The Century mine in northwest Queensland, Australia, is a major sediment-hosted zinc-lead-silver orebody, located within the western Mount Isa Basin. Stratiform, carbonaceous shale-hosted mineralization is developed within Proterozoic shale and siltstone sequences of the Lawn Hill Formation. CRA Exploration Pty Ltd (CRAE) discovered the Century deposit in 1990 and open pit mine development commenced in 1998 under the ownership of Pasminco Century Mine Limited (PCML). The deposit contains an identified mineral resource of 105 Mt @ 12.1% Zn + 1.7% Pb + 46 g/t Ag (Broadbent and Waltho, 1998) which is currently being mined at a rate of 5 Mt/y.
In December 1998, an exothermic reaction was observed between explosives spilt onto shale drill cuttings from a blasthole. This reaction is referred to as ‘reactive ground’ and has the potential to cause premature detonation of explosives in a charged blasthole with catastrophic consequences. The incident led to a subsequent geological and geochemical assessment of the different rock types at the Century deposit and their potential reactivity with ammonium nitrate-based (AN) explosive products. This assessment was conducted in an attempt to characterize zones safe for blasting with uninhibited AN-based explosive products. A direct result of this study is a set of procedures outlining the use of different AN-based explosives in areas defined as potentially reactive or non-reactive for the different lithologies present. Black shales contained in both the waste and mineralized sequences contain the sulfide mineral pyrite (FeS2), which is thermodynamically unstable with AN contained in commonly used explosives. The potential reactivity of partially weathered pyrite can ultimately result in the decomposition of an AN-based explosive. It was determined that only pyritic black shales showed any potential to react with AN, irrespective of their position in the stratigraphic sequence. Other lithologies present at Century, including Proterozoic sandstone and Cambrian limestone, are classified as non-reactive with AN. This is a geological risk management situation present at the Century mine.