Rio Tinto and the Mongolian government – both owners of the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in the South Gobi region of Mongolia – have officially commemorated the start of underground production from the operation.

oyutolgoiWhile open-pit mining began at Oyu Tolgoi in 2011, and its copper concentrator came online in 2013, underground operations were not approved by the mine’s board to start until January 2022. Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm confirmed 13 March that he joined Prime Minister of Mongolia Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene 1.3 kilometres underground to celebrate the commencement of the mine’s underground production, followed by a ceremony with Oyu Tolgoi employees and leaders, government of Mongolia representatives, Oyu Tolgoi Board members and local suppliers.

“Since the agreement between the Government of Mongolia and Rio Tinto in January…to reset the relationship and move the Oyu Tolgoi underground project forward, 30 drawbells have been blasted and copper is now being produced from the underground mine,” Rio Tinto’s Stausholm said.

“Developing the underground mine is an investment of over $7 billion, unlocking the most valuable part of the copper resource for the benefit of all stakeholders. Oyu Tolgoi is expected to produce around 500,000 tonnes of copper per year on average from 2028 to 2036 from the open pit and underground…and an average of around 290,000 tonnes over the reserve life of around 30 years.”

Oyu Tolgoi is now projected to become the fourth-largest copper mine in the world by 2030, operating in the first quartile of the copper equivalent cost curve. Ore is now processed from Panel Zero in Hugo North Lift 1 and production will ramp up over the coming years.

The total workforce of Oyu Tolgoi is currently around 20,000 people, of which 97% are Mongolian. Oyu Tolgoi works with more than 500 national suppliers.

Oyu Tolgoi is jointly owned by Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi LLC on behalf of the Government of Mongolia (34%) and Rio Tinto (66%).