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Vol. 15, No. 22 Week of May 30, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Davey leaves Pogo Mine in capable hands

Completing the transition to Sumitomo, former mine manager reflects on three years of building a successful gold mine in Alaska

Shane Lasley

Mining News

Larry Davey, the general manager of the Pogo Gold Mine since 2007, passed the torch to his successor May 12. The transfer of leadership marks the completion of the transition of Alaska’s highest producing gold mine to its new owner, Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo LLC, a partnership between Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. (85 percent) and Sumitomo Corp. (15 percent.)

“The transition has proceeded smoothly with great support from Teck.  The first portion of the transition was to move all services across to Sumitomo Metal Mining – this included IT, benefits, insurance, etcetera – this was effectively completed by early January 2010. The second part of the transition was to replace the senior managers moving back to Teck – this work is now completed as a new management team is in place,” Davey told Mining News in a May 18 e-mail.

Pogo’s new project manager, Todd Roth, told Mining News he is looking forward to working with the impressive work force at Pogo.

“I am very impressed with the people at Pogo and that will be the building block for being successful,” Roth said. “I will be concentrating on ensuring we have a smooth leadership and operational transition as we move forward for the balance of 2010.” 

Sumitomo bought out Teck Resources Ltd.’s 40 percent ownership interest in Pogo last year, and 2010 will mark the first full year that the mine is operated by the Japanese firm.

“Pogo became the first operating mine by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. outside of Japan. This is the first step to expand SMM’s mining business worldwide,” said Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo President Nori Ushirone.

Continuous improvements

In its annual update, Sumitomo Metal told Alaska regulators that 2009 was an excellent year at Pogo. Exceeding expectations, the high-grade, underground gold mine produced 389,808 ounces of gold last year.

Davey said the road to becoming Alaska’s largest gold producer has not been without its setbacks. When Davey took over, the fledgling gold mine — plagued with a high turnover rate, injuries, environmental incidents and lower-than-expected production — was in survival mode.

“I came to Pogo in October 2007, and although I cannot comment too much on the early years — construction, commissioning and startup, I will say that the people of Pogo put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that the site was set up in order to ‘survive’ — to meet the key production and design targets by the end of December 2007.

Year-by-year, the staff and management at Pogo have committed themselves to making continuous improvements in safety, environmental stewardship and production at the Interior Alaska gold mine.

“Since 2007, each year has had ‘buzz’ word(s) — ‘survival’ for 2007, ‘credibility building’ for 2008, ‘continuous improvement’ for 2009 and ‘being proactive’ for 2010,” the former Pogo manager explained.

Davey said the credibility building of 2008 involved setting Pogo up to “do what we say we are going to do” — making the underground mine a safe and more environmentally friendly place, while meeting production targets.

Sliding into the position of Alaska’s top gold producer, while curbing the turnover rate, improving its environmental record and lower lost-time incidents, the mine took long strides toward its goal of gaining credibility.

Building on the successes of 2008 led to Pogo’s banner year.

“2009 was about continuous improvement — doing things better and improving upon the performance of 2008. Work continued on changing the culture and behavior (implementation of courageous leadership to all personnel on site) and providing the support and focus needed to improve,” Davey said.

The improvements in 2009 were across the board. The company boasts a 40 percent improvement in safety performance, a 36 percent reduction in reportable spills and a 12 percent increase in gold production and a 34 percent decrease in manpower turnover over 2008.

“The ongoing improvement in manpower turnover has been critical to the improved performance — a more stable work force has produced a confident, experienced group that has aided improvement in all key areas,” the former manager said.

This success led to the 1-millionth ounce of gold poured at Pogo in October. Sumitomo Metal Mining commemorated the event by acknowledging the continued improvements at the mine.

“The celebration of this event is not specific to the actual millionth ounce poured, but is rather focused on the journey undertaken by Pogo to continually improve performance in the safety, environment, people, production and cost areas,” the company wrote.

Continuing success

Crediting a confident work force and capable management, Davey said he is convinced that Pogo will continue to improve and meet its goals in the years to come.

“The work undertaken over the past few years in exploration, geology, engineering, people and the operation have allowed Pogo to reach a point where the mine can consistently meet or exceed gold production targets in a safe and efficient manner with minimal environmental impact,” he added

The high-grade gold mine is expected to churn out more than 390,000 ounces of gold from an estimated 920,000 tons of ore in 2010.

“The new management group, under the leadership of the new general manager, is very capable of taking Pogo to the next level. They are backed up by an experienced and motivated workforce who are committed to the success of Pogo,” Davey said.

Roth said the transition is an opportunity to build an even stronger team at Pogo.

“Only being on site for one month, it is easy to see that the quality of the work force at Pogo is excellent, and I look forward to working with each and every person at the site,” he said. “This unique opportunity will allow us to come together as a team as we set up Pogo Mine for future years.”

“I really enjoyed working at Pogo,” Davey said. “I will miss all the people and the operation.”



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