Northern Star goes after Barrick Gold’s Super Pit

The Super Pit is expected to run out of ore by 2029, but underground mining could continue after that. (Image: Chris Fithall | Flickr Commons)

Australia’s Northern Star Resources (ASX:NST) has been signalled as the frontrunner to acquire Barrick Gold’s (TSX:ABX)(NYSE:GOLD) 50% stake in the Super Pit, once the country’s biggest open-pit gold mine, located in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Barrick’s first attempt to sell its share of the mine, owned with rival Newmont Goldcorp (NYSE:NEM) (TSX:NGT), fell through in 2017, after Chinese bidder Minjar Gold failed to finance the $1.3 billion deal.

The Super Pit, once Australia’s largest gold mine, has gone from being a low-cost operation to the higher end of the cost curve

At the time, the Canadian gold giant didn’t rule out the possibility of selling its part to its joint venture partner. Rumours indicate that should Barrick not find a suitable bidder, it would try to talk operator Newmont Goldcorp into a joint sale of the entire asset, known as the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM). 

Barrick’s boss, Mark Bristow, said during a quarterly result presentation earlier this week that the Super Pit was the only asset in the company’s portfolio not performing as expected.

“While it continues to be a valuable asset, we are moving down the road of selling our stake in this icon of gold mining,” Bristow said. “We are not the operators [and] we do not want to be passive investors in assets that we own.”

Northern Star and Barrick have done businesses before. In 2014, the Aussie gold producer bought the Plutonic mine in Western Australia from its Canadian counterpart. It now belongs to Superior Gold (TSX-V:SGI), a junior majority owned by Northern Star.

The Super Pit has gone from being a low-cost operation to the higher end of the cost curve, mostly due to a partial collapse on the eastern wall of the mine last year. Additionally, the operation is expected to run out of ore by 2029 and when that happens, rehabilitation costs are forecast to run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

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