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Northern challenge

November 8th, 2019

NWT prosperity depends on rebuilding investor confidence, miners warn

by Greg Klein

NWT prosperity depends on rebuilding investor confidence, miners warn

 

What happens when a mining-based economy runs out of mines? The Northwest Territories risks finding out the hard way but the reason won’t be a lack of mineral resources. For too long, investors have been discouraged from backing territorial exploration. That’s the message the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines delivered to the legislative assembly in Yellowknife last month. Now the industry group awaits a response, one backed with action, as the newly elected government prepares for its four-year term.

The territory’s three mines, all diamond operations, have passed peak production, facing closures over the coming decade. The NWT hosts only a few advanced projects, none comparing in potential economic clout with the big three. The problem contrasts with the NWT’s two northern neighbours, where the industry continues to thrive.

Projections released in July by the Conference Board of Canada call for Nunavut to lead the country in annual economic expansion, with an average 4.6% up to 2025. “Mining will be the main driver of growth, as Agnico Eagle prepares to bring its Meliadine mine and Amaruq satellite deposit into operation, and Sabina works on its Back River project.”

More tepid growth in mining will have repercussions on other areas of the economy, with growth in services-based industries remaining flat for much of the forecast. In all, economic growth in the Northwest Territories is forecast to contract by an average annual pace of 1.6% between now and 2025.—Conference Board of Canada

Yukon “will also experience a boom, with growth of 4.6% this year and 6.2% in 2019,” again thanks to mining. But the NWT faces decline:

“Two new metal mines should help offset some of the losses for the mining sector, but not until after 2020,” the Board stated. “More tepid growth in mining will have repercussions on other areas of the economy, with growth in services-based industries remaining flat for much of the forecast. In all, economic growth in the Northwest Territories is forecast to contract by an average annual pace of 1.6% between now and 2025.”

A lack of exploration spending explains the lack of projects in the pipeline, according to the Chamber of Mines. “The NWT has basically been flat-lining for the last 12 years,” says executive director Tom Hoefer. “That’s a problem because that’s the very investment you need to come up with new mines.”

But it’s a problem industry can’t solve without government help, he emphasizes.

“The government goes to Roundup and other conferences with really good marketing tools and they’re putting out all the right messages, such as: ‘Come unlock our potential.’ But if it’s that easy, why hasn’t the industry picked up?” Hoefer asks.

“Well, it’s because these other things happen.”

His group outlined a number of causes in its presentation to the assembly: high cost of living, relative lack of infrastructure, regulatory uncertainty, unsettled land claims and additional expanses of land (over 30% of the territory) deemed off limits for exploration and development.

NWT prosperity depends on rebuilding investor confidence, miners warn

Benefiting from previously built infrastructure,
NorZinc hopes to begin zinc-lead-silver mining
at Prairie Creek by 2022. (Photo: NorZinc)

Hoefer also mentions “contortions” imposed on companies. As examples he cites some early-stage exploration projects that were sent to environmental assessment, “something that would never happen in southern Canada,” and two companies being required to collect data about lakes from which they might or might not draw water in small amounts for diamond drilling, “a totally new requirement, totally out of step with what happens in the rest of the country.

“What that says to investors is, ‘You’d better be careful when you come up to the NWT because there are these surprises coming out of the woodwork.’”

Convincing the territorial government calls for a different approach than in most of Canada. With no political parties, the Chamber deals with 19 individual MLAs tasked with working on consensus. They put together collective priorities, Hoefer explains, then create a mandate for their four-year term. His group looks forward to seeing the current mandate, expected to be released soon.

“Candidates don’t run on a platform but on a community-by-community basis, saying ‘this is what I would do for our community.’ So the challenge is pulling them all together to serve the entire NWT and try to keep them on that path over the next four years.”

Should problems remain unresolved, however, the territory risks an unfortunate repeat of late 1990s history.

NWT prosperity depends on rebuilding investor confidence, miners warn

Considerable infrastructure remains at the former
Pine Point operation, where Osisko Metals upgrades
Canada’s “largest pit-constrained zinc deposit.”
(Photo: Osisko Metals)

“We were in a similar situation before the first diamond mine opened because the gold mines were winding down. At the same time Nunavut was created, and the new territory pulled a lot of funding away to create a parallel government. The Yellowknife economy really took a dive and housing prices went way down. At the time the government was actually offering $10,000 grants to encourage people to buy homes. We went through a lot of pain then, but I think a lot of people have forgotten that.”

Even Ekati seemed insufficient to buoy the economy. “But when Diavik got its approval the change was palpable. There was this big sigh of relief, money started to flow and the economy turned around.”

Now the challenge is to overturn 12 years of neglect that have made investors “gun shy about the NWT,” he says. “We have to rebuild that trust by showing that things are different now. It’s going to take all of us working together to help make it better.”

With no other industries ready to take mining’s place, “we have to encourage companies to come up here and bring their expertise to do what government can’t do, and that’s turn rock into opportunity.”

 

Current and potential mines: Comparing job numbers and durations

 

NWT prosperity depends on rebuilding investor confidence, miners warn

While updating indicated and inferred resources,
Vital Metals sees near-term potential for a short-lived
operation at its Nechalacho rare earths deposits.
(Photo: Avalon Advanced Materials)

Employment numbers reported by the Chamber for the NWT’s existing diamond mines in 2018 show 1,625 workers at Dominion Diamond Mines’ majority-held Ekati, 1,113 at Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO)/Dominion’s Diavik and 527 at De Beers’/Mountain Province Diamonds’ (TSX:MPVD) Gahcho Kué.

Projections for the territory’s four likeliest potential mines show estimated average annual employment of 363 workers at Prairie Creek (for 15 years), 300 at Pine Point (13 years), 225 at NICO (21 years) and 30 at Nechalacho (four years).

The NWT’s next mine will be Prairie Creek, according to NorZinc TSX:NZC. Built to near-completion by 1982 but never operated, the zinc-lead-silver project reached feasibility in 2017. The company hopes to receive its final permit, for an all-season road, this month. Should financing fall in place, NorZinc plans to begin production in 2022.

Having operated from 1964 to 1987, the Pine Point zinc-lead camp retains infrastructure including an electrical substation and an all-season 96-kilometre link to Hay River, the head of Canada’s only industrial railway north of 60. A previous operator reached PEA in 2017 but current owner Osisko Metals TSX:OM has been drilling the property to upgrade a 2018 inferred resource of 38.4 million tonnes averaging 4.58% zinc and 1.85% lead, for 6.58% zinc-equivalent, Canada’s “largest pit-constrained zinc deposit.”

Fortune Minerals’ (TSX:FT) NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper project reached feasibility in 2014 based on a mill production rate of 4,650 tpd for a combined open pit and underground operation. A further study considered but rejected a rate of 6,000 tpd. Fortune now has several other proposals under consideration to improve the project’s economics and “align the development schedule with the expected deficit in cobalt supply in 2022-23.”

The project sits about 50 kilometres north of Whati, which will have an all-season connection to Yellowknife via the Tlicho road now under construction.

Avalon Advanced Materials TSX:AVL brought its Nechalacho rare earths project to feasibility in 2013 but this year divided the property with another company, privately owned Cheetah Resources which was taken over by ASX-listed Vital Metals in October. Under a $5-million property acquisition that closed soon after the takeover, Vital gets two near-surface deposits while Avalon retains the ground below that. Now working on an update to the indicated and inferred resources, Vital says its deposits show near-term “potential for a start-up operation.”

See the Chamber’s PowerPoint presentation to the NWT government.

Related:

Nunavut art, Nunavut gold celebrate Nunavut anniversary numismatically

June 26th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 26, 2019

A bit late for the April 1 birthday but an impressive work just the same, the Royal Canadian Mint has unveiled its latest collector coin commemorating Nunavut’s creation. The gold comes from two territorial mines and the design from a Nunavummiuq artist.

Nunavut art, Nunavut gold celebrate Nunavut anniversary

The most recent coin displays
Germaine Arnaktauyok’s work.

“The Mint is passionate about honouring Canadian talent and celebrating our exceptional cultural diversity through beautifully crafted coins,” said president/CEO Marie Lemay. “We are proud to honour Germaine Arnaktauyok’s artistic legacy, in pure Nunavut gold, to wish the people of this important territory a happy 20th anniversary.”

With one-tenth of an ounce of 99.99% yellow metal from Agnico Eagle Mines’ (TSX:AEM) Meadowbank and TMAC Resources’ (TSX:TMR) Hope Bay mines, the coin has a face value of $20 but sells for $359.95 in a limited edition of 1,500. The piece depicts an Inuit drummer that Arnaktauyok created for a circulating toonie struck in 1999 on the new territory’s birth. The flip side portrays the Queen.

Nunavut art, Nunavut gold celebrate Nunavut anniversary

A 2018 coin featured Andrew Qappik’s images.
(Photos: Royal Canadian Mint)

It’s the second coin in a year featuring Nunavut gold and artistry. In June 2018 the Mint released a $20 piece using Meadowbank and Hope Bay gold as the canvas for Andrew Qappik’s images of a walrus, ptarmigan, polar bear, bowhead whale and narwhal.

By far Nunavut’s largest private sector employer, the industry now has four territorial mines in operation, including Baffinland Iron Mines’ Mary River and Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine, which achieved commercial gold production just last month. Agnico Eagle also has Amaruq, a satellite project 50 kilometres northwest of Meadowbank, slated for commercial production in Q3.

At Hope Bay, TMAC hopes to begin production on its Madrid and Boston gold deposits in 2020 and 2022 respectively, adding to current output from the Doris operation.

Baffinland currently has community consultations underway as part of a Nunavut Impact Review Board process for two railways that the company proposes building to expand Mary River output.

Among Nunavut’s other promising projects are Sabina Gold and Silver’s (TSX:SBB) Back River gold project, which has received all major permits since reaching feasibility in 2015, and De Beers’ Chidliak project, subject of the giant’s buyout of Peregrine Diamonds last year.

Read more about the Royal Canadian Mint.

Aboriginal engagement

January 30th, 2015

AME BC’s Gathering Place sees progress among the problems, hope for the future

by Greg Klein

Next Page 1 | 2

Over 6,700 participants from 35 countries descended on Vancouver to give Roundup 2015 the fourth-largest crowd in its 32-year history. Promotion, deals and networking thrived, but so did the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia’s education and outreach programs. Prominent among them was Gathering Place, a four-day dialogue in which miners, natives and others tackled tough issues as the industry undergoes a cultural transformation.

AME BC’s Gathering Place sees progress among the problems, hope for the future

Tsimshian, Coast Salish, Tlingit and Kwakwaka’wakw
dancers take part in a Roundup cultural performance.

Generalities and platitudes flowed freely. But discussion could be candid too. Some company reps outlined specific policies to bring aboriginals into mining and exploration while natives suggested further courses of action. While acknowledging the seemingly slow pace of progress, one CEO maintained, “If you look back 25 years ago and look where we are today, I think you’d probably describe it as a revolution.”

Among the success stories would appear to be Kaminak Gold’s (TSXV:KAM) Coffee project. Now moving towards feasibility, Kaminak reached out to local communities in 2010, soon after optioning the Yukon property and prior to staking additional claims.

“We wanted to know if there were trap lines in the area, we wanted to know if there were any cultural or sensitive areas, or any historical areas that we need to be aware of,” explained Allison Rippin Armstrong, Kaminak’s VP of lands and environment.

Natives alerted the company about nearby gravesites, which Kaminak then excluded from staking. “That early engagement helped us avoid what potentially could have been a very distressing situation,” Armstrong said. The company funded a heritage resource study for reference when planning exploration. Environmental monitoring also began in 2010 with the help—and input—of employees from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in first nation (TH). The natives, who’d already signed a land claim agreement, have traditional territory covering Kaminak’s deposit.

The project currently has three TH environmental monitors working with consultants who collect data at the site. The monitors also help “develop and define the baseline programs so they come from a first nation community perspective as opposed to just a purely scientific perspective,” Armstrong emphasized.

As Kaminak president/CEO Eira Thomas told a panel discussion, the company solicits native concerns during its environmental work. By the time Kaminak files a permit application, she hopes those concerns will be addressed.

In another forward-looking precaution, Kaminak provides pre-season work plans to first nations for input and review. An exploration and co-operation agreement signed with TH in 2013 includes a conflict resolution process.

Kaminak has also developed a program of modular training, involving flexible courses that can be scheduled around work and other commitments. The courses don’t require a high school diploma yet could lead to university studies, Armstrong said.

A partnership with Yukon College will bring about two pilot courses this year to prepare TH citizens for skilled jobs. “If and when our mine gets built, the entire environmental department will be TH citizens.”

Fewer specifics came from a panel discussion involving the heads of four companies with mines or advanced-stage projects.

New Gold TSX:NGD president/CEO Robert Gallagher did point out that certain contracts at the company’s New Afton mine in central B.C. are restricted to first nations businesses. Natives make up 23% of the mine’s employees. A plan to team up aspiring aboriginal businesses with experienced joint venture partners, however, failed to transmit skills from one company to the other.

Then New Gold brought in a business development director. “He works with the first nations to develop the skills and put training in place so they can really learn the business,” Gallagher said. As it stands now, the new business still works with a JV partner. But New Gold plans to eventually split the contract between two former partners as the JV ends and a standalone native-owned company emerges.

An aboriginal business owner in the audience urged companies to train natives to adapt to camp life. “If you don’t train them the right way, you’re just wasting money because it’s a Jerry Springer show every night after supper in the rec room.”

Next Page 1 | 2

Northern Persistence

March 12th, 2012

Challenges Notwithstanding, Nunavut Explorers Persevere

By Greg Klein

See Part I of this story.

Nunavut’s mining future might have seemed grim indeed when Agnico-Eagle TSX:AEM applied a $644.9-million write-down to Meadowbank, the territory’s sole operating mine. Newmont’s TSX:NMC $1.61-billion write-down of its Hope Bay Gold Project would seem to validate pessimism. Yet Nunavut mining has flourished in the past, and rising commodity prices have brought renewed interest in past-producing operations. Meanwhile, a new strategic alliance offers hope for largely unexplored lands.

Undeterred by its Meadowbank disappointment, Agnico is pushing its Meliadine Gold Project towards 2017 production. But if Elgin Mining TSXV:ELG keeps to its timeline, it will re-open the Lupin Gold Mine by Spring 2014. Located 400 kilometres north of Yellowknife, the mine was shut down by Kinross TSX:K in 2005 after producing 3.34 million ounces. Production, however, was sporadic. The mine was opened October 1982, shut down January 1998, re-opened April 2000, shut down again August 2003, re-opened March 2004 and shut down yet again in February 2005.

Challenges Notwithstanding, Nunavut Explorers Persevere

Despite its high grade, Lupin’s resource estimate isn’t huge. The June 2011 43-101 shows 720,000 tonnes grading 11.7 grams per tonne for 271,000 gold ounces indicated and 410,000 tonnes grading 10.73 g/t for 141,000 ounces inferred.

The company maintains, however, that existing infrastructure means the mine “does not require a multimillion-ounce deposit to justify a production decision,” putting the project in a “unique position” compared to other Northern projects.

Results from Lupin’s WZSOS Zone released March 6 include

  • 5.89 g/t gold over 8.9 metres
  • 9.56 g/t over 5.3 metres
  • 9.5 g/t over 4.4 metres

Along with Lupin, Elgin picked up the Ulu Gold Project 155 kilometres further north. Another high-grade project, Ulu’s June 2011 resource estimate shows 751,000 tonnes grading 11.37 g/t for 275,200 gold ounces indicated and 418,000 tonnes grading 10.61 g/t for 142,900 ounces inferred, using a 2.5 g/t cutoff. The deposit remains open below the 360-metre level, and drilling is scheduled to resume this month.

Next month Elgin shareholders vote on a proposed merger with Gold-Ore Resources TSX:GOZ, which owns the Bjorkdal Gold Mine in northeast Sweden. Among the merger’s proposed advantages, Elgin states the Bjorkdal team “has Arctic underground and open-pit mining operating experience that will benefit the combined company.”

New to the neighbourhood is HTX Minerals, a privately held project generator that last week announced a strategic alliance with Nunavut Resources Corp, described as Canada’s first Inuit-owned mining development company. HTX already holds a three-year, $3.9-million strategic alliance with Implats, the giant platinum producer, to explore northern Ontario. Under the five-year NRC agreement, the Inuit company is expected to raise at least $18 million to fund exploration.

The alliance hopes to create joint ventures to develop projects which then might be optioned to a third party or sold to a new corporation. The agreement covers the Kitikmeot region of western Nunavut. Kitikmeot consists of 450,000 square kilometres populated by about 5,400 people, 88% of whom are Inuit. The region includes Hope Bay, subject of last month’s write-down.

The NRC was founded by the Kitikmeot Inuit Association which, according to some sources, played a role in the demise of Hope Bay. The February 16 edition of the Nunatsiaq News reports that Kitikmeot Corp, the KIA business arm, received at least $60 million a year from the Hope Bay Project for the last four years.

According to the report, “KIA President Charlie Evalik says money was not a sticking point, but, according to a person who was not authorized to speak publicly and who spoke on condition of anonymity, the KIA may have asked for too much before the mine had even reached production.” Evalik is also Chairman of the NRC.

The newspaper added, “‘KIA played a role in a complex decision,’ is all [Chris Hanks, VP of Newmont's Hope Bay Mining subsidiary] had to say about that issue.”

Evalik was travelling, and another NRC spokesman didn’t respond to a ResourceClips.com interview request by press time.

The HTX-NRC alliance will explore three separately defined land packages: federally owned Crown lands, Inuit Owned Lands and Article 41 lands. The last are actually in the Northwest Territories but were granted to the KIA as part of the boundary negotiations leading to Nunavut’s creation in 1999.

We’re going to see more and more infrastructure, and a lot of these resources will become more and more accessible —Scott McLean

Speaking from Sudbury, HTX President/CEO Scott McLean says, “The alliance helps accelerate the path to discovery. It gives us a social licence because we’re working directly with the people of the region. We’ll be mentoring and training the Inuit so they can become self-sufficient with respect to mineral exploration. We’ll have access to funds without diluting our shareholders’ equity.”

He points out, “It’s a multi-commodity alliance, although if you try to focus on everything everywhere you probably won’t be too successful. But there are some obvious targets that jump off the page—gold targets, nickel-copper targets, VMS targets and diamond targets. However our main drive, at least in the first year, will be in the gold space and the nickel-copper space.”

A number of former mines dot the region, including the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines just south of the Article 41 lands and Lupin to the north. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t consider taking on a past-producer, particularly if it offered some upside beyond what was done before,” McLean adds.

But even with climate, isolation and lack of infrastructure already ganging up on Northern enterprise, the Fraser Institute’s most recent Survey of Mining Companies found another problem—corruption. The institute pins Nunavut with the third-highest level of graft among high-income jurisdictions. The NWT comes in fourth. Eight percent of respondents said they would not invest in Nunavut for that reason. The survey is based on industry polls and doesn’t provide details or examples.

McLean says he hadn’t heard of concerns about corruption. Newmont’s Hope Bay write-down, on the other hand, “was a concern for everybody working up there. That came out towards the end of our negotiations [with the NRC]. However, this is an area that’s going to be opening up over the next few decades. We’re going to see more and more infrastructure, and a lot of these resources will become more and more accessible. It’s not something that discourages us; it just heightens our awareness of the challenges of working in that area.”

Chief among them, he says, is “the high cost associated with any exploration or development. We’ll wait and see how environmental change progresses and see how all these challenges present themselves as we go forward.”

Other companies working in Nunavut include Advanced Explorations Inc TSXV:AXI, ArcelorMittal, Diamonds North Resources Ltd TSXV:DDN, Minmetals Resources Ltd, Peregrine Diamonds Ltd TSX:PGD, Sabina Gold & Silver Corp TSX:SBB, Shear Diamonds Ltd TSXV:SRM and Xstrata.

North Of 60

September 7th, 2011

Sabina Faces a Huge Challenge in Nunavut

By Ted Niles

The Canadian Arctic contains the largest reserve of unexploited natural resources in the world. But they have remained unexploited for good reasons: savage weather and nominal infrastructure. Even as talk of climbing temperatures and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment to the region excite interest, the cost of development remains a dauntingly high barrier to entry for such as Sabina Gold & Silver.

In response to this challenge, Sabina announced June 2 that it had sold its Nunavut Hackett River Project and some Wishbone Greenbelt Belt claims to Swiss mining giant Xstrata for $50 million and a silver production royalty equal to 22.5% of the first 190 million ounces of payable silver and 12.5% thereafter. President/CEO Tony Walsh explained that the deal “transforms Sabina into a purely precious metals company… Our goal is to become a mid-tier gold company producing between 300K to 400K ounces of gold per year from Back River, a project scope we believe we can expedite.”

Sabina Faces a Huge Challenge in Nunavut

The Back River gold project, located about 60 kilometres from Hackett River (and 70 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle), consists of seven claim blocks, the most important of which are the Goose Lake and George properties. Since acquiring the project from Dundee Precious Metals in 2009, drilling has focussed largely on Goose, and the discovery of the Llama and Umwelt deposits there have considerably increased the project’s resources. In March 2011 Sabina announced a new resource estimate for Back River of 2.66 million ounces gold indicated—more than doubling the existing indicated resource—and 1.56 million ounces gold inferred.

The objective of Sabina’s 2011 drill campaign is to add at least another 700,000 ounces of gold to the resource. VP Exploration Manojlovic tells Resource Clips, “We’re still drilling up there right now, and we will be until the end of September. We have nine drills currently turning. We have five drills working on the Umwelt itself—we’re expanding that deposit. Last year we drilled about 550 metres at the top end of that deposit, brought it to a resource, and this year we’re drilling to get the additional mineralization to the south. Once we’re done at the end of September, we’ll be working on doing the resource from that 550 metres down to however deep we take it by the end of September. We would hope to get [the updated resource] out by 4Q.”

Umwelt assays reported September 1 include 14.62 grams per tonne gold over 13.9 metres (including 27.56 g/t over 5 metres), 7.32 g/t over 24.4 metres, 5.47 g/t over 29 metres and 7.28 g/t over 18.4 metres. August 25 results included 10.19 g/t over 33 metres (including 27.16 g/t over 9 metres), 5.64 g/t over 6.7 metres, 3.35 g/t over 19.2 metres, 4.79 g/t over 20.8 metres, 15.42 g/t over 6 metres and 13.43 g/t over 24.4 metres (including 72.8 g/t over 3 metres).

We have very high confidence that we will continue to increase resources and bring the project to the mining stage —Peter Manojlovic

Manojlovic comments, “We’re quite excited about the results that we’ve released. Certainly the highlight was the hole that returned 13 g/t over 24 metres. The deposit now extends from, basically, near surface at the north down to about 650 metres at the south end, which is where that hole is. It demonstrates the incredible continuity of the deposit over 1.4 kilometres. The thickness is very consistent as well.”

He continues, “We hope to complete our drilling and get those resources and begin a preliminary economic assessment of the project this fall. We see that as having a high likelihood of being positive. We would progress as rapidly as we can once we reach that stage.”

Sabina believes that Ontario’s Timmins and Kirkland Lake mining districts presented similar challenges to what the Far North faces today, and as awareness of Nunavut increases infrastructure will follow. Prime Minister Harper made a step in this direction August 24 with the investment of $230,000 in the establishment of an Iqaluit office for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. More important, perhaps, is the investment in Nunavut by other miners. Apart from numerous juniors exploring there, majors include Agnico-Eagle—whose Meadowbank gold mine began production June 2011—as well as ArcelorMittal, Areva, Newmont, BHP Billiton and Xstrata.

However, according to an August 31 Reuters story, Agnico-Eagle has invested $1.5 billion in Meadowbank, while “Newmont has spent $2 billion so far on its Hope Bay gold deposits in western Nunavut, and there is no guarantee a mine will ever be built.”

Nevertheless, Manojlovic concludes, “We’re extremely excited about Back River. Sabina has been working on the project for about two years, and in those two years we’ve made a number of new discoveries, the most significant of which are the Umwelt deposit and the Llama deposit. We’ve increased resources there quite substantially, so we have very high confidence that we will continue to increase resources and bring the project to the mining stage.”

Sabina Gold & Silver currently has 160.3 million shares trading at $4.88 for a $782.2 million market cap. Sabina also has three early-stage exploration projects in Ontario’s Red Lake mining district.