection to the power transmission system.
Operating Sustainably to Protect a Stunning Landscape
Nestled on the southern shores of Opapimiskan Lake, Musselwhite is virtually surrounded by water and upstream of several First Nations communities – continually reminding the operation of the importance of operating sustainably, aligned to Newmont values. Although the employees who enjoy kayaking, boating and fishing (catch-and-release only) on beautiful Opapimiskan Lake are also strong advocates for sustainable mining, Musselwhite’s commitments to environmental stewardship are ultimately grounded in its agreements with First Nations.
The mine runs participatory monitoring programs with First Nations that include training for community members, discussing water quality reports and hiring local environmental monitors, and the mine has a cost-sharing agreement with First Nations to provide independent environmental technical support. The mine continually evolves its water stewardship practices, having recently updated its water balance model to incorporate chemistry and incorporate long-term closure considerations, audited and optimized its underground water treatment plant, updated its groundwater model and initiated a collaboration with Lakehead University. This commitment to leaving a positive environmental legacy for communities has become part of the organizational culture, with Musselwhite hosting opening and closing water ceremonies with the local Indigenous communities each spring and fall to give thanks to and show respect for the land and water.
Turning an Inclusive Culture Into a Competitive Advantage
Including the diverse perspectives of First Nations partners has not only helped ensure that Musselwhite maintains its license to operate, but also positively influenced the workplace culture to recognize and value different backgrounds and experiences. “I really do think that we have a strong sense of inclusion at Musselwhite, and I think that’s driving our mine’s potential,” explains Mark. “We’re having many more listening points. We’re talking about how we get better, how we get people engaged and how we improve.”  
Musselwhite recently implemented diverse hiring panels to recruit a broader range of talent in a tight market. It was important to ensure that these panels had not only local representation, but also diverse genders to show prospective hires that there is a place for everyone at Newmont. These panels dovetail with improved skills development and training programs that support workplace success – including Stope School, summer student programs, apprenticeship programs and the provision of development plans to all employees.
The approach has quality of life at its center. Although the lakeside recreation area at Musselwhite is a great place to spend downtime at work, the mine is also investing in upgrading its camp with amenities like a music room, massage chairs, an updated gymnasium for team sports and more. “It’s not only about how we make the mine more efficient or how we save money,” says Mark. “It’s really about culture and lifestyle at the camp. For example, we recognized that our women’s dry was too small to support the workforce of the future – so that expansion project is now up and going. The mine is also improving the recreation center at the camp to make sure that we’ve got a good work environment for our employees and that this is an attractive place to go and work. Much of the current infrastructure is 25 years old and needs upgrades as we prepare for the next stage of mine life.”

Turning an Inclusive Culture Into a Competitive Advantage
Photo left to right: Glenn Dredhart, President/Publisher, Canadian Trade-Ex/Mining Life & Exploration News, giving an award to speakers Matthew Angees, Executive Director, Shibogama First Nation Council, Mark Kiessling, Mine General Manager, Newmont Musselwhite Mine, Eliezar McKay, Indigenous Engagement & Employment Specialist, Newmont Musselwhite Mine and John Kamenawatamin, Musselwhite Coordinator at Windigo First Nations Council. The awards were given in recognition of the Musselwhite Mine Agreement as being one of the first in Canada.

Unlocking Musselwhite’s Full Potential
The past few years have been challenging for Musselwhite. After a conveyor fire in 2019 halted production for nearly a year, Musselwhite again experienced intermittent shutdowns throughout 2020 and 2021 as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. These setbacks did not stop Musselwhite – instead, the mine used these periods to understand how to operate more efficiently and position the operation for long-term success. More than a quarter century into operation, there remains great exploration potential at Musselwhite. With the ore body open at depth and showing promise, mine management looks forward to transforming that potential into mine production.
Many of the improvement projects underway at Musselwhite are part of Newmont’s Full Potential program, which contributes almost $25 million per year in benefits to the operation. Full Potential is Newmont’s structured and integrated continuous improvement program, introduced in 2013 to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and generate productivity to address the strategic needs of the business as they evolve – for example, through the ventilation upgrade project that Musselwhite has recently initiated. “We have to make sure that we have strong ventilation down at the face,” says Mark.
Global collaboration and sharing successes across sites provide additional opportunities to increase business value, balance economic factors and offset operational headwinds. An example is the implementation of jumbo bolting at Musselwhite. Whereas Canadian miners have typically used platform or mechanized bolters, jumbo bolters are commonly used in South Africa and Australia to allow a single operator to drill for blasting as well as to install bolts and mesh. The new technology improves safety by moving the operator away from unsupported ground while increasing productivity.
From a production perspective, Musselwhite has implemented tele-remote mucking to eliminate the use of line-of-sight mucking when extracting ore from the stopes. The operations have also implemented owner-operated production drilling with battery electric drills, moving the work in-house rather than using a contractor. In terms of mine planning, the operation is transitioning from longitudinal stopes to transverse stopes to retrieve more bulk ore more efficiently. More recently, the mine has trialed double-lift stoping which has increased productivity rates.
For Mark, continuous improvement and new technologies are critical to unlocking the exploration potential at Musselwhite. “As we go deeper and we recognize that the grade of the ore body may not change, we have to become more efficient at extracting that ore body,” explains Mark. “We’re going to be implementing more changes as we continue to grow. We’re going to continue to look at battery electric vehicles as well. And we’ve got to figure out how we get the ore out of the bottom of the mine when you’ve got the kind of depths that we’re looking at.”
Building a Bright Future on a Proud Legacy
With strong community partnerships, outstanding environmental stewardship and an inclusive workplace culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing, Musselwhite can be proud of its past successes. And with a continuous improvement program that leverages Newmont’s global expertise to unlock strong exploration potential, Musselwhite can ensure that its best days lie ahead.
For Mark, building that bright future for Musselwhite is exciting and meaningful work. “It’s all about planning – making sure that we have executable plans that our workforce buys into,” he explains. “If you look at where the Musselwhite operation was in 2019 with the conveyor fire, you can see the improvements in development now. You can see the improvement in ore tons and the improvement in gold ounces mined. And we expect that trend to continue.”

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Tags: Northern Ontario / Operational Updates / Gold / All Articles