"Of special note in 2012 was the continuing improvement in the Company's safety performance: our reportable incident rate per 200,000 hours worked declined to 3.12 in 2012 from 3.34 in 2011, a 6.6% improvement. I congratulate each of our employees for another excellent year of dedicated performance and for continuing attention to workplace safety and productivity improvement."
Montana Expansion Projects
Projecting beyond 2013, Stillwater further advised that it now expects first production from its Graham Creek project at the East Boulder Mine in late 2014, with the project expected to increase total Company production by about 30,000 ounces annually from 2015 and thereafter. In addition, the Company is initiating development of the Far West project, a new as yet undeveloped mining area with attractive ore grades situated within the Stillwater Mine. Once in operation, the Far West area is expected to increase the Stillwater Mine's production by approximately 20,000 ounces initially in 2016, growing to approximately 45,000 ounces in 2017 and thereafter. With Graham Creek and Far West both on line in 2017, estimated annual Company production from the Montana operations should total approximately 575,000 ounces. Beyond 2017, when the Blitz project comes fully online, estimated annual Company production from the Montana operations should total at least 600,000 ounces. The Company expects to gain more clarity on the ultimate production potential of the Blitz project as development there proceeds further.
The Graham Creek project's 8,200-foot tunnel boring machine (TBM) excavation remains on track and will be finished in the first half of 2013. Once complete, it will be followed by the installation of two ventilation raises to surface over the subsequent 18 months. During this time the Company will continue to hire and train additional skilled miners required for the East Boulder Mine and Graham Creek operations. Through the end of 2012, the TBM has advanced about 6,500 feet. While not complete, significant definitional drilling has been performed at the Graham Creek project and minable ore has been identified. Ore grades in this area appear consistent with current grades in the existing portion of the East Boulder Mine. The cost of the Graham Creek project is estimated at $13 million, of which approximately $3.5 million has been charged to the project through the end of 2012.
The Company's new Far West project was first identified in this year's mining plan and is situated in an area of relatively high PGM grades between the 3500 and 5000 levels at the western end of the Stillwater Mine. The Company anticipates the Far West project will take about three years to fully develop at an estimated cost of $25 million. It represents an acceleration of incremental production made possible by the Company's ongoing development of the Blitz project. Because the Far West project is situated within the existing envelope of the Stillwater Mine, the development efforts there will benefit from the existing major infrastructure of the mine. At least initially, some manpower may be diverted from the Blitz development into the Far West project in order to accelerate overall production growth at the Stillwater Mine, but if workforce attrition remains stable, the effect on the Blitz timeline should be minimal.
The Blitz project includes three principal elements: a TBM drive that ultimately will extend about 23,000 feet to the east from the existing Stillwater Mine infrastructure; a second underground drift parallel to the TBM drive and about 600 feet above it; and a proposed new surface portal and decline to be located about four miles to the east of the existing Stillwater Mine facilities. The new surface portal will be conventionally driven and is intended to intercept the two primary Blitz tunnels, providing ventilation and emergency egress for the Blitz area. The TBM acquired for the Blitz project was fully commissioned during the fourth quarter of 2012 and to date has advanced about 400 feet. Construction of the second conventional drift is also in progress and has advanced over 700 feet. As these drives continue to advance, definitional and probe drilling will be performed to further enhance the understanding of the geology in this area. Total cost of the Blitz project is expected to be approximately $197 million, of which approximately $35.6 million has been charged to the project through the end of 2012.
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