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|15.1 INTRODUCTION The mine development process, as discussed in Chapter 2, is a series of data gathering and analysis steps. As the mine development process proceeds, information about the geology, mineability, and metallurgy of a particular deposit is continually generated, along with environmental information regarding project permitting status. As data are obtained, checkpoint evaluations are typically conducted to determine the economic viability of the particular deposit. Although the project evaluation process was discussed at length in Chapter 2, a brief review of the process is presented here to "set the stage" for the discussion on economic analysis of heap leach projects. Figure 15.1 (MacKenzie, 1980) presents an overview of the sequential process of mine development. Once the deposit is discovered or acquired, an initial delineation program can be undertaken to expand the project's geologic, mining, and metallurgical data base. At the end of this initial program, the direction of the project is evaluated. The company can either abandon the project, postpone it, develop and mine it, or gather additional data in hopes of improving the project's economic viability. If the company continues gathering data, then another decision point and evaluation will be required. This process may continue until the company either decides to postpone the project or develop and mine it. A project may be postponed indefinitely, typically in hopes of improved metals prices. Certain holding costs, such as land or royalty payments, may be associated with postponement. In general, once a company goes through two evaluations, the project is less likely to be abandoned. For this discussion, it is assumed that the company will undertake initial, second, and third delineation programs to gather sufficient geologic, mining, metallurgical , and environmental data to justify a positive production decision from the second or third economic evaluation. The objectives of the first delineation program will be to confirm and expand upon the available information about the deposit. During the second delineation program, development funds should be directed toward identifying the critical project items (i .e., ore reserves, mineralogy, mineable grade, metallurgical recovery, etc.) that must be resolved before making the production decision. This second economic evaluation can be used to determine which metallurgical concept will be applied to the project: heap leach or a traditional agitation-type leach plant. If the proper work has solved key project concerns in the second program, a production decision may be made from that evaluation.|