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Open and shut cases: East

January 7th, 2020

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.

Osisko Gold Royalties continues expansion with Barkerville Gold Mines takeover

September 23rd, 2019

by Greg Klein | September 23, 2019

Already holding around 32.6% of the target company, Osisko Gold Royalties TSX:OR intends to grab the rest of Barkerville Gold Mines TSXV:BGM. The definitive agreement follows a PEA released last month for Barkerville’s Cariboo gold project. Osisko also announced creation of the North Spirit Discovery Group, described as a resource development and finance company that will work with JV partners and/or private equity firms.

Osisko Gold Royalties continues expansion with Barkerville Gold Mines takeover

The takeover offers new expertise and
financing to help revive an historic mining region.

Noting benefits to the takeover target, Osisko said it would provide technical expertise and greater access to financing to develop the central British Columbia project.

Pending approvals, the deal would exchange each Barkerville share for 0.0357 of an Osisko share, representing a 44% premium, the companies stated. The implied price comes to $338 million fully diluted, including the Barkerville shares already held by Osisko. The transaction would leave current Osisko and Barkerville shareholders with about 91% and 9% of Osisko shares respectively.

The companies anticipate closing in November.

Cariboo’s PEA forecast an after-tax IRR of 28% and NPV of $402 million for 11 years of underground mining producing an average 185,000 gold ounces a year. Initial capex would require $305.5 million. Processing would take place at Barkerville’s QR mill, about 140 kilometres by road.

The updated resource gives three main zones and a satellite zone a total of 2.27 million ounces indicated and 1.91 million ounces inferred. Two additional zones bring the totals to 2.44 million ounces measured and indicated, along with 1.92 million ounces inferred.

Drilling continues, with more funding to come through a $7-million bridge loan from Osisko.

Sean Roosen, CEO of Osisko and chairperson of both companies, said Osisko “expects to fund planned work through available liquidity, future revenue from royalties and streams, project debt, as well as outside private equity and joint venture capital through the creation of the North Spirit Discovery Group.”

Earlier this month Osisko signed an LOI to take over Quebec’s Renard diamond mine. The deal would keep the mine operating as Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY entered creditor protection.

Osisko’s participation also helped finance Victoria Gold’s (TSXV:VIT) Eagle mine into production, following an unexpectedly higher capex for the Yukon project.

Osisko holds over 135 royalties, streams and offtakes including a 5% NSR on the Agnico Eagle TSX:AEM/Yamana Gold TSX:YRI Canadian Malartic, Canada’s largest gold mine, 19.9% of Falco Resources TSXV:FPC and 16.4% of Osisko Mining TSX:OSK. Osisko Mining currently holds 16% of Barkerville.

Renard continues operations as Stornoway Diamond gets creditor protection

September 9th, 2019

by Greg Klein | September 9, 2019

After less than three years of operation, Quebec’s only diamond miner asked a court to ward off creditors while the company sorts out its finances. Although the Renard mine remains in operation, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY stopped trading pending a delisting. “There is and will be no recoverable or residual value in either Stornoway’s common shares or convertible debentures,” the company stated.

Renard continues operations as Stornoway Diamond gets creditor protection

Renard began operations as an open pit
in October 2016 but faced difficulties
during the transition to underground mining.

Stornoway warned of such an outcome in its Q2 report released last month.

Blaming disappointing prices and “a variety of other factors and circumstances,” the miner failed to provide working capital and meet debt payments during 2019. The disastrous year showed in the company’s stock, which closed September 6 on two cents, one-twentieth of its 52-week high a year ago.

But the price had been falling almost steadily after reaching an apex of $1.32 in October 2016, days after Renard’s grand opening celebration.

Under an LOI signed last weekend, creditors headed by Osisko Gold Royalties TSX:OR would take over assets of the company and its subsidiaries, as well as their debts and liabilities, according to terms announced in June and July. Creditors have agreed to provide an initial $20 million in working capital, with the possibility of more money to follow, allowing Renard to continue operating and demonstrating their “strong support” for the mine during the restructuring process, Stornoway added.

Osisko holds a 9.6% stream on Renard’s production.

Osisko’s more than 135 royalties, streams and offtakes include a 5% NSR on Canadian Malartic, the Agnico Eagle TSX:AEM and Yamana Gold TSX:YRI partnership on Canada’s largest gold mine. Other Osisko assets include a 32.6% stake in Barkerville Gold Mines TSXV:BGM, 16.4% of Osisko Mining TSX:OSK and 19.9% of Falco Resources TSXV:FPC.

Osisko Gold Royalties CEO Sean Roosen comments on the limitations of market prognostications

August 24th, 2018

…Read more

Some Sprott takeaways

July 20th, 2018

Among them, Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

by Greg Klein

Miners have suddenly become “lean and mean” but not in a good way, according to Rick Rule. Twenty years of under-investment, an over-correction to a previous binge of M&A “insanity,” have left companies with declining resources. “This can’t continue,” the career contrarian contended. “Every day you mine, you shrink.” But the people who build and run mines prefer to outsource exploration. As a result, he says, “we are coming into the absolute heyday of prospect generators.”

Rick Rule foresees “the absolute heyday of prospect generators”

Rule presented his remarks at the Sprott Natural Resource Symposium, held in Vancouver this year from July 17 to 20 for an audience of gold bugs and resource investors. The two strategies can often be employed by the same individuals, showing a stark contrast between hedging against uncertainty and searching for opportunity. And opportunities are there to be had, Rule maintained. While a number of key commodities have gained in price, equities remain low, creating a more attractive ratio of price to value.

Looking at gold discoveries, Brent Cook sees a decline since 1980, with yearly mine production now about three times the annual ounces found in the ground. The pipeline of up-and-coming copper mines currently has the fewest projects of this century. Zinc discoveries peaked in 2016, then fell steeply. With majors showing heightened interest in explorers, he said, “this is a fantastic time to invest in juniors—but be careful.”

It’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.—Sean Roosen

Also emphasizing the declining success rate of exploration, Osisko Gold Royalties CEO Sean Roosen agreed that peak gold has arrived. That’s manifested not only in the relative lack of discoveries but the shortened average mine life of current operations. As for the state of equities, “it’s very hard to know where the bottom of the market is until you come out of it.”

Both sides of the gold bug/resource investor dichotomy found support in a slogan displayed by Byron King: “If you can’t save the world, go find some gold.” And from his perspective saving the world, the Western parts anyway, seems beyond hope. An editor with Agora Financial and Jim Rickards’ Gold Speculator, he focused largely on the U.S., which he said faces domestic conditions and foreign rivalry that put all aspects of American power at risk. The country barely resembles its post-WWII self when “we had the money, we had the gold and we had the friggin’ bomb.”

The U.S. and its allies have since squandered their prominence in banking, currencies, capital markets, manufacturing, technology, military prowess and space travel.

We have lost academia to a different form of thought.—Byron King

Where the West outperforms others, maybe, is in the flakiness of its institutions. Canadian and American universities lead the way: “We have lost academia to a different form of thought.”

In a momentous development that policymakers deny, he said, Russia has surpassed the U.S. in the aerospace and high-tech weapons industries. “Incredibly stupid people in Washington D.C.” believe against all evidence “that we can win a war with Russia.”

Mercifully, that kind of war might not happen. But another kind would show no mercy. Relaying Rickards’ ideas, King said real wars have become too expensive and dangerous to fight. So major powers instead sabotage their enemies’ currencies. As China and Russia continue to accumulate gold, the two could team up to defeat the West.

References to stupidity in high office recurred during the conference. Rule reminded the audience of Justin Trudeau’s statement that “the budget will balance itself” and Barack Obama’s notion that U.S. debt doesn’t matter because Americans owe the money to themselves.

Trey Reik of Sprott USA pegged that country’s federal debt at $20 trillion and U.S. total debt at $68 trillion. The country needs another $2.8 trillion in debt just to service the current amount, he added. With such unsustainable levels, he sees a tsunami of defaults coming.

One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.—James Grant

When the consequences of debt and the state of the economy become known, a gold bull market will return, argued James Grant. The editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and Ron Paul’s choice to chair the Fed called interest rates “the most important aspect of capitalism…. Try to imagine a world without them. We do live in this world.” Today’s negative sovereign debt yields are unprecedented in history, he stated.

In a twist on the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times,” Grant said: “One of the reasons I own gold is the future is much too interesting to be predictable.”

Throughout the conference speakers agreed, disagreed and overlapped in their perspectives. But no doubt everyone concurred with an insight elegantly expressed by Eric Fry of the Oxford Club: “It’s better to have more money than less money.”

The Sprott Natural Resource Symposium returns to Vancouver in July 2019.

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality help win online Gold Rush Challenge

March 7th, 2016

by Greg Klein | March 7, 2016

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality help win online Gold Rush Challenge

Located just east of Val-d’Or, the past-producing Sigma and Lamaque
mines sit between Integra’s Lamaque North and South projects.

A PDAC opening event demonstrated the evolution of mineral exploration as a high-tech Quebec team won first prize in an online search for Abitibi gold. Integra Gold TSXV:ICG asked contestants to dig through digital data representing some 75 years of mining and exploration at the past-producing Sigma/Lamaque property adjacent to the company’s Lamaque project. Out of five finalists appearing at the March 6 event, the SGS Geostat team won the $500,000 first prize.

The team “used sophisticated geostatistical methods to drive data into an expansive and unbiased block model,” Integra explained. “A prospectivity scoring system harnessed both geological knowledge and machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, to identify high-value targets, which were then vetted through virtual reality with Oculus Rift technology.”

Using somewhat less sophisticated technology, Lamaque produced 4.58 million gold ounces between 1935 and 1985, while Sigma turned out 4.45 million ounces from 1937 to 1997. The digitized files included info from 30,000 holes, over 500,000 assays, hundreds of kilometres of underground workings, mining stats, geological sections, level plans and photos.

As a team of geologists, engineers and computer scientists often bound by certain limitations and boundaries, we relished in the opportunity to channel our collective creativity and curiosity to provide new exploration targets in a historic and famous mining jurisdiction known worldwide.—Guy Desharnais, team leader with SGS Geostat

SGS Geostat leader Guy Desharnais said, “As a team of geologists, engineers and computer scientists often bound by certain limitations and boundaries, we relished in the opportunity to channel our collective creativity and curiosity to provide new exploration targets in a historic and famous mining jurisdiction known worldwide.”

Four other finalists—three teams and one individual—shared another $340,000 in prizes. Integra announced the contest last June. By September over 740 entries had arrived from 65 countries.

Panellists consisted of geologist and commentator Brent Cook, Randy Smallwood and Chantal Gosselin of Silver Wheaton TSX:SLW, Rob McEwen of McEwen Mining TSX:MUX and Sean Roosen of Osisko Gold Royalties TSX:OR.

Integra didn’t specify what the winners proposed for the former mines. But CEO Stephen de Jong said some of the suggested drill targets “are like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We have decided to expedite the drill program and start testing a number of these targets in the immediate future.”

November 20th, 2014

Thomas Drolet: Finding gold dollars in Nevada Streetwise Reports
Downhole geophysics in mineral exploration Geology for Investors
Uranium climbs to highest since January 2013 amid utility demand NAI 500
Osisko Gold to buy Virginia Mines for $476 million VantageWire
Swiss regulator fines UBS for precious metals price manipulation SilverSeek
The Swiss gold initiative and why it may affect bullion prices Stockhouse
Selective financing to snag pace of mine development Industrial Minerals
The last resort when monetary policy fails Equedia

November 19th, 2014

Thomas Drolet: Finding gold dollars in Nevada Streetwise Reports
Downhole geophysics in mineral exploration Geology for Investors
Uranium climbs to highest since January 2013 amid utility demand NAI 500
Osisko Gold to buy Virginia Mines for $476 million VantageWire
Swiss regulator fines UBS for precious metals price manipulation SilverSeek
The Swiss gold initiative and why it may affect bullion prices Stockhouse
Selective financing to snag pace of mine development Industrial Minerals
The last resort when monetary policy fails Equedia

November 18th, 2014

Downhole geophysics in mineral exploration Geology for Investors
Credit Suisse analyst Michael Slifirski: New non-Chinese graphite and vanadium supply could create new demand Streetwise Reports
Uranium climbs to highest since January 2013 amid utility demand NAI 500
Osisko Gold to buy Virginia Mines for $476 million VantageWire
Swiss regulator fines UBS for precious metals price manipulation SilverSeek
The Swiss gold initiative and why it may affect bullion prices Stockhouse
Selective financing to snag pace of mine development Industrial Minerals
The last resort when monetary policy fails Equedia

November 17th, 2014

Osisko Gold to buy Virginia Mines for $476 million VantageWire
Gold demand declines to five-year low globally but rises in India NAI 500
Swiss regulator fines UBS for precious metals price manipulation SilverSeek
The emerging Guerrero Gold Belt of Mexico Geology for Investors
The Swiss gold initiative and why it may affect bullion prices Stockhouse
Gold, economic theory and reality: A conversation with Alan Greenspan Streetwise Reports
Selective financing to snag pace of mine development Industrial Minerals
The last resort when monetary policy fails Equedia