Saskatchewan’s southwestern Athabasca Basin hosts a staking stampede
by Greg Klein
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This could be just what the beleaguered exploration sector needs—a good old-fashioned staking rush. And that’s exactly what’s going on in northern Saskatchewan’s uranium-rich Athabasca Basin. Although the market hasn’t fully caught on, companies are flocking into the area, drawn by the sensational Fission Energy TSXV:FIS and Alpha Minerals TSXV:AMW discovery at Patterson Lake South.
The Basin’s no stranger to frenetic activity. It last happened in the early and mid-part of the century’s first decade. But that was on the east side, whose mines now comprise one of the world’s most important sources of uranium. This time the stampede is to the west side, some of it a little outside the Basin. Among the driving forces are Saskatchewan’s new online staking system, an increasingly optimistic supply-demand scenario and an escalating stream of news from the Fission/Alpha 50/50 JV.
That started in July 2011, when boulder field samples brought assays as high as 39.6% U3O8. By November 2012, drilling confirmed the discovery not only with high grades but—in glaring contrast to the Basin’s east side—shallow mineralization. This year’s step-outs have the sector wondering just how big this might be. Not surprisingly, other explorers aren’t content to watch from the sidelines.
“We were quick to jump in there,” says Skyharbour Resources TSXV:SYH manager of corporate development and communications Jordan Trimble. His company snapped up five properties totalling nearly 80,000 hectares, one of the area’s largest packages according to a March 20 announcement. Two of the properties lie 27 kilometres and 35 kilometres north of the PLS discovery, another two 15 kilometres south and the fifth 90 kilometres east.
“We have a connection with a guy from Calgary who was one of the first prospectors in there,” Trimble points out. “Given that you can now stake online, it’s incredibly cheap. We got that land package for about 30 cents an acre. Packages of land have been offered to me in the last few days in the same area, comparable properties for upwards of $10 an acre. So already I think we’ve created value just with the acquisition at the cost we did.”
Last December’s inauguration of Saskatchewan’s e-registry was “certainly part of it,” he says. “But online staking or no online staking, there’s no shadow of doubt in my mind that this area would have seen a staking rush, given the [PLS] discovery. It’s a one-of-a-kind discovery.”
Michael Schuss concurs. The president/CEO of Canadian International Minerals TSXV:CIN says Patterson Lake South “is probably going to be one of the biggest discoveries in Canadian history. I wouldn’t call us ambulance-chasers by nature, but we saw the opportunity and thought we better move on it.”
Of all the news pouring out of the Fission/Alpha project, Schuss singles out the February 19 announcement of 57.5 metres of mineralization from a step-out 385 metres on strike. The JV partners were “either extremely lucky or it’s so big you couldn’t miss it. I think that’s what kicked off the staking rush.
“The excitement of Patterson Lake South is a discovery outside the traditional Athabasca Basin,” Schuss maintains. “It shouldn’t have been there. The staking has gone way beyond south of the basin. That’s something we haven’t seen before. It’s an exciting time in the industry.”
He credits people like Fission director Jody Dahrouge and Alpha director Warren Stanyer, who were among the PLS visionaries. “At first it was wildcatting at best,” Schuss says. “To go from concept to discovery in four years is an exceptional timetable. That’s part of the excitement. It also shows that in Canada you can still find major deposits in places that people drive right over.” Highway 955 cuts through PLS on its way to the former Cluff Lake uranium mine.
Schuss adds, “The staking rush is a nice feeling for a change because we probably haven’t had one in Canada since Voisey’s Bay, about 20 years ago.”
And the excitement brings a new focus to some companies.
“Skyharbour had been dormant for two years, looking for deals,” explains Trimble. “We waited patiently through a real tough market, researched uranium, saw it from the perspective of both current equity valuations in the space and the lack of what you could call saturation. You don’t have as many uranium companies clamouring for investor dollars.”
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