Thursday 28th May 2020

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Open and shut cases: East

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

by Greg Klein

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Eldorado workers celebrate another endowment from Lamaque’s legacy.
(Photo: Eldorado Gold)

 

This is the final installment of a series on mine openings and closures across Canada for 2019 and 2020.

Quebec

Val-d’Or flaunted its abundance yet again as Eldorado Gold TSX:ELD reached commercial production at Lamaque in March. Pre-commercial mining and toll milling began the previous year, with the first gold pour from the project’s refurbished Sigma mill in December 2018. Guidance for 2019 was set at 100,000 to 110,000 ounces, with 125,000 to 135,000 initially expected for each of 2020 and 2021.

At least, that was the original plan. In September 2019 the company began a PEA to study an annual increase to 170,000 ounces. By November Eldorado announced an additional 19,000 ounces for Lamaque’s proven and probable reserves, along with 191,000 ounces for measured and indicated resources.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

A drill operator probes the Triangle deposit at Lamaque.
(Photo: Eldorado Gold)

That gives the deposit reserves of 972,000 ounces within a measured and indicated 1.55 million ounces.

But until further feasibility states otherwise, Lamaque’s life expectancy ends in seven years.

Eldorado picked up the property with its 2017 buyout of Integra Gold. The Triangle deposit now under production wasn’t part of the historic Lamaque mines, one of which was Quebec’s biggest gold producer between 1952 and 1985. In 2016 Integra’s Gold Rush Challenge offered geo-boffins a half-million-dollar prize to apply cutting edge technology in search of additional auriferous riches on historic turf adjacent to the current operation.

 

Attributing its setbacks more to cost overruns than an overinflated bubble, Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX ended 2019 by suspending mine construction and demo plant operations, laying off 64 staff, getting creditor protection and halting trades. Hanging in the balance is a possible $600-million investment that’s been under negotiation since July.

Just over a year ago Nemaska confidently spoke of steady construction progress, with concentrate production expected in H2 2019 and lithium salts production in H2 2020. But by February 2019 the company warned of a $375-million capex shortfall revealed by “detailed engineering work, revised site geo-technical data and updated equipment and installation costs” not foreseen in the previous year’s feasibility update.

That same month Livent Corp (previously FMC Corp) cancelled an 8,000-tpa lithium carbonate supply agreement that was to start in April 2019.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Until funders come to the rescue, Nemaska’s
Whabouchi camp will resemble an instant ghost town.
(Photo: Nemaska Lithium)

By September a US$75-million second tranche of a US$150-million stream agreement with Orion Mutual Funds fell into jeopardy. Bondholders called for repayment of US$350 million. The company had so far spent only $392 million towards a capex estimated at $1.269 billion.

Plan A calls for sealing a $600-million deal with the London-based Pallinghurst Group, which over the last 12 years has invested about US$2 billion in mining projects. But negotiation delays caused Nemaska to seek creditor protection, which was granted in December. Bracing for a possible fallout with Pallinghurst, Nemaska says it’s also considering other investment, debt or M&A alternatives.

Before suspending the Phase I plant at Shawinigan, however, the company did finish delivering samples to potential customers “ranging from cathode manufacturers to battery makers to industrial grease users, in addition to our existing offtake customers, which include LG Chemicals, Johnson Matthey and Northvolt” using proprietary methodology.

The mine plan calls for 24 years of open pit operation prior to nine years of underground mining, producing an annual 205,000 tonnes of 6.25% Li2O spodumene concentrate. On achieving commercial production, the Shawinigan plant’s annual capacity would reach 37,000 tonnes lithium hydroxide monohydrate.

Should funding allow, Nemaska would target Q3 2021 to begin spodumene concentrate production at Whabouchi and Q2 2022 to start producing lithium salts at Shawinigan.

The provincial government’s investment agency Ressources Québec holds about 12.5% of Nemaska.

 

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Although Nyrstar has moved mining equipment
out of Langlois, the company says exploration
potential remains. (Photo: Nyrstar)

Another James Bay-region operation, the Langlois zinc-copper mine went back on care and maintenance in December. A short-lived operation between July 2007 and November 2008, Langlois was taken over by Zurich-headquartered Nyrstar in 2011. Mining resumed the following year. But by October 2018 the suspension was decided “due to rock conditions having deteriorated,” making the mine uneconomic. Some 240 staff lost their jobs.

But Langlois “has exploration potential for other metals such as gold,” Nyrstar stated. “The company is in active discussions with interested parties in the mine and its assets.”

Usable equipment was slated for transfer to other Nyrstar properties in Tennessee and on Vancouver Island, where the company’s Myra Falls zinc-copper-polymetallic mine suspended operations briefly in early 2019.

As part of a debt restructuring, in July Nyrstar came under majority ownership of the Trafigura Group, one of the world’s largest physical commodities traders.

 

Fear of closure came to another Quebec mine in September after Stornoway Diamond followed its application for creditor protection with this ominous declaration: “There is and will be no recoverable or residual value in either Stornoway’s common shares or convertible debentures.”

Such an admission made the company’s October delisting something of a formality. But if investors got wiped out, the Renard mine continues operations due to creditors led by Osisko Gold Royalties TSX:OR and including Ressources Québec. As of November 1, Osisko became the largest shareholder, with a 35.1% stake. The royalty company also holds a 9.6% stream.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Despite Stornoway’s failure, creditors keep Quebec’s only
diamond mine in operation. (Photo: Stornoway Diamond)

Under a September LOI, the lenders agreed to take over all of Stornoway’s assets and liabilities. An initial $20-million financing should ensure Renard operations continue “in an uninterrupted manner.”

Open pit mining began in 2015, with an official opening following in 2016 and commercial production in 2017. But Renard encountered technical problems while shifting to underground operations and also faced a disappointing initial underground grade as well as the global slump in diamond markets.

Nevertheless, Osisko suggested the mine remained on target to meet the 2019 guidance set by Stornoway of 1.8 million to 2.1 million carats, with sales expectations of $80 to $105 per carat. A 2016 resource update expected prices ranging from $106 per carat for the Renard 4 pipe to $197 for Renard 2. The technical study assumed a 2.5% annual increase in diamond prices to the end of 2026.

New Brunswick

A casualty of an earlier mine closure, Glencore’s Brunswick lead-silver smelter shut down permanently by the end of 2019. “Despite years of efforts by committed employees and a strong management team, the smelter has been uneconomic since the closure of the Brunswick mine in 2013,” said company spokesperson Chris Eskdale. “We have thoroughly assessed all our options and come to the unavoidable conclusion that the smelter is simply not sustainable, regardless of the recent labour dispute.”

Termed a lockout by the United Steelworkers and a strike by management, the dispute had left 280 union members of the 420-person workforce off the job since April. The company’s November announcement of the impending shutdown also coincided with a strike at the CEZinc refinery near Montreal, which ended December 3 after 10 months. That facility is owned by Noranda Income Fund TSX:NIF.UN but operated by Glencore, which holds 25% of NIF.

Glencore’s Alexis Segal emphasized that Brunswick plant losses averaged $30 million annually for the last three years, CBC reported. Premier Blaine Higgs and labour minister Trevor Holder expressed concern but couldn’t offer reassurances, the network added.

The facility opened in 1966 to process concentrate from the Brunswick zinc-lead-silver mine, at one point the world’s largest underground zinc operation. Following the mine’s 2013 closure, the company was transforming the smelter into a custom plant.

Labrador

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Blasting began last June as Tacora brought new life
to the Scully iron ore operation. (Photo: Tacora Resources)

Western Labrador’s iron industry revived in May as production resumed at the Scully mine after nearly five years. Minnesota-based Tacora Resources bought the former Wabush Iron operation through a Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act process in 2017, conducted a new feasibility study and recruited strategic investors that include the metals branch of Cargill, which also agreed to 100% offtake for 15 years.

The restart benefits Quebec too. The Iron Ore Company of Canada’s railway, the Quebec North Shore & Labrador line, carries Scully production to a pellet plant at Pointe Noire on the St. Lawrence. Nearby Sept-Isles provides deep sea docks from where the resuscitated mine’s first shipment left for Europe in late August.

With life expectancy currently set at 15 years, the company expects the open pit to produce 6.25 million tpa. Tacora hopes to upgrade the 65.9% Fe concentrate and also pull profits from the deposit’s manganese, considered problematic by the previous operator.

“The manganese content was a hurdle and an impediment before,” Tacora CEO/chairperson Larry Lehtinen told CBC. “We’re turning that into an advantage.”

The mine previously opened in 1965. The operation shut down completely in 2015 but most staff had already lost their jobs the previous year.

This is Part 4 of a series.


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