Monday 13th July 2020

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Posts tagged ‘chile’

Robust or bust

May 7th, 2020

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

by Greg Klein | May 7, 2020

It might take premature complacency or enormously good fortune to look back and laugh at the Early 2020 Toilet Paper Panic. But from today’s viewpoint, bumwad might be the least of our worries. There won’t be much need for the stuff without enough food to sustain life. Or water. Medicine, heat and electricity come in handy too.

Sparsely stocked supermarket shelves have been blamed on hoarders who thwart the industry’s just-in-time system, a process credited with “robust” reliability when not challenged by irrational buying sprees. Consumer concern, on the other hand, might be understandable given the credibility of official positions such as Ottawa’s facemask flip-flop and initial arguments that closing borders would actually worsen the pandemic.

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

A North Vancouver supermarket seen in mid-March. While
stockpiling has abated, supply lines show signs of stress.
(Photo: Steeve Raye/Shutterstock.com)

Meanwhile Canadian farmers worry about the supply of foreign labour needed to harvest crops, dairy farmers dump milk for lack of short-distance transport and deadly coronavirus outbreaks force widespread closures of meat and poultry plants across Canada and the U.S.

Highlighting the latter problem were full-page ads in American newspapers from meat-packing giant Tyson Foods. “The food supply chain is breaking,” the company warned in late April. “Millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities.”

Within days the U.S. invoked the Defense Production Act, ordering meat plants to stay open despite fears of additional outbreaks. 

Just a few other pandemic-related food challenges in Canada include outbreaks at retail grocers, a shortage of packaging for a popular brand of flour and an Ontario supermarket warning customers to throw away bread in case it was tainted by an infected bakery worker.

Infrastructure supplying necessities like energy, fuel, water and communications faces pandemic-related challenges of its own, including availability of labour and expertise.

Supply chain complexity has been scrutinized in The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age. One example from author David S. Abraham was the electric toothbrush, a utensil comprising something like 35 metals that are sourced, refined and used in manufacturing over six continents.

Dissecting a 2017 smartphone, the U.S. Geological Survey found 14 necessary but mostly obscure elements. As a source country, China led the world with nine mineral commodities essential to mobile devices, and that list included rare earths in a single category.

In a recent series of COVID-19 reports on the lithium-ion necessities graphite, cobalt, lithium and nickel, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence stated: “From the raw material foundations of the supply chain in the DRC, Australia, Chile and beyond, through to the battery cell production in China, Japan and Korea, it is likely that the cells used by the Teslas of the world have touched every continent (sometimes multiple times over) before they reach the Model 3 that is driven (or drives itself) off the showroom floor.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

Consumers might not realize the complex
international networks behind staple items.

Or consider something more prosaic—canned tuna.

That favourite of food hoarders might be caught in the mid-Pacific, processed and canned in Thailand following extraction of bauxite (considered a critical mineral in the U.S.) in Australia, China, Guinea or elsewhere, with ore shipped for smelting to places where electricity’s cheap (China accounted for over 56% of global aluminum production last year). Then the aluminum moves on to can manufacturers, and transportation has to be provided between each point and onward to warehouses, retailers and consumers. Additional supply chains provide additional manufactured parts, infrastructure, energy and labour to make each of those processes work.

Still another supply chain produces the can opener.

Daily briefings by Canada’s federal and provincial health czars express hope that this country might “flatten the curve,” a still-unattained goal that would hardly end the pandemic when and if it’s achieved. Meanwhile the virus gains momentum in poorer, more populous and more vulnerable parts of the world and threatens a second, more deadly wave coinciding with flu season.

And if one crisis can trigger another, social order might also be at risk. Canada’s pre-virus blockades demonstrated this country’s powerlessness against a force not of nature but of self-indulgence. Even a cohesive, competent society would have trouble surviving a general infrastructure collapse, a scenario dramatized in William R. Forstchen’s novel One Second After. When transportation, communications, infrastructure and the financial system break down, so do a lot of people. Dangerous enough as individuals, they can form mobs, gangs and cartels.

How seriously Washington considers apocalyptic scenarios isn’t known. But prior to the pandemic, the U.S. had already been taking measures to reduce its dependency on China and other risky sources for critical minerals. Now, Reuters reports, COVID-19 has broadened American concerns to include other supply chains and inspired plans for an Economic Prosperity Network with allied countries. Questions remain about the extent that the West can achieve self-sufficiency and, in the U.S., whether another administration might undo the current president’s efforts.

Certainly globalist confidence persists. The Conference Board of Canada, for example, expects a slow return of supply chain operations to pre-pandemic levels but a renewed international order just the same. “Global co-operation is needed not only to tackle the health crisis, but also to restore trust in global supply chains and maintain the benefits that the growth in global trade has brought over the last two decades.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

New cars leave the manufacturing hub and disease
epicentre of Wuhan prior to the pandemic.
(Photo: humphery/Shutterstock.com)

One early COVID-19 casualty, the multi-continent diamond supply chain, already shows signs of gradual recovery according to Rapaport News. Despite mine suspensions, “there is more than enough rough and polished in the pipeline to satisfy demand as trading centres start to reopen. Belgium and Israel have eased lockdown restrictions, while India has allowed select manufacturing in Surat and special shipments to Hong Kong.”

Also struggling back to its feet is global automotive manufacturing. Writing in Metal Bulletin, Andrea Hotter outlines how the disease epicentre of Wuhan plays a vital role in making cars and supplying components to other factory centres. “If ever there was a masterclass in the need to disaster-proof a supply chain, then the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a harsh reminder to the automotive sector that it’s failing.”

So regardless of whether apocalyptic fears are overblown, there are lessons to be learned. As Benchmark points out, COVID-19 has disrupted “almost every global supply chain to such a profound extent that mechanisms for material sourcing, trade and distribution will likely never be the same again.”

In the meantime, a spare can opener or two might be prudent. Or maybe several, in case they become more valuable than bullion.

Legendary mine finder David Lowell dead at 92

May 6th, 2020

by Greg Klein | May 6, 2020

An axe injury while staking claims in central Saskatchewan helps illustrate the working life of an intrepid geologist in the 1950s. While topping trees David Lowell slashed his hand, but heavy blood loss hardly justified helicopter transport for medical attention. A few days later, as bleeding continued despite application of a rag bandage, a fellow geologist sewed up the cut with black carpet thread.

Legendary mine finder David Lowell dead at 92

Although Lowell admitted the process had him howling with pain, he concluded with stoic simplicity: “This worked fine.” They stayed in the bush for another week before heading back to Lac La Ronge, where a couple of Cree nurses examined the amateur stitch-up with amusement.

Lowell also spent time in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories as well as in British Columbia, where he worked at Highland Valley, Endako, Gibraltar and Craigmont. But the legend who passed away earlier this week was best known for discoveries farther south, starting in his native Arizona. The grandson of an Ontario-born prospector is credited with 17 major discoveries over 50 years in Arizona, Argentina, the Philippines, B.C., Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Intrepid Explorer: The Autobiography of the World’s Best Mine Finder attributes significant work from others for seven of those achievements, which he categorizes as “maybe-I-was-responsible-for orebodies.” As he added, “there always are many more discoverers than discoveries.”

Lowell’s boots hit ground over much of the world but he also delivered university lectures in several countries and published widely. A longstanding collaboration with John Guilbert brought fame for the duo, better understanding of geology and many new mines through the Lowell-Guilbert Porphyry Copper Model, first published in 1970.

The model led to Lowell’s first discoveries, Kalamazoo and Vekol in Arizona, “which were remarkable at the time given the lack of visible copper mineralization at surface,” said a May 5 statement from Solaris Resources. Those finds were followed by Bajo Alumbrera in Argentina, to which Lowell acknowledged the contribution of others.

“David went on to discover the world’s largest copper deposit, La Escondida, in Chile in 1981,” Solaris pointed out. “This came from recognizing how the signature of his porphyry copper model would be modified in an extremely arid environment by a process known as ‘super leaching,’ which five prior companies exploring the property previously had failed to recognize.

“Likewise, in Peru, David identified the Northern Peru Gold Belt after library study, regional mapping, reconnaissance and sampling in a region that was not thought to be prospective. This work allowed him to narrow his focus and make the Pierina gold discovery in 1996, which was acquired by Barrick Gold for over $1 billion later that year.

“With Peru Copper, David took what was a known but under-appreciated deposit in Toromocho, relogged the existing drill core and completely reinterpreted the geology to lay the foundation for an exploration program that would increase its size by more than an order of magnitude. The project was acquired in 2007 for over $800 million.”

His last discoveries included Mirador in Ecuador, which began operation last year under a Chinese consortium, and Solaris’ flagship project Warintza in Ecuador, along with Lowell’s participation in finding Alto Parana in Paraguay. Lowell remained a Solaris consultant and strategic partner until his passing.

“Up until the very end of his life, David was busy designing programs to test his vision for the future of discovery in the Americas,” the company stated. “Innovation and ingenuity were constants throughout his legendary career.”

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return: GlobalData

April 28th, 2020

by Greg Klein | April 28, 2020

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return GlobalData

 

As of April 27 some 729 mines worldwide remain suspended, down from more than 1,600 shutdowns on April 3. The numbers, released by GlobalData, reflect government decisions to declare the industry an essential service, as well as implementation of new health standards and procedures. Those efforts, often involving staff reductions, contribute to “a slow return for the industry,” stated the data and analytics firm.

“Silver production is currently being severely damaged by lockdown measures,” pointed out GlobalData mining analyst Vinneth Bajaj. “As of 27 April, the equivalent of 65.8% of annual global silver production was on hold. Silver mining companies such as First Majestic, Hochschild, Hecla Mining and Endeavour Silver have all withdrawn their production guidance for 2020 in the wake of the outbreak.

Mining resumes under COVID-19 but faces slow return GlobalData

“Progress has also been halted on 23 mines under construction, including the US$5.3-billion Quellaveco copper mine in Peru, which is one of the world’s biggest copper mines currently under development…. In Chile, while a lockdown is not in force, Antofagasta has halted work on its Los Pelambres project and Teck Resources has suspended work on the Quebrada Blanca Phase II mine.”

Jurisdictions that have lifted suspensions include Quebec, India, Argentina, Zimbabwe and South Africa, GlobalData added. Countries with government-ordered lockdowns still in force include Bolivia (until April 30), Namibia (May 4), Peru (May 10) and Mexico (May 30).

At least one Mexico operator, Argonaut Gold TSX:AR, plans to re-open on May 18 under an exception for businesses operating in municipalities with few or no cases of COVID-19.

Quebec’s resumption of mining drew strong criticism from Makivik Corporation, which represents the Inuit of the province’s Nunavik region.

“Makivik will not entertain the opening of any mines at this time in Nunavik. This is very dangerous,” said corporation president Charlie Watt on April 17. “The Inuit-elected officials in the communities and in the different regional organizations need to be heard and need to make the decisions and call the shots.”

One day later production resumed at Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine. The company stated that Nunavik authorities have banned travel between the mine and regional villages to protect the local population. Local workers stay home with compensation, while the mine employs workers from the south, including Inuit who live in the south.

Without question this is taking a toll on all of our mines and service/supply companies.—Ken Armstrong, NWT and
Nunavut Chamber of Mines

Six mines still operating in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories use similar staffing precautions. “The mines are operating with reduced workforces which they must fly in by charter from as far away as eastern Canada,” said NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Ken Armstrong. “To protect vulnerable northern communities from the virus they have sent their local employees home with pay and they are maintaining costly and unplanned virus protection measures.”

Meanwhile Labrador politicians expressed concern about renewed operations at Champion Iron’s (TSX:CIA) Bloom Lake mine on the Quebec side of the Labrador Trough. On April 28 VOCM radio reported that MP Yvonne Jones asked the company to avoid the Wabush airport in her riding and transport employees entirely through Quebec. Member of the House of Assembly Jordan Brown said contractors were making unnecessary trips to the Newfoundland and Labrador side.

Another pandemic-caused Quebec mining suspension will stay on care and maintenance due to market forces. Renard owner Stornoway Diamond stated, “Despite positive signs in the diamond market in early 2020, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the entire marketing chain and diamond price collapse.”

Prior to the suspension, Renard operated only through creditor support.

Another diamond casualty has been the Northwest Territory’s Ekati mine, which suspended operations last month. Majority owner Dominion Diamond Mines received insolvency protection on April 22.

Discovered in 1991 and opened in 1998, Ekati “provided nearly 33,000 person-years of employment, and $9.3 billion in business spending, with over half the benefits (51% of jobs and 69% of spending) going to northern residents and businesses,” the Chamber stated. “Billions of dollars in various taxes and royalties have also been paid to public and indigenous governments by the mine.”

Crisis response

April 3rd, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains under the pandemic

by Greg Klein | April 3, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

 

Idled explorers: Can you help?

“Essential supplies and personnel are needed to create and operate temporary facilities for testing, triage, housing and isolation areas for vulnerable populations,” states the Association for Mineral Exploration. “As mineral explorers, we have access to the supplies needed and are in a unique position to help.”

AME calls on the industry to contribute excess capacity of the following:

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

  • Camp support personnel such as caterers, housekeepers, janitors, etc.

  • Available medical staff including such qualifications as OFA3s, paramedics, RNs, etc.

  • Other supplies or skills

If you can help, please fill out this form and AME will be in touch. 

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

Preparing for a wider emergency

Given the danger of one crisis triggering others, essential infrastructure remains at risk. One plan to safeguard Ontario’s electricity service would require Toronto workers to bunk down in employer-supplied accommodation under lockdown conditions better known to isolated locations.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Quarantines might require essential
services to provide job-site bed and board.
(Photo: Independent Electricity System Operator)

It hasn’t happened yet, but the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator stands ready for the possibility, according to a Canadian Press story published by the Globe and Mail. A not-for-profit agency established by the province, the IESO co-ordinates Ontario electricity supply to meet demand.

About 90% of its staff now work at home but another 48 employees must still come into work, CEO Peter Gregg said. Eight six-person teams now undergo 12-hour shifts in two Toronto-area control rooms.

“Should it become necessary, he said, bed, food and other on-site arrangements have been made to allow the operators to stay at their workplaces as a similar agency in New York has done,” CP reported.

Similar plans may well be underway not only for essential infrastructure but also for essential production, processing, manufacturing, communications, transportation and trade. One sign of the times to come could be locked-down camps in supermarket parking lots for our under-appreciated retail-sector heroes.

Meanwhile, retaining and protecting care-home staff already constitute a crisis within a crisis.

Australia guards against predatory foreign takeovers

With China prominently in mind, Australia has taken extra measures to protect companies and projects shattered by the COVID-19 economy. Canberra has temporarily granted its Foreign Investment Review Board extra powers to guard distressed companies and assets against acquisitions by opportunistic foreigners. Although previous foreign acquisitions came under review only when the price passed certain thresholds, now all such transactions get FIRB scrutiny.

The changes follow concerns raised by MPs on Australia’s intelligence and security committee. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted committee chairperson Andrew Hastie warning of “foreign state-owned enterprises working contrary to our national interest. More than ever, we need to protect ourselves from geo-strategic moves masquerading as legitimate business.”

Committee member Tim Wilson added, “We can’t allow foreign state-owned enterprises and their business fronts to use COVID-19’s economic carnage as a gateway to swoop distressed businesses and assets.”

Among protected assets are exploration and mining projects, utilities, infrastructure and an interest of 20% or more in a company or business.

Critical minerals become ever more critical

As Lynas Corp extended the suspension of its rare earths processing facility in line with Malaysian government pandemic orders, the company noted the importance of its products “in permanent magnets used in medical devices including ventilators, and in lanthanum products used in oil refineries for petroleum production.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

The suspension of its Malaysian plant prompted
Lynas to emphasize REs’ criticality to virus treatment.
(Photo: Lynas Corp)

Originally set to expire on March 31, the government order currently stays in force until April 14. RE extraction continues at Lynas’ Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

In late February Malaysia granted the company a three-year licence renewal for the processing facility, which had been threatened with closure due to controversy about its low-level radioactive tailings. Among conditions for the renewal are development of a permanent disposal facility for existing waste and putting a cracking and leaching plant in operation outside Malaysia by July 2023 to end the practice of transporting radioactive material to the country.

Committed to maintaining a non-Chinese supply chain, the company plans to locate the C&L plant in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Sharing the disease, hoarding the treatment

A problem recognized in American defence procurement has hit health care—the need to build non-Chinese supply chains. Most of the world’s ventilators and about half the masks are manufactured in China, points out a recent column by Terry Glavin.

The West is learning, finally and the hard way, “that thriving liberal democracies cannot co-exist for long within a model of neo-liberal globalization that admits into its embrace such a tyrannical state-capitalist monstrosity as the People’s Republic of China.”

The U.S., for example, relies heavily on China for antibiotics, painkillers, surgical gowns, equipment that measures blood oxygen levels and magnetic resonance imaging scanners. China effectively banned medical equipment exports as soon as Wuhan went on lockdown, Glavin adds.

“It probably didn’t help that Ottawa sent 16,000 tonnes of gear to China back in February. That was a lot of gear—1,101 masks, 50,118 face shields, 36,425 medical coveralls, 200,000 pairs of gloves and so on—but a drop in Beijing’s bucket. A New York Times investigation last month found that China had imported 56 million respirators and masks, just in the first week of the Wuhan shutdown.

“It is not known how much of that cargo came from the massive bulk-buying campaign organized and carried out across Canada by affiliates of the United Front Work Department, the overseas propaganda and influence-peddling arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Desperate need for health care supplies
pits country against country. (Photo: 3M)

Nor does the non-Chinese world display altruism. In response to the crisis, the EU and more than 50 countries have either banned or restricted exports of medical equipment, Glavin states.

By April 3 global health care products supplier 3M revealed that Washington asked the company to stop exporting U.S.-manufactured N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. 3M noted “significant humanitarian implications” but also the possibility of trade retaliation. “If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.”

The company did win China’s permission to import 10 million of its own Chinese-manufactured N95s into the U.S.

Meanwhile the Canadian government comes under increasing criticism for discouraging the public from wearing masks.

Chinese supply chains also jeopardized by Chinese disease

As the world’s main exporter of manufactured goods, China’s the main importer of raw materials, especially metals. But, as the world’s main exporter of disease, China managed to threaten its own supplies.

Reuters columnist Andy Home outlined lockdown-imposed cutbacks of copper, zinc and lead from Chile and Peru, and chrome from South Africa; reductions in cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in tin from already depleting Myanmar, and in nickel from the Philippines, the latter a hoped-for replacement after Indonesia banned unprocessed exports.

The longer the lockdowns, “the greater the potential for supply chain disruption,” Home comments. “As the biggest buyer of metallic raw materials, this is a ticking time-bomb for China’s metals producers.”

Miners’ providence unevenly distributed

Probably no other foreign shutdowns have affected as many Canadian miners and explorers as that of Mexico. Considered non-essential, their work will be suspended until April 30, with extensions more than likely. Mexico’s announcement must have sounded familiar to Pan American Silver TSX:PAAS, which had already pressed the pause button to comply with national quarantines in Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. That currently limits the company’s mining to Timmins, where production has been reduced by about 10% to 20% to allow physical distancing.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Mauritania exempted Kinross Gold’s Tasiast mine
from domestic travel restrictions. (Photo: Kinross Gold)

One company more favourably located, so far, is Kinross Gold TSX:K. As of April 1, operations continued at its seven mines in Nevada, Alaska, Brazil, Mauritania, Russia and Ghana, while work went on at its four non-producing projects in Alaska, Mauritania, Russia and Chile.

Expanded shutdowns ordered by Ontario on April 3 include many construction and industrial projects but exempt mining. Earlier that day New Gold TSX:NGD announced Rainy River’s restart after a two-week suspension to allow self-isolation among employees. Many of the mine’s workers live locally and made short trips into Minnesota before the border closed.

Quebec border restrictions have hindered the Ontario operations of Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL, cutting off a source of employees and contractors. As a result the company reduced production at its Macassa mine and suspended work at its Holt complex, comprising three gold mines and a mill. Kirkland reduced operations at its Detour Lake mine effective March 23, after a worker showed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated on March 14. He tested positive on March 26. Production continues at the company’s Fosterville mine in Australia.

Some explorers have been idled by government restrictions, others by market conditions. Still, some companies have money and jurisdictions in which to spend it. Liberty Gold TSX:LGD, for example, resumed drilling its Black Pine gold project in Idaho on March 31.

Some jurisdictions, like B.C. and New Brunswick, have extended work requirement deadlines to help companies keep exploration claims active.

“China needs to be held responsible”

A few Canadian journalists are saying what we might never hear from our politicians. Here, for example, is Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein:

“China needs to be held responsible. The problem is, because of its political power— and you see it in the World Health Organization announcements, in Canadian announcements—they’ve been praising what China did. There would have been a virus anyway. China made it worse. More people are dying, more people are being infected, and its dictators need to be held to account.”

Open and shut cases: West

December 20th, 2019

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

by Greg Klein

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Western Potash began Saskatchewan’s first solution mining operation for this commodity in July.
(Photo: Western Potash)

 

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

The Exxon Valdez of Canadian mining went into dry dock at the end of May, as Imperial Metals TSX:III put its Mount Polley copper-gold operation on care and maintenance. The company that traded above $16.50 prior to the August 2014 tailings dam failure spent most of 2019 well below $3. Now holding two suspended mines, the company’s operational portfolio has dwindled to a 30% stake in B.C.’s Red Chris copper-gold open pits. In August Imperial sold the other 70% to ASX-listed Newcrest Mining for US$775 million.

But if human error can dump eight million cubic metres of tailings muck into the waterways, human ingenuity can respond. As the five-year anniversary approached, Geoscience BC founding president/CEO and Imperial’s former chief scientific officer ’Lyn Anglin offered her perspective on the $70-million clean-up program, which continues during the mine’s suspension.

 

Maybe its status as Canada’s largest diversified miner leaves Teck Resources TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B open to greater diversity in downturns. The company blamed global economic uncertainties for “a significant negative effect on the prices for our products, particularly steelmaking coal.” But the company attributes its most recent coal mine closures not to market forces but to depletion. That was the verdict for the mid-year shutdown of B.C.’s Coal Mountain and for Alberta’s Cardinal River, scheduled to follow in mid-2020.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Some depleted mines notwithstanding, Teck Resources
has over four decades of B.C. coal reserves.
(Photo: Teck Resources)

Although Teck warned employees in September of layoffs, noting a price drop from about $210 to about $130 per tonne over the previous weeks, further mine closures weren’t specified. Depletion hardly concerns Teck’s four remaining Kootenay-region coal operations. The company says there’s enough steelmaking stuff to keep Line Creek, Greenhills, Elkview and Fording River busy for 18, 28, 38 and 43 years respectively.

While the company now focuses on its Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 copper development project in Chile and its JV at the port of Vancouver’s Neptune terminal, Teck’s $20-billion proposal for Alberta might serve as an affront to the great cause of our time. In July Teck managed to get a recommendation of approval from a joint federal/provincial environmental review panel for its Frontier oilsands project. Media reports, however, suggest Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his cabinet might reject the panel’s recommendation.

 

Whether it brought relief or astonishment to local supporters, in July Western Potash finally began building its long-delayed Milestone potash project in southern Saskatchewan.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

A determined-looking Western Potash group
celebrates a milestone in Saskatchewan mining.
(Photo: Western Potash)

Expectations had risen and fallen a few too many times since at least 2015, when the company announced it had secured funds sufficient for a scaled-down capex. But in October Western began solution mining, the first application of this method for potash in Saskatchewan. The innovative operation will also be “the first potash mine in the world that will leave no salt tailings on the surface, thereby significantly reducing water consumption.”

Now a subsidiary of Western Resources TSX:WRX, the company plans “hot mining” early in the new year to pump brine containing potassium chloride into a crystallization pond at surface, leaving unwanted sodium chloride underground. By Q3 2020 a newly built plant will process the potash for an off-take agreement covering all Phase I production. Phase II calls for expanded operations to support an average 146,000 tpa output over a 12-year life.

 

Yet the mine starts up amid cutbacks and shutdowns elsewhere. The province’s big three potash producers, Nutrien TSX:NTR, Mosaic NYSE:MOS and K+S Potash Canada, all reduced output in 2019. Between them, Nutrien and Mosaic suspended four operations, at least one indefinitely.

In August workers at Mosaic’s Colonsay operation learned of an indefinite layoff, reportedly to last anywhere from six months to a matter of years. Further discouragement came in November when the United Steelworkers confirmed that the company was moving equipment from Colonsay to its Esterhazy operation, itself subject to reduced output.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Saskatchewan’s tallest structure stands over a shaft reaching
more than a kilometre underground at Mosaic’s Esterhazy K3.
(Photo: Mosaic)

Esterhazy’s ambitious K3 expansion project, however, continues unfazed by current market conditions. With construction started in 2011, commissioning begun in December 2018 and full production not scheduled until 2024, the new underground operation will replace Esterhazy’s K1 and K2 mines, keeping the K1 and K2 mills busy at the world’s largest potash mining complex.

In September Nutrien announced it would “proactively” suspend its Allan, Lanigan and Vanscoy potash mines. Workers at the first two got December 29 recall notices, but Vanscoy’s resumption has yet to be revealed.

Nevertheless, company bosses expressed optimistic 2020 foresight. It will be “a strong year for crop input demand for which we are well-positioned to benefit,” predicted Nutrien president/CEO Chuck Magro. His Mosaic counterpart Joc O’Rourke expects “a very strong application season in Brazil and North America, and a better supply and demand balance in 2020.” .

 

That year or the next just might be momentous for Saskatchewan potash. BHP Group NYSE:BHP’s board of directors has until February 2021 to decide whether to complete Jansen, a $17-billion project that would challenge the province’s potash protocol.

The threat of competition might take an unexpected turn, however. As reported in the Financial Post, at least two analysts say rival companies could attack pre-emptively by boosting production to lower prices and discourage new mine development.

 

Holding top positions globally are Saskatchewan as potash-producing jurisdiction and Saskatoon-headquartered Nutrien as potash miner. The province also boasts world stature for uranium but has no new U3O8 operations expected during this survey’s time frame. Even so, industry and investors watch with interest as Denison Mines TSX:DML, NexGen Energy TSX:NXE and Fission Uranium TSX:FCU each proceed with advanced large-scale projects.

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

Unapologetically unorthodox

April 30th, 2018

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention as he discusses economies, cultures and opportunities

by Greg Klein

There are contrarians and there are contrarians. But maybe Jayant Bhandari would be better called a controversian. As a prolific writer/commentator and an adviser to institutional investors, his comments reflect a mind unsatisfied with received wisdom. Now a resident of Singapore, his travels have taken him to 80 countries, seven of which he’s lived in. That background has influenced his perspective on a number of topics including the emerging markets—or emerging market singular. China’s the only one, he insists.

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

Jayant Bhandari goes beyond the
mainstream to examine the West,
China, emerging markets and gold.

Speaking on the phone to ResourceClips.com while visiting central India, he used that country to illustrate what he considers to be the emerging market fallacy. With a per-capita GDP of about $1,800, the country enjoys 7.5% growth. Multiplying those numbers shows India’s economy increasing by $135 per capita.

“Now 7.5% looks very good, but look at America,” Bhandari points out. Although it’s growing at “only” 2.3%, its per-capita GDP reaches nearly $50,000. “That translates into $1,150 growth per capita, which means that America’s GDP, on a per-capita basis, is growing nine times faster than India’s.”

He argues that people and organizations—like the World Bank and IMF—are dead wrong in claiming the two countries shouldn’t be compared.

Taking a pessimistic view towards much of the globe, he emphasizes that “something like 75% of the world’s consumption of commodities happens in China. So it is China which is in the driver’s seat and in my view it will continue to do very well going forward.”

While Chile, Argentina and Peru hold out hope, the rest of South America shows little prospect, he believes. Central America faces serious crime and social unrest. “Just about everything in Africa is imploding. The international media are almost completely ignoring the problems of South Africa which is, in my view, rapidly moving in the direction of a civil war. And if South Africa implodes, it won’t take much for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to implode.”

Bhandari adds that “Chinese money and Chinese businesses enforce some kind of stability in many of these countries.” Yet lingering problems bode poorly for the future “and it is a reason why Trump is asking for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The Third World is not in good shape at all.”

Consequently many of its people appreciate gold’s safe haven status. “They don’t trust their institutions and they don’t trust their social structures,” Bhandari maintains.

Jayant Bhandari disregards convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

“The biggest buyers of gold are in the Middle East and south Asia because institutions in these countries simply don’t work and people do not trust them. They do not even trust their families and friends, basically. Pakistan is imploding right now, India is rapidly moving in that direction and wealthy people of these countries will rapidly move their investment wealth into gold once they realize that economic growth isn’t happening anymore.”

Although he regards himself “ambivalent about buying gold in Western countries,” he says: “If enough gold-buying happens in these poor countries, the gold price will do quite well and that will benefit buyers of gold in Western countries.

“Of course you have to protect yourself from government interference and it’s wise to keep some of your wealth in a form that you can keep in your own pocket.”

Still, Bhandari sees too much emphasis on gold’s price in U.S. dollars. Non-American buyers “look at gold in the currencies that they use at home. When people focus too much on U.S. dollar pricing of gold they might not understand the technical future of gold.”

What could trigger a significant and sustained price increase? One possibility could be turmoil in South Africa “because those problems would very rapidly spread across sub-Saharan Africa. But I also see problems continuing to increase in India and if this country increases its consumption very slightly on a per-capita basis, it will start consuming a lot more gold. And social instability is increasing in this country.”

People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.

Among Bhandari’s more optimistic endeavours is Capitalism and Morality, a philosophy seminar that he hosts in Vancouver each year. “My purpose is to bring people together to discuss Western civilization, what I consider to be the only civilization that has ever existed.”

Considering the West unique for its respect towards reason and individuality, Bhandari says, “People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.”

What does Bhandari’s perspective mean to investors? He examines the mistakes people make in junior resource stocks at the International Mining Investment Conference, held in Vancouver on May 15 and 16. For a 25% admission discount click here and enter the code RESOURCECLIPS.

Read about conference speakers Simon Moores and Ed Steer.

Lithium in abundance, but…

April 25th, 2018

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

by Greg Klein

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

Estimates vary widely but attribute enormous lithium potential to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni.

 

It’s a testament to lithium market expectations that companies will compete with each other to do business in Bolivia. When news broke that the country wanted help to develop its fabled Salar de Uyuni, several firms showed willingness to overlook a history of investment confiscation. So has one of the world’s worst mining jurisdictions become serious about opening what just might be the world’s largest lithium resources?

Yes, an April 21 government announcement would seem to indicate. Media reports say the German firm ACI Systems GmbH had been selected out of five applicants from China and one each from Canada and Russia to team up with the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, which would hold the lion’s share of a 51%/49% joint venture. The actual agreement has yet to be signed.

Bolivia’s huge resources face huge challenges, Simon Moores points out

After winning power in 2006, Bolivian President Evo Morales gained a reputation for nationalizing resource and infrastructure assets, sometimes without compensation. State-run and co-operative mining operations, meanwhile, have suffered problems ranging from inefficiency to
exploitive and even deadly working conditions.

Clearly there’s an incentive for Bolivia to change its approach to mining. According to la Razón, the deal calls for $900 million from YLB (all figures in U.S. dollars) and $1.3 billion plus expertise from ACI to develop facilities that would process lithium and manufacture batteries and cathodes, primarily for the European electric vehicle market.

Expected to come online within 18 months, the industry might eventually provide Bolivia with a forecasted $1.2 billion in annual revenues, 1,200 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs.

It takes enormous mineral potential to rationalize such optimism. While estimates can vary wildly, they all rate Bolivia highly. Uyuni has “likely the largest accumulation of lithium in the world,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey, citing a 2013 estimate of nine million tonnes at an average concentration of about 320 ppm. Another USGS report estimates a 2017 global total of 53 million tonnes, with 9.8 million tonnes in Argentina, nine million in Bolivia, 8.4 million in Chile, seven million in China, five million in Australia and 1.9 million in Canada. Comparing Bolivia with its Lithium Triangle neighbours, Industrial Minerals credits Uyuni with three times the resources of Chile’s Salar de Atacama and nearly 20 times that of Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto. Some media reports say Bolivia holds as much as a quarter of global supply.

Resources mean little and economic reserves mean everything.

“There is no doubt that Bolivia has a huge lithium resource with Uyuni, most probably the biggest in the world,” notes Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. “But resources mean little and economic reserves mean everything.

“In these economic terms—extracting the lithium in a usable form for the battery industry at a reasonable cost—Chile and Argentina are light years ahead of Bolivia,” he tells ResourceClips.com.

The country has been conducting pilot scale work, but nothing comparable to its neighbours. In contrast to Chile’s Atacama, Moores says, Uyuni’s high magnesium content and lower evaporation rate present processing challenges. “Most likely new or adapted processing methods will have to be employed, which adds a further layer of complexity.”

As for political risk, “the jury is out on any partnership in Bolivia,” he stresses. “In 2009, when this story first broke, there were a number of high-profile partners involved. Every partnership to date has failed. This is not to say any present or future partnership will share the same fate, but you are not only dealing with a challenging resource—despite its size—you are dealing with Bolivia and all the political problems that come with that. The risk is huge.

“Then when you are in production, the risk is even bigger. You just have to see the problems SQM has had with the Chilean government at a time of high prices and high demand. And they have been operating since the mid-90s.”

If Albemarle, SQM, Ganfeng, Tianqi, FMC get involved then you will have to stand up and take notice. Until that point, Bolivia will always be a lithium outside shot.

As for other companies entering Bolivia, Moores sees the possibility of “a handful of explorers becoming active and maybe one or two ‘industrial’ partners. But the key thing we always look for at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is partners with lithium processing experience. If Albemarle, SQM, Ganfeng, Tianqi, FMC get involved then you will have to stand up and take notice. Until that point, Bolivia will always be a lithium outside shot.”

He regards Bolivia’s infrastructure as another significant challenge, but not the country’s worst. “If big mining groups can make this happen in Africa, they can make it happen in Bolivia. The biggest focus should be economic extraction and the long-term viability of Uyuni. This is the biggest hurdle.”

Simon Moores speaks at the International Mining Investment Conference in Vancouver on May 15, the first day of the two-day event. For a 25% admission discount click here and enter the code RESOURCECLIPS.

On May 16 Moores presents the Vancouver stop of the Benchmark World Tour 2018. Click here for the complete tour schedule and free registration.

Paved with mineralization

October 27th, 2017

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

by Greg Klein

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

Profitable right from the beginning, Teck’s Elkview mine “would become
the key chip in the consolidation of the Canadian steelmaking coal industry.”
(Photo: Teck Resources)

 

“We were all young and relatively inexperienced in such matters in those days.”

He was referring to copper futures, a peril then unfamiliar to him. But the remark’s a bit rich for someone who was, at the time he’s writing about, 43 years old and president/CEO of a company that opened four mines in the previous six years. Still, the comment helps relate how Norman B. Keevil enjoyed the opportune experience of maturing professionally along with a company that grew into Canada’s largest diversified miner. Now chairperson of Teck Resources, he’s penned a memoir/corporate history/fly-on-the-wall account that’s a valuable contribution to Canadian business history, not to mention the country’s rich mining lore.

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—road to success

Norman B. Keevil
(Photo: Teck Resources)

Never Rest on Your Ores: Building a Mining Company, One Stone at a Time follows the progress of a group of people determined to avoid getting mined out or taken out. In addition to geoscientific, engineering and financial expertise, luck accompanies them (much of the time, anyway), as does acumen (again, much of the time anyway).

Teck gains its first foothold as a predecessor company headed by Keevil’s father, Norman Bell Keevil, drills Temagami, a project that came up barren for Anaconda. The new guys hit 28% copper over 17.7 metres. Further drilling leads to the three-sentence feasibility study:

Dr. Keevil: What shall we do about Temagami?

Joe Frantz: Let’s put it into production.

Bill Bergey: Sounds good to me.

They schedule production for two and a half months later.

A few other stories relate a crucial 10 seconds in the Teck-Hughes acquisition, the accidental foray into Saskatchewan oil, the Toronto establishment snubbing Afton because of its VSE listing, an underhanded ultimatum from the British Columbia government, getting out of the oyster business and winning an unheard-of 130% financing for Hemlo.

Readers learn how Murray Pezim out-hustled Robert Friedland. But when it came to Voisey’s, Friedland would play Inco and Falconbridge “as though he were using a Stradivarius.” Keevil describes one guy welching on a deal with the (apparently for him) unarguable excuse that it was only a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

Through it all, Teck gets projects by discovery or acquisition and puts them into production. Crucial to this success was the Teck team, with several people getting honourable mention. The author’s closest accomplice was the late Robert Hallbauer, the former Craigmont pit supervisor whose team “would go on to build more new mines in a shorter time than anyone else had in Canadian history.” Deal-making virtuoso David Thompson also gets frequent mention, with one performance attributed to his “arsenal of patience, knowledge of the opponents, more knowledge of the business than some of them had, and a tad of divide and conquer…”

Partnerships span the spectrum between blessing and curse. International Telephone and Telegraph backs Teck’s first foray into Chile but frustrates its ability to do traditional mining deals. The Elk Valley Coal Partnership puts Teck, a company that reinvests revenue into growth, at odds with the dividend-hungry Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Working with a Cominco subsidiary, Keevil finds the small-cap explorer compromised by the “ephemeral response of the junior stock market.” And smelters rip off miners. But that doesn’t mean a smelter can’t become a valued partner.

Keevil argues the case for an almost cartel-like level of co-operation among miners. Co-ordinated decisions could avoid surplus production, he maintains. Teck’s consolidation of Canada’s major coal mines helped the industry stand up to Japanese steelmakers, who had united to take advantage of disorganized Canadian suppliers. “Anti-trust laws may be antediluvian,” he states.

Keevil admits some regrets, like missing Golden Giant and a Kazakhstan gold project now valued at $2 billion. The 2008 crash forced Teck to give up Cobre Panama, now “expected to be a US$6 billion copper mine.” Teck settled a coal partnership impasse by buying out the Ontario Teachers’ share for $12 billion. Two months later the 2008 crisis struck. Over two years Teck plunged from $3.6 billion in net cash to $12 billion in net debt.

But he wonders if his own biggest mistake was paying far too much for the remaining 50% of Cominco when an outright purchase might not have been necessary. Keevil attributes the initial 50%, on the other hand, to a miracle of deal-making.

For the most part Keevil ends his account in 2005, when he relinquishes the top job to Don Lindsay. By that time the company had 11 operating mines and a smelting/refining facility at Trail. A short chapter on the following 10 years, among the most volatile since the early ’70s, credits Teck with “a classic recovery story which deserves a full chapter in the next edition of Never Rest on Your Ores.” Such a sequel might come in another 10 years, he suggests.

Let’s hope he writes it, although it’ll be a different kind of book. As chairperson he won’t be as closely involved in the person-to-person, deal-to-deal, mine-to-mine developments that comprise the greatest strength of this book—that and the fact that the author grew with the company as it became Canada’s largest diversified miner.

Meanwhile, maybe Lindsay’s been keeping a diary.

The author’s proceeds go to two organizations that promote mining awareness, MineralsEd and Mining Matters.

Visual Capitalist: How copper riches helped shape Chile’s economic story

June 21st, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | June 21, 2017

Although Chile has always been noted for its abundant mineral wealth, the country was actually not a notable copper producer even at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1907, for example, the United States was able to produce nearly 14 times as much copper as Chile. The reality was that shortages in capital, organization and water kept the country’s massive, low-grade deposits from being developed at any significant scale.

The copper standard

Things would change dramatically for Chile. The country has been the world’s top copper producer now for over 30 years, and today close to 50% of the country’s exports come from copper-related products.

This infographic comes from Altiplano Minerals TSXV:APN and it tells the story of how Chile tapped into its copper wealth to become the richest and freest economy in Latin America.

 

How copper riches helped shape Chile’s economic story

 

New milling technology, economic reforms and increasing investment attractiveness were catalysts that turned Chile into a copper powerhouse. In turn, copper exports helped propel the Chilean economy to new heights.

“The miracle of Chile”

This incredible leap can be summed up aptly with two facts:

1) Copper production went from under one million tonnes per year (late 1970s) to over five million tonnes per year (2000s).

2) Despite this massive rise, copper as a percentage of exports fell. It went from a peak of 80% of exports to more like 50% today.

Over this time, as the economy diversified, Chilean GDP per capita (PPP) gained massive ground on the Latin American average and passed it in the early 1990s.

Chile’s GDP per capita today is the highest in Latin America of major economies:

 

  GDP per capita (2015, PPP)
Chile $24,170
Argentina $22,459
Mexico $18,370
Venezuela $17,430
Brazil $15,941
Colombia $14,164
Peru $12,639
Ecuador $11,839
Guatemala $7,704

 

That said, critics of Chile’s economy will point to its inequality. The country’s Gini Coefficient, according to the World Bank, is higher (less equal) than only a handful of Latin American and Caribbean economies: Panama, Belize, Haiti, Suriname, Honduras and Colombia.

Mining in Chile today

Today, Chile’s mines produce copper, gold, molybdenum, iron and silver. The country also produces more lithium than any country from its salars.

The country is the world’s undisputed copper heavyweight champion—it’s been the top producer for 30-plus years and holds an impressive seven of the world’s top 14 copper mines. The biggest mine, Escondida, produces over a million tonnes of the red metal each year, equal to 5% of the world’s annual copper supply.

The copper crown is likely to be held by Chile in the future, as well. According to the Chilean Copper Commission (Cochilco), between 2000 and 2015 about 35 copper deposits and three gold deposits were discovered in central-north Chile. They increased the country’s resources by 208.6 million tons of copper and 34.3 million ounces of gold.

The new copper discovered is roughly equal to 30% of global discoveries over the same time period.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

More critical than ever

April 13th, 2017

The USGS promotes awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

by Greg Klein

Let’s call it Critical Minerals Awareness Month. The U.S. Geological Survey hasn’t actually labelled April that way, but the agency does have a “big push” underway to inform American decision-makers and the general public about the country’s often tenuous hold on commodities vital to the economy and security of that country. Of course those concerns apply to its allies as well.

The USGS promotes public awareness about essential resources and their supply chains

“We decided to do a big push on critical minerals in April largely because we’ve got several big publications coming out on the subject,” USGS public affairs specialist Alex Demas tells ResourceClips.com.

“One of the things we’ve been focusing on is supply chain security, so with the sheer number of mineral commodities that are used in the United States, and the number of them deemed critical, we felt it was important to emphasize where a lot of those mineral resources are coming from and if there are any potential issues in the supply chain, getting them from the source to the United States.”

Computers provide an obvious example, increasing their use from “just 12 elements in the 1980s to as many as 60 by 2006,” points out one recent USGS news release. Smartphones offer another example. Looking back 30 years ago, “‘portable’ phones were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” states another USGS release. “Today they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.”

Larry Meinert, USGS deputy associate director for energy and minerals, pointed out some of the sources. “For instance, the industrial sand used to make the quartz in smartphone screens may come from the United States or China, but the potassium added to enhance screen strength could come from Canada, Russia or Belarus. Australia, Chile and Argentina often produce the lithium used in battery cathodes, while the hard-to-come-by tantalum—used in smartphone circuitry—mostly comes from Congo, Rwanda and Brazil.”

That brings an ominous warning. “With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever.”

The campaign also reveals the agency’s methods for tracking this essential stuff. A USGS-designed early warning system described as “mathematically rigorous and elegant” helps the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency monitor a watch list of about 160 minerals. Not all have been labelled critical, but those so defined can change due to technological development and geopolitical conflict.

The USGS itself tracks something like 90 minerals important to the American economy or security but sourced from about 180 countries. For last year the agency identified 20 minerals on which the U.S. relied entirely on imports and 47 on which the country imported more than half its supply.

Not all the source countries are always best buddies with the West. China supplies most of America’s mined commodities, including 24 of the 47 minerals supplied 51% or more by imports. Among the critical items are rare earth elements, 100% imported, over 90% directly from China and much of the rest through supply chains originating there.

As a supplier, Canada came a distant second, the chief provider of 16 minerals, not all of them critical. Runners-up Mexico, Russia and South Africa were each chief suppliers for eight American mineral imports.

Among the research reports coming soon will be “a compendium of everything the USGS knows about 23 minerals critical to the United States,” Demas says. “It’s going to cover the industry side of things, the reserves, production, shipment, etc. It’s going to cover geology and sustainability. Each chapter on each mineral will have a section on how this can be mined sustainably so we can meet our needs not only today, but also in the future.”

In part the publications target “decision-makers in Congress, as well as the Defense Department and others who use mineral resources,” Demas adds. But he emphasizes the campaign wasn’t motivated by the proposed METALS Act (Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security). Currently before U.S. Congress, the bill calls on government to support domestic resources and supply chains of critical and strategic minerals. On introducing the bill, Rep. Duncan Hunter argued the risk of foreign dependence to national security “is too great and it urgently demands that we re-establish our depleted domestic industrial base.”

As Demas notes, “Since we are a non-regulatory, non-policy agency, we don’t directly influence policy. But we do want policy-makers to have our tools available so they can make the best science-informed decisions.”

And while this month will see special attention to critical minerals, Demas says the subject’s an ongoing concern for the USGS. Some of the reports coming out now will be updates of annual publications.

“We’re really trying to promote the idea that USGS has a lot of really useful information that we put out all the time,” he adds. “This information will hopefully be useful to people when they’re considering where their resources are coming from.”

Follow USGS news here.

Read about the West’s dependence on non-allied countries for critical minerals here and here.