Sunday 26th February 2017

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘Rio Tinto PLC ADS (RIO)’

Pistol Bay Mining adds new property to Confederation Lake portfolio

February 16th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 16, 2017

Pistol Bay Mining TSXV:PST hopes to unlock one of the puzzles of western Ontario’s Confederation Lake greenstone belt with its 100% option on the Joy North property. The 64-hectare claim lies contiguous with the company’s previously acquired Joy group of claims, which include five mineralized VMS zones. Pistol Bay’s Dixie zone is located about 11 kilometres east of Joy North.

Pistol Bay Mining adds new property to Confederation Lake portfolio

The new property covers a 1,000-metre-long conductive zone where a geochem survey found anomalous zinc, copper and gold. The conductor’s stronger areas also showed stronger magnetic responses.

In 1970 a single 48-metre hole found metavolcanic rocks with the intense alteration associated with volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits. The hole also revealed calc-silicate rocks “suggesting the property may lie at the same stratigraphic horizon as the Dixie zone,” Pistol Bay stated.

The previously acquired Joy group includes the Diamond Willow zone, with an historic, non-43-101 estimate of 270,000 tonnes averaging 4% zinc.

Past drilling highlights from the other four zones have included:

  • Joy Zone: 3.1% copper and 0.2% zinc over 5.7 metres
  • 4.01% copper and 0.17% zinc over 3.35 metres

  • Creek Zone: 2.33% copper and 0.27% zinc over 0.95 metres

  • South Zone: 0.28% copper and 17.17% zinc over 0.6 metres
  • 0.17% copper and 8.36% zinc over 0.25 metres

  • Caravelle Zone: 0.13% copper and 21.6% zinc over 0.25 metres
  • 0.22% copper and 4.44% zinc over 1.1 metres

The new acquisition “includes one of the very few electromagnetic anomalies in the prolifically mineralized Confederation Lake greenstone belt that has not been satisfactorily explained by diamond drilling,” commented CEO Charles Desjardins. The geochemical anomalies also “make it a prime exploration target,” he added.

Subject to approvals, Joy North’s price tag comes to a total of one million shares and $40,500 over four years. A 2% NSR applies, half of which may be bought back for $500,000 and the other half for $1.5 million. Pistol Bay must also drill at least two holes totalling 600 metres. The company intends to drill the project this year.

Last month Pistol Bay updated plans for a regional, multi-disciplinary approach to its Confederation Lake portfolio, which hosts properties that were previously explored by different companies in an inconsistent manner.

In Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin, Pistol Bay also holds the C4, C5 and C6 uranium properties, currently being drilled by a Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO subsidiary earning a 100% interest.

Two days before the Joy North announcement, the company appointed geologist Jody Dahrouge to its advisory board.

Read more about Pistol Bay Mining.

Pistol Bay Mining appoints Jody Dahrouge to advisory board

February 14th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 14, 2017

Geologist Jody Dahrouge has joined Pistol Bay Mining TSXV:PST as an adviser, the company announced February 14. With a CV spanning over a quarter of a century in Canada and abroad, he brings a successful background in base metals, industrial minerals, rare metals and uranium exploration.

Pistol Bay Mining appoints Jody Dahrouge to advisory board

Jody Dahrouge

As president of Dahrouge Geological Consulting, he and his staff have worked with a broad range of exploration and mining companies. Until 2007, Dahrouge served as president/COO of Fission Energy, a predecessor of Fission Uranium TSX:FCU. While there he played a key role in the acquisition of Waterbury Lake and Patterson Lake South, both of which yielded significant discoveries. Dahrouge has also served as a director and VP of exploration for Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE since 2000.

“We are excited to be able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of Mr. Dahrouge and look forward to working with him,” said Pistol Bay CEO Charles Desjardins.

Last month the company outlined plans for a regional and multi-disciplinary exploration approach to its Confederation Lake portfolio, the largest land package in the western Ontario greenstone belt. Pistol Bay expects to file a 43-101 technical report on Confederation Lake’s Arrow zone by mid-March.

In Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin, the company holds the C4, C5 and C6 uranium properties, now being drilled by a Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO subsidiary as it advances towards its 100% option.

Read more about Pistol Bay Mining.

Pistol Bay Mining president Charles Desjardins discusses the VMS potential of his company’s portfolio in Ontario’s Confederation Lake greenstone belt

January 30th, 2017

…Read more

Rio continues 100% option on Pistol Bay Mining’s Athabasca Basin uranium project

January 24th, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 24, 2017

Having resumed drilling, a Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO subsidiary advances towards a 100% interest in Pistol Bay Mining’s (TSXV:PST) C4, C5 and C6 uranium properties in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin. Rio Tinto Exploration Canada has so far earned 75% of the properties and stated its intention to exercise the full option. That would bring Pistol Bay $5 million by the end of 2019 and a 5% net profits interest.

Rio continues 100% option on Pistol Bay Mining’s Athabasca Basin uranium project

Located in a prolific area, C4, C5 and C6 adjoin Wheeler River, a JV of Denison Mines TSX:DML, Cameco Corp TSX:CCO and JCU (Canada) Exploration that hosts two exceptionally high-grade deposits. The Phoenix zone holds an indicated resource of 70.2 million pounds averaging 19.13% U3O8, the world’s highest-grade undeveloped uranium deposit.

Wheeler’s Gryphon zone shows an inferred 43 million pounds averaging 2.3%. C4, C5 and C6 are located about halfway between Cameco’s majority-held McArthur River, the world’s largest high-grade uranium mine, and Key Lake, the world’s largest uranium mill.

Rio plans four to six holes totalling about 2,600 metres on C5 beginning this month. Past work at C5 has included 12 holes totalling 6,104 metres, along with gravity and DC resistivity surveys.

Five kilometres of rough roads link the three properties to the all-weather route connecting McArthur River with Key Lake.

Last week Pistol Bay updated plans for its properties in Ontario’s Confederation Lake greenstone belt, where the company holds the area’s largest property package. Pistol Bay plans to bring modern geophysics and a region-wide approach to a district where previous companies have explored individual properties at different times.

Late last month the company closed a private placement first tranche totalling $201,850.

Read more about Pistol Bay Mining.

Diamonds—2016 glitter in review

December 22nd, 2016

by Greg Klein | December 22, 2016

The stones began the year still mired in their 2015 slump, in which rough prices reportedly fell 15%. The two biggest players, representing nearly two-thirds of global production, didn’t exactly agree on strategy. De Beers cut production and lowered prices while Alrosa initially boosted production, held prices stable and stockpiled some output. By April De Beers raised prices and Alrosa lowered production. The following month had De Beers talking about a “fragile recovery.”

Diamonds—2016 glitter in review

Sales records for polished got pulverized, though. In May Sotheby’s raked in $32 million for the 15.38-carat Unique Pink in a jewelry sale that totalled a world record $175.1 million. The next day Christie’s scooped up $58.25 million for the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue, “a new record price for any gemstone and per carat.”

Rough rode roughshod over records, too. The week before Sotheby’s and Christie’s big sales, Lucara Diamond TSX:LUC got $63.11 million for its fresh-from-the-mine 812.77-carat Constellation. High expectations led to disappointment in late June, however, when the company rejected a $61-million offer for its 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona rough stone, the second-biggest diamond ever found. Lucara wanted at least $70 million.

As for Canadian diamond mining, it thrived.

A 100-million-carat production milestone brought celebrations to Diavik, the Northwest Territories JV of Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO and Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC. In July Dominion finally decided to add the Jay pipe and its 78.6 million carats to the company’s majority-held Ekati mine.

The year brought new mines to Canada too. Gahcho Kué, the world’s largest new diamond producer in 13 years, was officially opened in September by partners De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV. October saw Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY do the same at Renard, Quebec’s first diamond mine. It reached commercial production just days before Christmas.

Looking at potential mines-to-be, Peregrine Diamonds TSX:PGD took its Chidliak project on Baffin Island to PEA in July. In Saskatchewan’s Fort à la Corne region, meanwhile, Shore Gold TSX:SGF continued working on a feasibility update for its majority-held Star-Orion South project. Back in the NWT, Kennady Diamonds TSXV:KDI completed its maiden resource in December.

The company’s Kennady North project sits in the same Lac de Gras region hosting Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué. November marked the 25th anniversary of the Chuck Fipke/Stewart Blusson Ekati discovery that triggered the world’s biggest staking rush, brought diamond mining to Canada and helped transform the diamond industry.

In December the vertically integrated company Almod Diamonds announced plans to broaden the NWT diamond industry, the backbone of the territorial economy, by re-opening a Yellowknife cutting and polishing facility.

A few days after that announcement, the allure of diamonds played out differently in an Atlanta department store. Eighty-six-year-old Doris Payne, a determined, unrepentant and often unsuccessful diamond thief, wracked up another arrest. She’s been stealing stones for over sixty years.

Polymetallic promise

December 16th, 2016

Pistol Bay Mining brings regional exploration to Ontario’s VMS-rich Confederation Lake

by Greg Klein

During the doom and gloom of mid-2015 Charles Desjardins saw a hopeful sign in zinc. A search for prospective sources led the president of Pistol Bay Mining TSXV:PST to the volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits of western Ontario’s Confederation Lake greenstone belt. There he found different operators left what he considered a mixed legacy—work that was very impressive but carried out in a rather unco-ordinated manner. Now, with a commodity that’s justified his optimism and a portfolio that’s poised to be the belt’s largest, his company’s launching an ambitious new program to take a region-wide approach to Confederation Lake.

“Even though there’s been a lot of money spent in that region, there really hasn’t been a lot of continuity in exploration programs,” says Desjardins. “For example we found 8,000 rock geochemistry samples that Noranda did. In today’s terms that’s about $300,000 worth of work just for the analysis, never mind actually acquiring all those samples. We don’t know if Noranda did anything with this, it might have been right when they were getting out of there. But it showed us some obvious things, including a couple of new, big, big targets and extensions of known targets.”

Pistol Bay Mining brings regional exploration to VMS-rich Confederation Lake

That’s just part of the inspiration for a two-tiered program to begin in January. Drilling would start with about six holes and a few thousand metres, he says. “Beyond that, the plan is to do a regional airborne survey with new technology that can see VMS-style mineralization at 600 to 700 metres. When you look at Flin Flon and Snow Lake, geophysics there found two major deposits at the 500-metre level.”

Confederation Lake characterizes the tendency of VMS deposits to appear in clusters, Desjardins points out. He attributes the region’s largest mine, South Bay, for around 354 million pounds of zinc, 57.6 million pounds of copper and 3.74 million ounces of silver produced between 1972 and 1981. Grades averaged about 11.06% zinc, 1.8% copper and 72.7 g/t silver.

Pending exchange approval for a four-year option on AurCrest Gold’s (TSXV:AGO) regional holdings, Pistol Bay’s turf comprises 7,050 hectares along a 43-kilometre stretch of the 60-kilometre-long belt. The projects include four historic deposits.

Already under a four-year option is a contiguous group of properties named Dixie 17, 18, 19 and 20 that’s been consolidated into a single project. Dixie comes with a 1992 historic, non-43-101 “mineral inventory” from Noranda estimating 150,000 short tons with an average 14% zinc.

Some eight kilometres southeast, the Dixie 3 property, formerly called Snake Falls, hosts another historic, non-43-101 Noranda estimate, this one 91,000 short tons averaging 1% copper and 10% zinc.

Roughly 20 kilometres northeast sits the Arrow zone, one of the acquisitions waiting approval. Arrow comes with a 2007 resource compiled by AurCrest predecessor Tribute Minerals that Pistol Bay isn’t treating as 43-101 and intends to re-do. Using three cutoff grades, the estimate showed:

3% zinc-equivalent cutoff

  • indicated: 2.07 million tonnes averaging 5.92% zinc, 0.75% copper, 21.1 g/t silver and 0.58 g/t gold

  • inferred: 120,552 tonnes averaging 2.6% zinc, 0.56% copper, 18.6 g/t silver and 0.4 g/t gold

5% zinc-equivalent cutoff

  • indicated: 1.76 million tonnes averaging 6.75% zinc, 0.79% copper, 22.3 g/t silver and 0.61 g/t gold

  • inferred: 51,631 tonnes averaging 3.86% zinc, 0.79% copper, 23.9 g/t silver and 0.58 g/t gold

10% zinc-equivalent cutoff

  • indicated: 633,000 tonnes averaging 14.3% zinc, 1.11% copper, 31.7 g/t silver and 0.85 g/t gold

That acquisition includes the contiguous Copperlode A or Fredart zone, with its historic, non-43-101 estimate of 425,000 tonnes averaging 1.56% copper and 33.6 g/t silver.

Even though there’s been a lot of money spent in that region, there really hasn’t been a lot of continuity in exploration programs.—Charles Desjardins,
president of Pistol Bay Mining

Obviously these deposits cry out for 43-101 treatment. Pistol Bay intends to begin with Arrow, the most recent resource but with another 16 holes to consider. Desjardins hopes to have that done within six months.

He points to assays that followed historic estimates on the other deposits, like 7.34% zinc and 1.4% copper over 9.5 metres, and another 15.44% zinc and 0.43% copper over 4.3 metres at Dixie. Intriguing zinc-copper intercepts also came from the Joy-Caravelle area, part of the AurCrest package. Historic sampling at Copperlode A found molybdenum grading up to 1.46%.

Then there’s the 8,000 geochemistry samples left by Noranda. Additionally, Pistol Bay has MPH Consulting at work on an extensive review of previous geophysics. Add to that the new airborne and drilling to begin in January and Desjardins looks forward to a wealth of data with considerable potential waiting to be unlocked.

There’s strong community support too, he adds. “One First Nation invested I think about $600,000 in AurCrest,” he says.

In Saskatchewan’s uranium-prolific Athabasca Basin, Pistol Bay JVs with a Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO subsidiary on the C-5 project. Having earned 75% of its option already, Rio has stated its intention to acquire the full 100% by the end of 2019. That would bring Pistol Bay $5 million and a 5% net profit interest.

The company expects to soon close the first tranche of a private placement offered up to $810,000. Other financings would follow, as Confederation Lake’s regional exploration continues in stages.

“We already have significant deposits that might be developed with one central mill,” Desjardins says. “But we’ll be looking for an elephant too.”

NRG Metals completes due diligence on Argentinian lithium properties

November 21st, 2016

by Greg Klein | November 21, 2016

Among the companies active in South America’s Lithium Triangle, NRG Metals TSXV:NGZ has finished due diligence on two properties that would comprise the Carachi Pampa project in northwestern Argentina. Totalling 6,387 hectares, the contiguous properties sit in an area hosting geological features common to other lithium-rich salars in the region, the company stated on November 18. “The lithium target is a paleo salar (basin) at depth that has the potential to host lithium-enriched brines.”

NRG Metals completes due diligence on Argentinian lithium properties

NRG sees potential for lithium-enriched brines
in the Lithium Triangle’s Carachi Pampa project.

Located 40 kilometres from the town of Antofagasta de la Sierra at about 3,000 metres in elevation, the properties have winter access, a paved road 10 kilometres away and nearby services.

NRG has retained experienced lithium explorers Rojas and Associates and Sergio Lopez and Associates to review the project, with Rojas to complete a 43-101 technical report.

The properties are subject to different four-year purchase agreements, according to an LOI announced September 21. With all dollar figures in U.S. currency, one property calls for $120,000 on signing a definitive agreement, $200,000 in each of three annual payments and $600,000 at the end of the fourth year. A 1% NSR applies, which NRG may buy back for $1 million.

The other project would cost $160,000 on signing, $100,000 in two annual payments, $250,000 in year three and $625,000 in year four. Again, the company may buy back the 1% NSR for $1 million.

NRG offered a private placement up to C$1 million. Additionally, the company has negotiations underway on other properties.

In October NRG announced a management team for its Argentinian subsidiary, NRG Metals Argentina S.A. Executive director James Duff has written several 43-101 reports for Argentinian projects and served as COO of McEwen Mining TSX:MUX acquisition Minera Andes and president of South American operations for Coeur Mining NYSE:CDE.

Non-executive director José Gustavo de Castro is a chemical engineer with extensive experience in the evaluation and development of Argentinian lithium projects including the continent’s largest lithium producer, FMC Corp’s Hombre Muerto operation.

Manager of business development and corporate relations José Luis Martin’s 35-year career includes senior positions with Galaxy Lithium S.A. and Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO) Argentinian projects.

Director Jorge Vargas specializes in property, mining and business law in Argentina.

Also last month NRG announced plans to spin out other assets to concentrate on lithium. The portfolio currently includes the LAB graphite project in Quebec and the Groete gold-copper resource in Guyana.

Arctic Star/Margaret Lake Diamonds form JV, follow Kennady’s approach to NWT kimberlites

November 15th, 2016

by Greg Klein | November 15, 2016

A new joint venture brings together Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD and Margaret Lake Diamonds TSXV:DIA in the Northwest Territories’ Lac de Gras region. Finding inspiration in Kennady Diamonds’ (TSXV:KDI) success at Kennady North, the partners plan a similar approach to their newly compiled property.

By posting an approximately $200,000 bond with the NWT government, Margaret Lake has earned a 60% interest in 23 claims totalling 18,699 hectares comprising the Diagras property, the JV announced November 15. Hosting 13 known diamondiferous kimberlites, the claims were formerly part of Arctic Star’s 54,000-hectare T-Rex property.

Arctic Star/Margaret Lake Diamonds form JV, follow Kennady’s approach to NWT kimberlites

The bond accompanies an application to extend the Diagras claims to August 2017.

“We identified the claims we wanted to joint venture based on our evaluation of historic data and we specifically focused on those claims that have known kimberlitic occurrences,” said Margaret Lake president/CEO Paul Brockington. His company will act as project operator.

The JV intends to follow Kennady’s modus operandi. The property’s Kelvin and Faraday kimberlites were dropped by De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV as they advanced Gahcho Kué, recently opened as the world’s largest new diamond mine in 13 years.

De Beers considered Kelvin and Faraday low grade, based on their lack of prominent magnetic anomalies, according to the Arctic/Margaret JV. Mountain Province then spun out Kennady to explore the pipes. That company “applied ground geophysics, gravity and Ohm mapper EM, which revealed extensions to these kimberlites that were not revealed in the magnetics,” the Diagras partners stated. “Subsequent drilling and bulk sampling has shown that these non-magnetic phases of the kimberlites have superior diamond grades to the magnetic phases and significantly increase the tonnage potential.”

Looking at some nearby deposits, the JV states that certain kimberlites at the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC Diavik mine and the high-grade portions of Peregrine Diamonds’ (TSX:PGD) majority-held DO-27 kimberlite “are non-magnetic, proof that a magnetic-only approach in the Lac de Gras field could miss significant diamondiferous kimberlite bodies.”

The JV plans to follow Kennady’s surveying approach at Diagras. Most of the property’s kimberlites have had only one to three drill holes into their magnetic anomalies.

The partners also see potential in “two untested geophysical targets and several diamond indicator mineral anomalies that are not clearly sourced from the known pipes.” Ground geophysics are scheduled to begin next spring.

Read how Lac de Gras diamond mines transformed the NWT economy.

A transformational discovery

November 10th, 2016

Lac de Gras glitter became the backbone of the NWT economy

by Greg Klein

This is the second of a two-part feature. See Part 1.

The greatest staking rush the world’s likely seen, a shakeup of the global diamond industry and a tremendous boost to Northwest Territories finances—all that started with the Ekati discovery announced by Chuck Fipke 25 years ago this week. The effects on the NWT alone were momentous. The exploration sector boomed like never before, reaping four discoveries in six years that became working mines, while communities and individuals realized benefits both tangible and intangible.

Exploration fervour “certainly caused an injection into the economy,” notes Tom Hoefer, NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines executive director. “But where it really made a difference was when we had mines developed.”

Lac de Gras glitter became the backbone of the NWT economy

The Ekati mine began a transformation that
out-performed all other resources and sectors in the NWT.

It actually took two operations, Ekati and Diavik, to offset the territory’s 1990s economic malaise, he says. Yellowknife’s Giant and Con mines were winding down their 50 to 60 years of gold production. Around the same time, Nunavut’s 1999 separation dealt a blow to NWT revenue. “So there was a double hit on the economy. When Ekati went into production, it wasn’t enough to offset that economic downturn. It wasn’t until Diavik that the economy turned around significantly.

“It was almost palpable when Diavik got its approval. You could cut it, you could just feel it, all of a sudden people were saying, ‘Now we’re set.’ Those turned out to be world-class diamond mines, so in hindsight people were right.”

Of more than $60 billion worth of NWT mining output since 1932, gold provided 18%. It’s sometimes forgotten that the territory was a major base metals producer too, with zinc accounting for 30% of that $60-plus billion. But less than two decades of diamond production contributed 38%. The value of annual diamond production has topped $2 billion in the past “and I think we’re around $1.7 billion now,” Hoefer says. “That’s pretty significant when you consider that the NWT government’s entire budget is about the same.”

With last year’s shutdown of the Cantung tungsten operation, the territory has no mining but diamond mining. The three mines now in operation rank Lac de Gras as the world’s third-largest producer by value.

Figures from 2014 credit diamond mining with a 29% direct contribution to territorial GDP, by far the largest private sector portion. Chamber data attributes direct and indirect benefits to about 40% .

Taking another perspective, Hoefer points to a 2014 Canada-wide survey on aboriginal perceptions of the mining industry. Outside the NWT and Nunavut, favourable ratings ranged from 25% in Quebec to 45% in the Yukon. NWT responses were 55% favourable compared to 33% unfavourable, with 12% undecided. The territory ranked second only to Nunavut, which had 59/32/9 ratings.

“I would say the reason is all the aboriginal participation we’ve had in mining,” Hoefer says.

An NWT-specific survey taken this year shows overwhelming support. About 80% of respondents expressed positive feelings about the territory’s mining and exploration companies, 83% said regulation works well and 82% want more mining projects.

Those responses might partly result from the way benefits are distributed. Territorial legislation requires mining proposals to address not only environmental impacts but also positive socio-economic effects, Hoefer explains. Companies sign agreements with the government that address training, employment and local spending. The miners then file annual reports stating what they’ve accomplished.

“Put the clock back to before diamonds were discovered and the first mine built, there was maybe just a handful of aboriginal companies that could work with mining.” Now the Chamber lists over 60 NWT aboriginal companies created since Ekati began construction in 1996. They’ve shared over $5 billion of the $12 billion that diamond miners have spent in the territory.

The mines have also contributed over $100 million to communities under Impact Benefit Agreements.

And of course there are the jobs. Lac de Gras diamonds have provided over 24,000 person-years of mine employment.

That’s really in essence what I think a government would want to do with its resources—generate wealth for people who don’t have it.—Tom Hoefer,
executive director of the NWT
and Nunavut Chamber of Mines

“That’s really in essence what I think a government would want to do with its resources—generate wealth for people who don’t have it.”

Looking to the future, Lac de Gras explorers continue the quest for more deposits. Among existing miners, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC 60/40 JV expects Diavik to last until 2024. Plans to add a fourth deposit won’t extend the lifespan but will keep production robust until shutdown, Hoefer says.

De Beers’ technically challenged Snap Lake shut down last year, at a cost of about 750 jobs. Some of them were saved by Gahcho Kué, which last summer became the world’s largest diamond mine to open in 13 years. But despite output that’s expected to be about two and a half times greater than Snap, the open pit will employ fewer people, currently 441. The De Beers/Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV 51%/49% JV sees an initial 12-year mine life, but Mountain Province talks optimistically of extensions.

Getting back to the genesis of all this economic activity, Dominion’s majority-held Ekati would have its life expectancy extended to at least 2030 should the Jay pipe addition pass feasibility and final permitting. The mine employs around 1,500 workers and accounts for about $400 million in annual spending.

Commemorating the quarter-century since Ekati’s discovery, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines presents a Diamond Gala on November 17, the final evening of this year’s Geoscience Forum. Hoefer says the event will be a three-part celebration recognizing the discovery, the subsequent construction and operation of four mines, and the support of aboriginal governments. Fipke will be on hand as guest speaker, perhaps marvelling at the transformation brought about by his pursuit of Lac de Gras glitter.

This is the second of a two-part feature. See Part 1.

Diamond anniversary

November 4th, 2016

After 25 years, the Ekati discovery still rocks the NWT, mining and the world of diamonds

by Greg Klein

This is the first of a two-part feature. See Part 2.

“You know, there’s something fishy going on around Lac de Gras.”

Tom Hoefer remembers hearing that from a local mining guy who dropped by his Yellowknife office one autumn day in 1991. “At the time nobody really cared about Lac de Gras because that was granite country,” Hoefer explains. But a visit to the mining recorder’s office showed someone staked “a huge block of ground, abnormally large. Doubly suspicious, I think it was registered to Norm’s Manufacturing or Norm’s Mattress Company or something. It was so bizarre. Someone was hiding something.”

After 25 years, the Ekati discovery still rocks the NWT, mining and the world of diamonds

Hoefer’s friend offered an explanation. “The only thing I think this could be for is diamonds.” He had previous experience with Monopros, De Beers’ Canadian exploration company. He was also an habitué of the Miner’s Mess, a YK cafe where industry rumours circulated as thickly as the cigarette smoke.

The buzz was confirmed on a date variously given as November 6 or 7, 1991. That’s when the secretive Chuck Fipke stopped pretending to be a gold explorer and faxed a Dia Met news release reporting Northwest Territories diamond recovery, some of it gem quality. It was the first significant find in Canadian history.

“Of course it just went crazy,” recounts Hoefer, now executive director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. “We saw the entire Slave province staked in around two years.”

That may well be the biggest staking rush the world’s seen. As crews fanned out across northern and not-so-northern Canada, suppliers couldn’t provide claim posts fast enough. Helicopters couldn’t keep up with demand. Work continued through the winter, despite hostile weather, despite darkness that restricted flying time to six hours or less.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Hoefer says. But for many people it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“The junior exploration sector was just about dead,” he recalls. “I think the juniors saw the news as a life preserver. Whether it was real or not, something was going on and they wanted to grab onto it. I think people scraped money from wherever they could, whether they mortgaged houses or borrowed, just to get into this play. They were on their last legs anyway—if you’re going to go down, you might as well go down in flames.”

Competition was all but cutthroat, as recounted in books like Treasure Under the Tundra by L.D. Cross and Matthew Hart’s Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair. Readers learn of stakers wearing camouflage clothing to evade detection by rivals, of efforts to foil geophysical espionage from enemy aircraft, and of a diplomatic incident provoked by Thor, Eira Thomas’ supposed bodyguard, said to be 50% dog, 50% wolf and 100% chickenshit.

After 25 years, the Ekati discovery still rocks the NWT, mining and the world of diamonds

Ekati co-discoverers Chuck Fipke and
(inset) Stewart Blusson. (Photos: BHP)

Staking wasn’t all that went crazy. Once a penny stock, Dia Met passed $8 less than three months after the announcement, according to Hart. In other examples, he noted that pre-discovery Aber Resources shot from 25 cents to $1.35, and later to $2.34. An ex-Dia Met employee started SouthernEra Resources at a penny a share. Within months the company hit $1.90. Speculative fever eventually cooled off but, as Aber approached discovery at Diavik in late 1994, its shares shot from $4 to $6 in one day.

Ekati and Diavik, of course, went on to become NWT diamond mines, joined later by De Beers’ Snap Lake. But as the territory’s other mines closed due to depletion or commodity prices, and Snap shut due to technical challenges, Gahcho Kué began operations. That continues Lac de Gras’ status as the world’s third-largest supplier of diamonds by value.

Fipke and Ekati co-discoverer Stewart Blusson succeeded where De Beers had thus far failed. They also helped bring down the giant’s near-monopoly. Dia Met partner BHP, like Aber partner Rio Tinto, couldn’t be intimidated by De Beers, then a company with a reputation for muscling in on much smaller diamond hopefuls. Lac de Gras hastened a process that began when a Rio predecessor started mining diamonds at Western Australia’s Argyle in the early 1980s. De Beers went from controlling about 80% of global rough in the early 1990s to 34% in 2015.

Hart suggested an additional factor to the giant’s decline. The rush “happened in Canada, where the mineral exploration scene is dominated by a host of small, unruly companies, called ‘juniors’…. The idea of yoking such a promoter-driven and combative group to some larger purpose, such as commodity price control, would be laughable.”

Lac de Gras also helped restore confidence in the ethical standards of gems. Holding among the world’s highest environmental and corporate social responsibility standards, Canada guaranteed consumers a source of conflict-free stones. Canadians played a strong role in launching the Kimberley Process, an organization that guards the global diamond market from illicit supply, Hoefer says.

Here at home, diamond miners emphasize community engagement, community responsibility and community benefits, he adds. Lac de Gras mines constitute the NWT’s largest private sector employer, creating 29% of the territory’s GDP. Indirect benefits bring that up to about 40%, according to the Chamber’s data.

“If you look back at where we’ve come from and what we’ve achieved, it really is a cause to celebrate,” he emphasizes. “Now we’re looking forward to the next 25 years. It doesn’t come without challenges, so we have to ask what we can do to have another strong 25 years.”

This is the first of a two-part feature. See Part 2.