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Posts tagged ‘South American Silver Corp (SAC)’

Year in review: Part II

December 29th, 2012

A mining and exploration retrospect for 2012

by Greg Klein

Read Part I of Year in Review.

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Graphite boom, bust and echo

One of the commodities that excited the 2012 market, graphite began stirring interest in 2011 and really gained momentum early this year. But the precipitous fall, right around April Fool’s Day, let cynics bask in schadenfreude. It was a bubble all along, they insisted.

Well, not quite. Despite reduced share values, work continued as the front-runners advanced their projects and earlier-stage companies competed for position in graphite’s second wave of potential producers. By autumn some of the advanced-stage outfits, far from humbled by last spring’s events, boldly indulged themselves in a blatant bragging contest.

Old king coal to regain its throne

If clean carbon doesn’t excite investors like it used to, plain old dirty carbon might. By 2017 coal’s share of the global energy market will rival that of oil. So says the International Energy Agency, which issued its Medium-Term Coal Market Report in December.

A mining and exploration retrospect for 2012

The forecast sees China consuming over half the world’s production by 2017. “Even if Chinese GDP growth were to slow to a 4.6% average over the period, coal demand would still increase both globally and in China,” the report stated. India, with the world’s “largest pocket of energy poverty,” will take second place for consumption.

Coal’s growth in demand is slowing, however. But its share of the energy mix continues to increase even though Europe’s “coal renaissance” (sic) appears to be temporary.

Bringing coal miners to new hassle

Chinese provide much of the market and often the investment. So why shouldn’t they provide the workers too? That seems to be the rationale of Chinese interests behind four British Columbia coal projects.

The proponents plan to use Chinese underground workers exclusively at the most advanced project, HD Mining International’s Murray River, for 30 months of construction and two additional years of mining. Only then would Canadians be initiated into the mysteries of Chinese longwall mining. But with only 10% of the workforce to be replaced by Canadians each year, Chinese “temporary” workers would staff the mine until about 2026. The B.C. government has known about these intentions since at least 2007.

The HD Mining saga has seen new developments almost every week since the United Steelworkers broke the story on October 9.

As Greenland’s example suggests, the scheme might represent another facet of China’s growing power.

Geopolitical geology

Resource imperialism aside, resource nationalism and other aspects of country risk continued throughout 2012. South American Silver TSX:SAC continues to seek compensation after spending over $16 million on a silver-polymetallic project that the Bolivian government then snatched as a freebie. Centerra Gold TSX:CG escaped nationalization in Kyrgyzstan but works its way through somewhat Byzantine political and regulatory intrigue, as does Stans Energy TSXV:HRE. In November the latter claimed a court victory over a hostile parliamentary committee.

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Week in review

October 12th, 2012

A mining and exploration retrospect for October 6 to 12, 2012

by Greg Klein

«Le Plan Nord est enterré»

Plan Nord was nothing more than “marketing” for projects that were already in the pipeline. So says Quebec’s new natural resources minister, according to Sunday’s Montreal Gazette. But industry observers still don’t know how the newly elected Parti Quebecois will treat the mining sector.

Prior to the province’s September 4 election, then-premier Jean Charest vowed his Liberal government would spend $2.1 billion on a massive infrastructure program to develop Quebec north of the 49th parallel. Over a 25-year period, Plan Nord would attract $80 billion in private and public investment, he said. During the election campaign, however, PQ leader Pauline Marois called the Liberals’ planned expenditure a $2.1-billion giveaway to the private sector.

A mining and exploration retrospect

Marois also talked of imposing a 5% royalty on all minerals extracted and a 30% tax on all mining profits above 8%. Her election victory raised obvious concerns throughout the sector.

“People involved in the Plan Nord are very anxious to know the position of the government,” Nochane Rousseau, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Montreal office, told the Gazette. He pronounced the Plan Nord “brand” dead but added, “In order to create wealth, we absolutely will have to develop our natural resources, and northern Quebec is overflowing with them.”

Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet made her dismissive comment in a meeting with the editorial board of La Presse. She refused the Gazette’s requests for an interview.

New regulations disappoint Ontario explorers

Ontario’s exploration sector suffered a setback with a new mining law that takes full effect April 1. Probably the industry’s biggest chagrin is the requirement to consult native bands prior to early-stage exploration drilling on Crown land. The bands will have 30 days to express concerns, which could then block a permit, according to a Tuesday dispatch from Bloomberg. “It’s going to cost a lot more now and there are going to be a lot more delays,” the news agency quoted Mistango River CEO Robert Kasner.

Solid Gold Resources TSXV:SLD CEO Darryl Stretch told Bloomberg, “It should be the government’s duty to consult with first nations, not the mining industry’s.”

Stretch was a vocal member of Miners United, a group representing about 60 companies that surfaced at last spring’s Toronto PDAC convention to express concern about native relations. In a March 27 Globe and Mail story about the group, Ontario Prospectors Association Executive Director Garry Clark said that native bands charge companies for exploration drilling in confidential deals that often surpass $100,000.

Bullish, but …

Among those predicting more merger-and-acquisition activity are the three principals of NewGen Asset Management, which was written up in Friday’s Financial Post. “Our strategy is to identify those [most] likely M&A candidates,” said Manager David Dattels. The FP explained that one of the company’s portfolios “typically has about 20 core holdings, with others used as trading positions, including short positions that usually represent 5% to 20% of the portfolio.”

Dattels’ enthusiasm for the industry has its limits. “Mining has traditionally been a poorly managed industry. Corporate governance is probably the worst relative to other industries. Investors are smartening up to that.”

Consumers acquire critical commodity companies

Increasing demand and a 15% Chinese export tax have put another EU-designated critical mineral in the spotlight. Fluorspar “is used throughout the world, primarily by the chemical industry, for refrigerants and foam products and in the manufacturing of aluminum, Teflon, refined petroleum products, glass and medicine,” the Gold Report quoted Jennings Capital Analyst Ken Chernin on Tuesday. “There are virtually no substitutes for many of its uses and it is an essential ingredient in hydrofluoric acid.”

Chernin added that companies with deposits outside China are candidates for acquisition—and not necessarily by other miners. “In February 2012, the aluminum company RUSAL acquired the remaining 50% of Russia’s only fluorspar producer, [Yaroslavsk Mining Company], from Russkaya Gornorudnaya Kompaniya,” he said. “Fluorspar is used to produce aluminum fluoride, which is used in the production of aluminum. And in January 2012, the chemical group Solvay announced it acquired a 30,000 tonne-per-year fluorspar mine in Bulgaria from Italy’s M&M Group. DuPont and Honeywell are also big consumers of fluorspar.”

More of the same for Venezuela

Hugo Chavez “gets six more years to squeeze industries.” That’s how the Globe and Mail commemorated the results of Venezuela’s Sunday election. His 54% vote gives Chavez another six years in office, which would extend his presidency to 20 years. The Reuters commentary notes that “the nationalization campaign Mr. Chavez launched in 2007 has saddled the state with scores of loss-making companies.” Nevertheless he plans to continue nationalizing companies and confiscating mining operations.

Sad SAC

“Vehement” was South American Silver’s TSX:SAC denial of the latest allegations from the Bolivian government. The company’s Tuesday statement responded to an October 5 threat of legal action from Minister of Mines Mario Virreira, who claimed South American Silver had been working in Bolivia illegally.

The accusations “are patently false and have no factual basis,” the company said, repeating its intention to seek international arbitration “to obtain full compensation, including the fair market value of the Malku Khota Project.” Bolivia confiscated the silver-indium project in July, after SAC had sunk over $16 million building a resource. On October 3 Virreira stated the company would get zero compensation.

Cry the troubled country

Reports from South Africa said two more people died in labour-related violence early Thursday, while on Friday the three-week truck drivers’ strike ended. Also on Friday Atlatsa Resources TSXV:ATL announced that 2,161 fired employees would be reinstated provided they return to work at the company’s Bokoni Platinum Mines by October 15.

An attempt at reassurance came from Platinum Group Metals TSX:PTM. On Friday the company stated that progress continues on its application for a $260-million loan to build the WBJV Project 1 Platinum Mine in South Africa. Phase I development “has been progressing steadily and well…. There are approximately 325 people on site and the project has completed 880,000 man hours with a single minor lost-time incident.”

Not surprisingly the news was buried by allegations that surfaced on Thursday. South African President Jacob Zuma reportedly spent $23 million of public money renovating his home.

On Monday Kitco News summarized the situation for 10 major companies recently affected by South African strikes.

Canadian juniors explore the world. But beyond?

It’s twice the size of earth, mostly diamond with some graphite thrown in—but credit for the discovery goes to astronomers, not geologists. Apparently not the first diamond planet ever discovered, 55 Cancri e, as it’s unhelpfully named, “is the first time one has been seen orbiting a sun-like star and studied in such detail,” according to a Thursday report from Reuters.

And, as the news agency pointed out, “any fortune-hunter not dissuaded by The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age morality tale of thwarted greed, will find Cancri e about 40 light years, or 230 trillion miles, from Park Avenue.”

Week in review

October 5th, 2012

A mining and exploration retrospect for September 29 to October 5, 2012

by Greg Klein

So much for the environmental review

Monday’s news from British Columbia indicates another level of uncertainty has hit the province’s mining sector. Two B.C. cabinet ministers refused an environmental assessment certificate for Pacific Booker Minerals TSXV:BKM, even though the company passed a provincial environmental review. As a result, the half-billion-dollar Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum proposal has been put on hold.

A new development at the provincial level, it does have similarities to a federal decision to reject Taseko Mines’ TSX:TKO Prosperity gold-copper mine proposal for B.C. A November 2010 report from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority convinced the federal government to reject the $800-million proposal. The three-member CEAA panel found few significant adverse environmental effects but emphasized significant adverse effects on established native rights, potential rights, potential title, tradition and culture.

Mining and exploration week in review

Now B.C. has taken a comparable approach, although the supposedly “environmental” arguments come from politicians, not the people who conducted the environmental review. In fact the provincial review repeatedly stated that, with successful implementation of mitigation measures and conditions, the Morrison mine is “not likely to have significant adverse effects.”

Nevertheless Derek Sturko, who’s both executive director of B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office and an associate deputy minister of the environment, seemed to reject his own department’s 270-page report. He suggested instead that the government take a “risk/benefit approach.” Sturko also emphasized strong native opposition and a “moderate to strong prima facie case for aboriginal title.” On that basis, two cabinet ministers representing mining and the environment nixed the proposal.

The decision might be related to the pre-election BC Liberal government’s prevaricating but currently negative stance towards the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. But the province’s decision, like the federal decision regarding Taseko, also raises the question of whether native rights are handled according to the principle of law or appeasement.

Taseko submitted a revised $1.1-billion New Prosperity proposal to the feds on September 20. On Tuesday Business in Vancouver cited analysts, for some reason speaking anonymously, who said Taseko’s $300-million revision remains viable despite a drop in copper prices. But “with a large question mark as to whether the federal government will approve the project on a second go-round, they’re currently ascribing no value to the project in their target stock prices for the company,” BIV reported.

On Tuesday Pacific Booker Director Erik Tornquist told ResourceClips his company is reviewing its options.

Confiscation without compensation

If miners haven’t given up on B.C., it might be a case of the devil they know. Wednesday’s announcement that the Bolivian government would not provide compensation for nationalizing the Malku Khota Project followed months of uncertainty for South American Silver TSX:SAC. Since 2007, the company had spent over $16 million building a resource of 158 million ounces silver and 1,184 tonnes indium with lead, zinc and copper credits.

The company claimed the support of 43 out of 46 land-owning indigenous groups. SAC blamed illegal artisanal miners and activists from outside the region for intense opposition from the three dissident communities.

But last May, the company said, Mining Minister Mario Virreira signed an agreement with the 43 supportive groups stating that the government will not reverse the mining concession and that the company should continue exploration.

Protests turned violent in June, with one death and several injuries. Later that month seven people were taken hostage, including three drill contractors, two SAC employees, a government prosecutor and a police officer. The final three hostages were released unharmed after 11 days, when the government decreed that it would nationalize Malku Khota.

Reuters quoted a confident-sounding Vice-President Alvaro Garcia saying, “If we have to invest $500 million or $700 million or even $1 billion for a large-scale project at Malku Khota, which benefits Bolivia, the state is prepared and has the capacity to do that.”

At the time he added that government might pay compensation of $2 million or $3 million. Then came Wednesday’s decree. In an Agence France-Presse dispatch printed in the Globe and Mail, Virreira stated, “The nation has no financial obligation to South American Silver.”

By press time South American hadn’t responded. In an August 2 statement Greg Johnson, then the company’s president/CEO, said the company is prepared to go to international arbitration.

But, as Financial Times correspondent Andres Schipani pointed out, “Getting fair compensation, or any for that matter, from Bolivia has proved tricky since 2007. A year after [President Evo] Morales took office, the Andean country pulled out of the World Bank body that conducts arbitration between businesses and governments …”

Schipani noted other troubled nationalizations in Bolivia, including the Colquiri tin mine taken from Glencore in June. The government rationalized the move by saying it could then end disputes between independent and unionized miners. But the conflict flared up again with more violent clashes which shut down operations. On September 14 Reuters quoted Hector Cordova, president of the state-owned mining company, who said, “We’re losing more than $250,000 per day through lost production and this has been going on for two weeks. That means an accumulated loss of almost $4 million.”

Last Sunday the government said it solved the dispute by dividing the mine’s richest vein between the rival groups.

Friends and foes in the Kyrgyz Republic

On Friday three Kyrgyzstan MPs faced criminal charges while political unrest focused on Centerra Gold’s TSX:CG Kumtor Gold Mine. Prosecutors say the three attempted to overthrow the government by leading a mob that stormed the parliament building on Wednesday, Reuters reported. The incident grew out of a protest demanding that Kumtor be nationalized.

Violence has turfed previous Kyrgyzstan governments in 2005 and 2010. Last June a motion to nationalize Kumtor failed to pass parliament but MPs did pass a motion to consider increasing the country’s 33% stake in the Centerra subsidiary that owns the mine, as well as redefining the concession and boosting taxes.

But reassuring news came on Monday when Kyrgyzstan’s new president Zhantoro Satybaldiyev declared, “Kumtor will not be nationalized.” He told Reuters, “Problems will be resolved. I asked [the Kumtor venture] to keep up its output.” He added, “The way they extract gold, it’s really a state-of-the-art job. To be honest, I am jealous of their skills.”

The news agency pointed out, however, that the government had cancelled a televised auction of mining licences on August 28 after protesters stormed the TV studio.

Kumtor produced 583,156 gold ounces in 2011 at $482 an ounce. But in August the company blamed its $54.6-million Q2 loss largely on Kumtor’s “abnormal mining costs.”

Last September Kyrgyzstan ordered Stans Energy Corp TSXV:HRE to suspend drilling at its Kutessay II REE Deposit. According to the company, the government wanted “a firm proposal for the gratuitous transfer of a percentage of ownership” of a company subsidiary to the state. The stop-work order ended as the company met with Satybaldiyev and Economic Minister Temir Sariev.

In a statement issued Monday, Stans quoted Sariev saying, “Our state does not have the necessary financial and technical resources for the development of deposits and we have, so far, no such specialists. Development of the mining industry of our country at this stage is only possible by attracting investment. And the investors will come to our country when they will be confident in the safety of their financial investments.”

South Africa: A tragic outcome from a positive move?

Another striking miner was killed in South Africa Thursday night. On Friday Anglo-American Platinum fired 12,000 strikers. A Reuters dispatch in the Globe and Mail stated, “When rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers in January to squash a union turf war, it led to a six-week stoppage in which three people were killed, the company lost 80,000 ounces in output and platinum prices jumped 21%.”

One disturbing aspect of the crisis is that a generous pay hike in a poor country can cause so much controversy. In last month’s “Lonmin settlement,” the platinum producer raised miners’ wages between 11% and 22%. Nic Borain, described as “an independent political analyst,” told Reuters, “Amplats had been giving signals that it was going to hold the line after Lonmin had folded—but it’s a huge gamble. Someone had to take it on the chin or this would have kept on unravelling and spread through the economy. It’s difficult to know whether this causes the unrest to spread or whether it takes some of the sting out of it. It could go either way.”

The Proof’s In The Porphyry

February 13th, 2012

Northern Freegold Drills Yukon Gold, Silver, Copper, Moly

By Greg Klein

Northern Freegold’s TSXV:NFR January 18 inferred resource estimate was, as President/CEO/Director John Burges says, another milestone in its rapidly advancing Freegold Mountain Project in central Yukon. The Revenue Deposit’s initial 43-101 came in addition to the adjacent Nucleus Deposit’s existing resource of 1.39 million gold-equivalent ounces indicated and 898,000 gold-equivalent ounces inferred.

The boost of 3.66 million gold-equivalent ounces prompted analysts Michael Fowler and Leonie Soltay of Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon to rate Northern Freegold a speculative buy with a target of $1.44—a steep hike from its January 18 high of $0.30.

Northern Freegold Drills Yukon Gold, Silver, Copper, Moly

That helps explain why Burges, a Northern Freegold newcomer as of November 1, “would want to move from a pretty comfortable Wall Street role covering the resource and commodities sector to a junior exploration company in the middle of a financial maelstrom.”

After being approached by Director Greg Johnson, the first thing Burges noticed was the company’s valuation. “It was trading at about a third to a quarter of its peers,” he says. “So the company’s cheap. But companies are sometimes cheap for fundamental reasons. I then went through the basics. The Yukon’s a great place to be mining, and the region has good infrastructure. But did the company have the ability to scale up its resource? This latest announcement shows we can do just that, and do so rapidly.”

With a gold-equivalent cutoff of 0.5 grams per tonne, Revenue’s January 18 inferred resource estimates 101 million tonnes grading

  • 0.34 g/t gold for 1.12 million gold ounces
  • 3.14 g/t silver for 10.19 million silver ounces
  • 0.13% copper for 286.87 million copper pounds
  • 0.04% molybdenum for 89.61 million molybdenum pounds
  • 1.08 g/t gold-equivalent for 3.66 million gold-equivalent ounces

The adjacent Nucleus Deposit has a February 2011 indicated resource estimating 48.5 million tonnes with a gold-equivalent cutoff of 0.4 g/t grading

  • 0.7 g/t gold for 1.1 million gold ounces
  • 0.9 g/t silver for 1.4 million silver ounces
  • 0.06% copper for 67.75 million copper pounds
  • 0.89 g/t gold-equivalent for 1.39 million gold-equivalent ounces

The Nucleus inferred resource estimates 41.45 million tonnes with a gold-equivalent cutoff of 0.4 g/t grading

  • 0.47 g/t gold for 627,000 gold ounces
  • 0.98 g/t silver for 1.31 million silver ounces
  • 0.07% copper for 62.03 million copper pounds
  • 0.67 g/t gold-equivalent for 898,000 gold-equivalent ounces

“Last season we drilled 27 holes, 12,375 metres, all of it in Revenue. We spent $4 million on exploration and converted that to over 3.6 million gold-equivalent ounces, an incredibly low finding cost,” Burges points out. “Part of that comes from having a porphyry asset. When you have a pretty good sense of the overall structure, you can scale up the size with relatively low-risk, low-cost drilling.

“We have an eight-kilometre geophysical anomaly running from Nucleus to the Stoddart Zone,” he adds. “Revenue is in between and that’s probably where the porphyry is centred. When you compare that geophysical anomaly to the soil geochemistry, where we have extremely strong copper and gold showing across a four-kilometre strike zone that crosses about the middle of that geophysical anomaly, it’s easy to become convinced that it’s a single porphyry system. It’s one of the largest geophysical anomalies you’ll see and probably comparable to some of the largest porphyry projects in the world. That’s the potential—obviously we haven’t proved that yet. We have to work at that every drill season.

“Revenue is open laterally in all directions and at depth. This coming season we think we’ll have very similar results as we drill the western side of the deposit.”

We spent $4 million on exploration and converted that to over 3.6 million gold-equivalent ounces, an incredibly low finding cost —John Burges

This year the company also plans to drill Nucleus below its current depth of about 300 metres and to explore some of the project’s prospective targets. The drill season usually runs from April to October.

As for infrastructure, “We have a government-maintained road leading to the main highway, a key advantage over companies that have to helicopter everything in. A high-voltage transmission line is about 30 kilometres away. We are on Crown land, but we maintain strong relationships with the local communities.”

Those relationships are enhanced by Founder/Director Bill Harris, a second-generation Yukon prospector who knows the territory’s people as well as its geology. “He not only found the deposit but was able to amalgamate a very fragmented land package,” Burges notes.

Director Greg Johnson is President/CEO of South American Silver TSX:SAC and a co-founder of NovaGold TSX:NG who helped push three projects through to feasibility as the company’s market cap rose from $50 million to over $2 billion.

Tim Termuende is President/CEO/Co-founder of Eagle Plains Resources TSXV:EPL, which Burges describes as “a serial incubator of assets which they spin out, the most recent example being Copper Canyon Resources, which NovaGold acquired last year.”

VP of Exploration Al Armitage is a 25-year geologist with extensive experience in North American porphyry assets, says Burges. “With his colleagues Al Sexton and Joe Campbell, they’ve really driven the exploration side of the company.”

The company had $3.6 million cash as of December, Burges says. “The cheapest capital would come from exercise warrants. We now have 29.8 million warrants at a 45-cent exercise price.”

He concludes, “We have the kind of asset that intermediate producers like—low-cost, open-pittable bulk-tonnage projects. And having a project like this in a low-risk jurisdiction with good infrastructure makes it even more valuable. I believe Freegold is going to be huge, and we’re rapidly working towards that.”

At press time Northern Freegold had 111.5 million shares trading at $0.29 for a market cap of $32.4 million.

South American Silver reports Chile Resource Estimate

December 20th, 2011

Resource Clips - essential news on junior gold mining and junior silver miningSouth American Silver Corp TSX:SAC announced the first NI 43-101 mineral resource estimate for its Escalones project in central Chile. At a 0.2% copper-equivalent cut-off grade, the Escalones project has inferred resources of 3.8 billion pounds copper, 56.9 million pounds molybdenum, 610,000 ounces gold and 16.8 million ounces silver.

President/CEO Greg Johnson commented, “Escalones is the second major resource developed by South American Silver since the company’s IPO in 2007, and was originally discovered by Ralph Fitch, Executive Chairman, and Felipe Malbran, Vice President of Exploration. This resource estimate gives shareholders and other investors a tangible way to begin to value this outstanding second project in the company’s portfolio. With 4.5 billion pounds of copper-equivalent metal, this resource is already larger and higher grade than many much better known copper-gold projects in North and South America. To put this new discovery in context, the resource here is already approximately equivalent in value, size and scale to South American Silver’s more advanced Malku Khota silver-indium project, effectively doubling the company’s in-ground resources. With the scale of this first resource, along with the excellent infrastructure at Escalones and its similarity to the nearby giant porphyry system at El Teniente, we believe that the Escalones project will begin to attract market attention. Our team is committed to adding significant new value for shareholders in coming months as we demonstrate potential for further resource expansion at Escalones and advance Malku Khota to the prefeasibility level.”

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Contact:
South American Silver Corp
604.681.6926

by Ted Niles