OceanaGold has started a drilling program to advance underground resource development at the Didipio Gold-Copper Project in Nueva Vizcaya Province, the Philippines. The underground program of around 50,000 metres will include infill and resource extension drilling.

OceanaGold said the program had been designed to increase confidence in the underground Didipio resource and test for depth extensions below the current mine design.

Early stage exploration under OceanaGold’s Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which covers six priority targets, is well advanced in terms of geological mapping, surface rock chip sampling, infill and expanded grid soil surveys, and detailed ground magnetic surveys. This will enable the company to better define and prioritise drill targets.

It said that exploration drilling was scheduled for the current quarter.

Mining of Stage 5 of the Didipio open pit was completed during the June quarter. This puts the ASX-listed company on track to meet its target of starting production from the underground development by the end of next year.

Earlier this year, OceanaGold received government approval to extend its exploration permit (EP) around its mine site for five years. This allowed the company to resume exploration activities at the mine until its EP expires in 2021.

Environment secretary Regina Paz Lopez had earlier threatened to revoke the company’s exploration permit in response to allegations from civil society groups that the exploration program posed a danger to the agricultural lands straddling its tenement.

However, OceanaGold Philippines chairman Jose Leviste, said the company had not received any official advisory ordering the cancellation of its EP.

“We trust the sense of fairness of secretary Gina Lopez and the ‘progressionalism’ of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources).

Furthermore, we support President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for responsible mining,” he said.

By the end of June this year, OceanaGold had produced 225,339 ounces of gold and 12,244 tonnes of copper from the Didipio mine.

It aims to end the year with annual production levels at 385,000 to 425,000 ounces of gold from the combined New Zealand and Didipio operations and 19,000 to 21,000 tonnes of copper at all-in sustaining costs of $700 to $750 per ounce.

OceanaGold has assets in the Philippines, New Zealand and the United States where it is constructing the Haile gold mine in South Carolina which slated for commercial production early 2017.