Dominion gives Jay the go-ahead while Peregrine brings Chidliak to PEA
by Greg Klein
Spurned by the forces driving gold and silver, diamonds’ sparkle may have sputtered. But looking further ahead Canadian companies remain optimistic, and demonstrably so. This week Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC announced plans to move forward with the previously postponed Jay pipe addition to the Northwest Territories’ Ekati mine. One day later Peregrine Diamonds TSX:PGD outlined an ambitious scenario for Chidliak, suggesting a possible Nunavut gem operation by 2021. Meanwhile progress continues on two very near-term producers in the NWT and Quebec.
Baffin Island remoteness be damned, Chidliak could come online for well under a half billion dollars, according to a July 7 preliminary economic assessment. The study foresees Phase I open pit mining beginning with the property’s CH-6 pipe, followed by CH-7, 15 kilometres away. Output would average 1.2 million carats per year for a decade, peaking at 1.8 million carats.
Using a 7.5% discount rate, the PEA calculates an after-tax NPV of $471.2 million and a 29.8% IRR. Initial capex would come to $434.9 million with payback in two years. Costs include 160 kilometres of all-weather road to the territorial capital of Iqaluit.
Not mentioned in the announcement, however, is the town’s lack of port facilities. The island’s only operating mine is Mary River, 935 kilometres north of Iqaluit. Operator Baffinland Iron Mines runs its own port at Milne Inlet, another 100 kilometres north. The company has proposed replacing the road with a railway.
A March diamond evaluation gave CH-6 an average $149 per carat and CH-7 $114. But assuming 2.5% annual price increases, life-of-mine averages would come to $178 and $153 respectively, Peregrine stated.
CH-6 holds by far the largest resource, with an inferred 11.39 million carats compared with CH-7’s inferred 4.23 million. Both resources remain open at depth.
Anticipating the direction that pre-feas studies could take, company president/CEO Tom Peregoodoff spoke of “optimization studies of the Phase I mine, including the expansion of the CH-6 resource to depth and through the development of a potential Phase II resource expansion from the numerous other kimberlites on the property, of which six currently show economic potential.” Chidliak’s 564,396 hectares host 74 known kimberlites.
A few thousand sub-arctic kilometres away, the world’s third-largest diamond miner by value has put its on-again, off-again Jay pipe back on again. The Ekati mine’s most significant undeveloped deposit, the kimberlite holds a probable reserve of 78.6 million carats.
With two joint ventures in play, Ekati’s ownership gets a bit complicated. Dominion holds 88.9% of the Core zone, which hosts the current operation. Jay is located in the Buffer zone, 65.3%-held by Dominion. The new open pit would rely on Ekati’s existing infrastructure about 30 kilometres away, resulting in a total capex of US$647 million funded through existing loot and internal cash flow.
The project’s new feasibility reported Jay’s total post-tax NPV at US$398 million with a 15.6% IRR. Dominion’s share shows a post-tax NPV of US$278 million and a 16.7% IRR. Jay’s operations would run from 2022 to 2033, two years longer than envisioned by last year’s pre-feas, with ore processing continuing into 2034.
Jay would operate concurrently with the 10.1-million-carat-reserve Sable pipe, already under development, from 2021 to 2023. The current plan has Jay operating solo from 2024 to 2032. But the company intends to “pursue other incremental growth opportunities near our existing operations,” said CEO Brendan Bell.
Last month’s Ekati plant fire, however, forced Dominion to suspend operations on the Pigeon deposit. Mining and stockpiling continues at Ekati’s Misery open pit and Koala underground operations. Preliminary estimates call for about $25 million in plant repairs. Ekati’s 2017 guidance dropped from 5.6 million to 4.7 million carats.
Dominion also has a 40% stake in Diavik, the NWT’s other diamond producer, with Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO holding the rest. The mine’s fourth pipe, the 10-million-carat A-21, has production scheduled for H2 2018. Saying the company’s stock price doesn’t reflect the value of its assets, Dominion this week also announced a proposal to buy back around 7.2% of its issued and outstanding shares.
Meanwhile Canada’s next diamond mine—and the world’s biggest new diamond development—has production slated to begin this quarter. A 51%/49% JV of De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV, Gahcho Kué’s expected to average 4.5 million carats a year for 12 years.
Along with those three mines in the NWT’s Lac de Gras region and De Beers’ Victor mine in Ontario, Canada will gain a fifth operation with Stornoway Diamond’s (TSX:SWY) Renard project in Quebec. This one has production scheduled by year-end, bringing an average 1.8 million carats annually for the first 10 years of a 14-year lifespan.