In the arid, very remote Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Fluor provides program and construction management to Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. on their $6 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. This mine represents the largest and perhaps most challenging engineering-construction project in Mongolia, and will become one of the world’s largest copper mines when it commences operations in 2013.
Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto, two of the world's leading mining companies, and the Mongolian government have formed a strategic partnership for construction and operation of the Oyu Tolgoi project. The project consists of open-pit and underground mines, a copper concentrator, and supporting infrastructure to produce high-quality copper-gold concentrate.
Challenges facing the project team at Oyu Tolgoi include operating at 3,800 feet, extreme weather, and limited access to essential utilities and services. The Gobi Desert presents a brutally harsh environment, with temperatures ranging from -40 C to +45 C. The country is landlocked, with limited access via roads or rail. But the opportunity to positively impact an entire nation for decades to come makes the project a rewarding one for all personnel working to build the mine.
The project is being co-led by an integrated program management team composed of Fluor and Ivanhoe Mines personnel. The integrated team is overseeing all engineering, procurement, and construction management services. Multiple Fluor offices are supporting the project, including those in Vancouver and Shanghai.
In addition to program and construction management, Fluor is providing selected design and procurement services to build the copper concentrator, associated infrastructure, Shaft 2 headframe, and related facilities for the Oyu Tolgoi (which means "turquoise hill" in Mongolian) project.
To meet the challenges posed by the remoteness of the site, Fluor is applying its proven skills in safety, craft training, baseline-focused project controls, and quality management. Fluor's Shanghai, China office is supplying some 60 percent of the technical and support personnel.
Other project infrastructure includes upgrading a 104-kilometer road from the Chinese border to the site; building a 1,000-liters-per-second pipeline from a borefield; 80 kilometers from the site; setting up housing facilities for more than 10,000 workers; and establishing 80 square kilometers of site development that includes an airstrip, roads, concrete batch plants, water distribution systems, associated electrical power distribution, and two mining shafts 1,800 meters each in depth.
The harsh environment demands adaptation for typical project tasks. For example, in applying 145,000 cubic meters of concrete for the concentrator, the team used cold-weather techniques in order to pour concrete when it was -30 C. This included fabricating tented structures with diesel-fired heaters to keep the formwork and rebar at an acceptable temperature and to keep the freshly-poured concrete from freezing.
Overall construction of the Oyu Tolgoi project is estimated to be 70 percent complete as of early 2012. The project, highlighted by the large-scale (100,000 tons per day) copper concentrator, is expected be a significant driver of the Mongolian economy; production is planned to begin in 2013.
Using Mongolian labor with an infusion of Fluor's safety culture – plus an intern and leadership program in health, safety, environment, and sustainability – the project has achieved 10 million construction work hours without a lost-time incident.
The huge scope of the project is being addressed utilizing thousands of Chinese craft workers to supplement the limited Mongolian craft labor availability.