Friday 21st October 2016

Resource Clips

Posts tagged ‘tungsten’

Why stop there?

September 20th, 2016

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

by Greg Klein

Self-congratulation might have been irresistible as 150 visitors from across Canada and the world flocked to a spot 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife to attend Gahcho Kué’s official opening on September 20. But there’s no evidence the mining and exploration crowd will waste much time resting on their laurels. JV partners De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV continue their pursuit of additional resources. And within sight of the Northwest Territories’ new mine, Mountain Province spinout Kennady Diamonds TSXV:KDI hopes success will repeat itself right next door.

Twenty-one years in the making and the world’s largest new diamond mine in 13 years, Gahcho Kué’s expected to give up 54 million carats over a 12-year lifespan. Average price estimates for the three pipes come to $150 per carat. That would provide Canada with gross value added benefits of $6.7 billion, $5.7 billion of that going to the NWT, which would gain nearly 1,200 jobs annually, according to an EY study released earlier this month.

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

Gahcho Kué partners hope to extend the
mine well past its 12-year projection.

That’s a strong rebound for the territory’s biggest private sector industry, following last year’s shutdown of the Cantung Tungsten mine and De Beers’ Snap Lake. The closures left the NWT with just two mines, both diamond operations in the Lac de Gras region that also hosts the newcomer.

But those two mines, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC 60/40 JV at Diavik and Dominion’s majority-held Ekati, maintained Canada’s place as the world’s third-largest producer by value.

Holding 51% and 49% respectively of Gahcho Kué, De Beers and Mountain Province hope to prolong its duration. Rather expansively maybe, the slightly junior partner outlines a multi-phase program.

Should all go to plan, Phase II would upgrade resources into reserves, maybe adding as much as five years to the operation. Phase III would deepen the Tuzo pipe, bringing another three years. Phase IV would do the same to the 5034 and Hearne kimberlites, as well as bring on the new Tesla pipe. If plans, projections and prayers come to fruition, Gahcho Kué might end up with more than 20 years of operation. With optimism drowning out any puns regarding pipe dreams, Phase V calls for “new targets.”

At least that’s the tale told by Mountain Province. De Beers acts as project operator.

Another company also holds high hopes, as well as about 71,000 hectares to the north, west and south of Gahcho Kué. Mountain Province spun out the Kennady North project into Kennady Diamonds, which has been advancing its own ambitious timeline.

The project’s Kelvin kimberlite has a maiden resource slated for this quarter and a PEA for Q4. Subject to those results, the company hopes to take Kelvin to feasibility next year, and to complete resource estimates for the Faraday 1, 2 and 3 kimberlites less than three kilometres northeast.

On the eve of the Gahcho Kué grand opening, Kennady pronounced itself pleased with this year’s 612-tonne bulk sample recovery, averaging 2.09 carats of commercial-sized stones per tonne from Kelvin’s north limb. With last year’s south limb grade coming to 2.02 carats per tonne, the results show “remarkable consistency in overall diamond grade across the full extent of the body,” said president/CEO Rory Moore. “This is a positive attribute from both an evaluation and a mining perspective.”

In a crucial step, a parcel goes to Antwerp next month for a price evaluation, with results expected about three weeks later.

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

Kennady Diamonds hopes for a
glittering future just north of Gahcho Kué.

Two rigs currently have the Faraday kimberlites subject to an 8,000-metre summer program of both exploration and delineation drilling. Out of 15 holes reported so far, 14 revealed kimberlite.

The summer program follows a 10,712-metre winter campaign that discovered Faraday 3 as well as four diamonds in drill core, two each from Faradays 1 and 3.

Two mini-bulk samples released this year for Faraday 1 averaged 4.65 carats per tonne and three carats per tonne respectively. Faraday 2 minis averaged 2.69 carats, 3.04 carats and 4.48 carats per tonne.

Last month Kennady expanded its property by another 4,233 hectares directly south of Gahcho Kué. But the company’s focus remains on the Kelvin-Faraday corridor north of the new mine.

As for De Beers, its other Canadian focus since Snap Lake’s demise has been the Victor mine in Ontario’s James Bay region. With less than five years of operation left, it too faces doom. Another seven years could potentially come from the Tango kimberlite, seven kilometres away and now undergoing a federal environmental review.

Local relations, however, have taken an unexpected turn. Last week De Beers Canada chief executive Kim Truter told CBC the company would go beyond the duty to consult and seek the Attawapiskat community’s outright consent for Tango. “It’s pointless us actually operating in these first nations areas if we don’t have local support,” he said.

The network added, “Support has been shaky in the first nation since the signing of the original agreement with De Beers in 2005. Band officials boycotted and picketed the grand opening of the mine in 2008 and the road into the mine has been blockaded several times, including in 2013.”

But Truter’s remarks drew an angry response from newly elected chief Ignace Gull, the Timmins Press reported September 19. The paper quoted a social media post in which he stated, “Attawapiskat is in a midst of suicide crisis and we need to deal with this first and they have to back off instead of threatening us.”

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY began ore processing at its Renard project in July, expecting to achieve commercial operation by year-end. The province’s first diamond mine expects to average 1.6 million carats annually for an initial 14 years.

Back at Gahcho Kué, visitors celebrated the grand opening as a possible strike loomed. Last week CBC reported that mediation had broken down between a contractor and a Teamsters local representing around 60 camp kitchen and cleaning staff.

Canada’s new diamond mines: Gahcho Kué ramping up, Renard catching up

August 3rd, 2016

by Greg Klein | August 3, 2016

“On time, on budget and in a challenging environment,” as De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver proudly noted, the world’s largest new diamond mine has begun full commissioning. The Northwest Territories open pit should reach full production in Q1 next year with average output of 4.5 million carats annually over its 13-year lifespan, according to an August 3 statement from Anglo American. Or a 12-year life, according to a same-day statement from Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV.

Canada’s new diamond mines: Gahcho Kué ramping up, Renard catching up

Sub-arctic conditions hardly deter De Beers,
which has opened three diamond mines in Canada’s north.

The company owns a 49% stake in the JV, with operator De Beers holding the rest. De Beers, in turn, is held 85% by Anglo and 15% by Botswana.

Mountain Province reported two large gem-quality stones recovered over the past few days, weighing in at 12.1 carats and 24.65 carats. The company expects its first diamond sale by year-end.

Located about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, Gahcho Kué sits in the diamondiferous Lac de Gras region that also hosts Dominion Diamond’s (TSX:DDC) majority-held Ekati mine, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion 60/40 JV at Diavik, and Snap Lake, De Beers’ first mine outside Africa. De Beers also operates the Victor mine in northern Ontario.

Snap Lake, a money-loser since opening in 2008, shut down last December. The company plans to flood the mine unless a buyer can be found. Output from Ekati and Diavik, however, sustained the NWT’s rank as the world’s third-largest diamond producer by value.

The two operations also sustained mining as the NWT’s largest private sector employer, despite the closures of Snap Lake and North American Tungsten’s Cantung mine in October 2015.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, meanwhile, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY began processing ore at its Renard project last month, slated to achieve full nameplate capacity within nine months. The company will declare commercial production after 30 days of processing ore at 60% of nameplate capacity, expected to happen by year-end. The combined open pit/underground operation would average 1.8 million carats annually for the first 10 years of its 14-year life. Average prices have been estimated at $155 per carat.

Read more about Canadian diamond projects.

See Chris Berry’s report on long-term diamond demand.

In the beginning

May 20th, 2016

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

by Greg Klein

The Book of Genesis somehow overlooks this country but Canada—traces of it, anyway—turns out to be an awful lot older than previously thought. In fact some Baffin Bay rocks contain relics an awful lot older than most of the planet, according to a team of scientists. The wonder of it is that, despite 4.5 billion years of geological turbulence, the Earth still retains these remnants of its 50-million-year babyhood.

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

These Baffin Bay rocks host 4.5-billion-year-old silicate material
formed when “baby Earth” was less than 50 million years of age.
(Photo: Don Francis)

But don’t expect to see them, handle them or trip over them next time you’re footloose in Nunavut. Their presence can be detected only with an extremely sensitive mass spectrometer.

The findings were reported last week in the academic journal Science under the intimidating title Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts. Richard Walker, a co-author and University of Maryland geology professor, took time to explain that to in laypeople’s lingo.

He came to this study through his work with high-precision isotopic measurements. That makes tungsten especially interesting. “Its isotopic composition varies primarily as the result of the decay of another element, hafnium, at the other end of solar system history,” Walker explains. “The isotope of hafnium that decays to tungsten, hafnium-182, has a half-life of only about nine million years. So it was present for maybe the first 50 million years of solar system history. Any variations in tungsten isotopic composition that would follow had to have been created within the first 50 million years of solar system history.”

Walker and his colleagues didn’t expect to find such variations in Earth rocks when they began their study of core formation. The hot, metallic centre of the planet seems to have formed in the first 30 million years of the solar system. “By inference it has a very different tungsten isotopic composition from the rest of the planet. So one of the reasons we got into tungsten isotopes is we’re looking for some geochemical evidence for core-mantle interaction.

“Surprisingly, things didn’t turn out at all like we expected. The isotopic composition of the core, by inference, is presumed to be considerably lower than you, me and light bulbs. Almost all the stuff we have measured in early Earth rocks is actually higher. So that requires some process other than extracting the tungsten from the core. That’s what this paper is all about.”

But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks.—Richard Walker,
professor of geology at
the University of Maryland

His team and another group had previously found similar isotopic compositions in rocks ranging from 2.5 billion to four billion years of age. “But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks. But they show the isotopic imprint of the process that happened within the Earth—wow!—really, really early in its history while it was still growing.”

Again, the finding isn’t the rocks themselves, as some media reported. It’s the isotopic measurement, imprint, signature or, to use a word concocted by the U of M press office, “birthmark.”

“I kinda like that term,” Walker says. It represents a portion of the Earth’s mantle that was somehow isolated from the rest of the planet’s middle part over 4.5 billion years ago.

Lead author Hanika Rizo of l’Université du Québec found the Canadian examples on Padloping Island off Baffin Island’s southeastern coast. Only a few rocks have been analyzed so far. “The general type of rock that’s being measured extends over thousands of square kilometres,” Walker points out. “We don’t know how much of this rock has that unusual isotopic signature. That’s something we’ll be working on for years to come.”

Similar findings came from the Ontong Java Plateau northeast of Papua New Guinea.

As for the world’s oldest actual rocks, Walker says that’s a matter of debate. “Everybody accepts that there are rocks that are more than 3.9 billion years old.”

He and some colleagues are among those who believe that rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq Belt of arctic Quebec’s Hudson Bay coast date back at least 4.3 billion years.

Zircons from Western Australia’s Jack Hills date back at least 4.4 billion years. “The rocks they’re found in are nowhere near that age but some of the minerals themselves can be dated to even older than 4.4 billion years.”

But as for the “birthmarks” of Nunavut and Micronesia, they convey a sense of drama to the cognoscenti. This planet, “despite having a very exciting and violent birth in the form of probably a sequence of giant impacts building a bigger and bigger Earth, never completely got itself chemically homogenized,” Walker says. “It’s surprising that we have somewhere down there remnants of the Earth that formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. That’s exciting, at least to a geologist—this goes back to the earliest stages of Earth history.”

Along with Walker and Rizo, report authors include Richard Carlson and Mary Horan of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay, Vicky Manthos and Matthew Jackson of the University of California, and Don Francis of McGill University.

Mining’s intangibles

March 18th, 2016

The NWT tries to gauge social impacts of its largest industry

by Greg Klein

Does diamond mining affect rates of STDs? Tuberculosis, family violence, teen pregnancy or suicide? The Northwest Territories government actually tried to find answers to those questions and others. An exercise that arose out of socio-economic agreements with the territory’s diamond miners, many of its results were—not surprisingly—inconclusive. Even so, the report offers perspective on mining-related issues that are often overlooked.

Two diamond operations comprise the sum total of NWT mining now that a third, De Beers’ Snap Lake, went on care and maintenance last December. That shutdown followed North American Tungsten’s (TSXV:NTC) C&M decision for its Cantung mine. But during the last fiscal year, the three diamond mines paid taxes of $44 million to the territory, an 11% increase over the previous year. Miners also pay the territory royalties.

Up to 2013 the territory diverted $39 million in diamond royalties to three native governments with settled land claims, according to figures supplied by the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. In 2015, the NWT shared nearly $6.3 million with nine native groups that signed the devolution agreement. The territory says it collected $63 million in diamond royalties in 2014 to 2015, half of which went to the feds.

In 2014 diamond mines created over 3,200 person-years of employment and paid more than $653 million to northern businesses, about 33% of which were aboriginal-owned.

Those outcomes can be quantified. What’s harder to assess are changes for better or worse on individuals, communities and culture since diamond mining started in 1998. Nevertheless, the NWT tried, looking at a range of factors affecting Yellowknife and seven small communities, all roughly 250 kilometres southwest of the Lac de Gras diamond camp.

We read about the use of aboriginal languages (declining in the smaller communities but showing a slight increase in Yellowknife and elsewhere), suicide (especially difficult to track on numerical trends), teen births (declining), sexually transmitted infections (increasing in the smaller communities but not Yellowknife), TB (little change), family violence (a series of spikes and declines in the smaller communities, relatively flat in Yellowknife), school achievement (significant improvement) and so on. Again and again, the report concedes that it can’t link those issues with mining.

So what’s the point of the study? If anything, it demonstrates that communities expect mining to provide intangible benefits as well as material rewards. Those communities also show concern about how a large industrial operation might affect their society. Although mining’s by far the territorial economy’s largest private sector driver, companies can’t betray complacency about their importance.

That too was demonstrated by statements miners made during their environmental assessments. In addition to singing the praises of their proposals, companies acknowledged potential disadvantages, for example the possibility of “increasing stress and related alcohol abuse, by alienating people from traditional lifestyles and by increasing the pace of change in communities.”

That comment came from BHP Billiton, which later sold its share of Canada’s first diamond mine to Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC. Holding a majority stake in Ekati and 40% of a JV with Rio Tinto NYE:RIO in Diavik, the company looms large over NWT mining. With pre-feas complete on Ekati’s Sable kimberlite, the pipe’s scheduled to begin mine construction next year and possible production in 2019. Diavik’s fourth pipe, meanwhile, has production slated for 2018.

But the biggest diamond development story in the NWT, and indeed the world, is Gahcho Kué. The 51%/49% De Beers/Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV JV has surpassed 87% completion, staying on schedule for production in H2 this year. Barring a drastic decline in demand, diamonds will likely remain the jewels of the NWT economy.

Strongbow Exploration wants to revive Cornwall’s last tin mine

March 17th, 2016

by Greg Klein | March 17, 2016

Four millennia of mining have yet to exhaust this region’s potential, Strongbow Exploration TSXV:SBW believes. On March 17 the company announced an agreement to acquire Cornwall’s South Crofty tin project, a past-producer dating to the 16th century.

The mine had already begun production by 1592, Wikipedia states, reaching large-scale production in the mid-17th century and continuing operations until 1998. According to another Wikipedia post, its closure marked the end of Cornish mining, which began circa 2150 BC.

Strongbow Exploration wants to revive Cornwall’s last tin mine

By 2012, extensions to South Crofty covered 34 earlier mines.

Some historians have attributed Rome’s AD 43 invasion of Britain to the empire’s lust for tin.

Declining metal prices during the late 19th century shut down many Cornish operations, coinciding with the Great Migration of 1815 to 1915, when the county lost 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. The region’s miners, known as Cousin Jacks, brought their skills and technology to at least 175 locations across six continents, the organization adds.

Strongbow’s grasp of history seems a tad confused, though. At one point its press release says Cornwall’s tin mining history lasted over 400 years. Later, the communiqué says mining took place “since at least 2300 BC.” Nevertheless president/CEO Richard Williams said South Crofty “represents one of the best tin opportunities currently available globally.”

Other companies have tried to revive the mine, Strongbow acknowledges. The project comes with a mining permit valid until 2071, “subject to certain planning conditions being met.”

The company plans to evaluate tin mineralization occurring about 400 metres below surface and expects to release a resource estimate within two weeks.

The deal would have Strongbow make a series of payments and share issues to Galena Special Situations Fund, the creditor of the companies holding rights to South Crofty, as well as payments to Tin Shield Production, which would forego its option to acquire the project.

Last July Strongbow picked up two tin projects in Alaska, Sleitat and Coal Creek. Earlier this month the company closed its purchase from Teck Resources TSX:TCK.A and TCK.B of two royalties on the Mactung and Cantung projects formerly of North American Tungsten TSXV:NTC, which is now under creditor protection.

Major car and phone companies might rely on child labour for cobalt: Amnesty International

January 19th, 2016

by Greg Klein | January 19, 2016

Major car and phone companies might rely on child labour for cobalt: Amnesty International

(Graphic: Amnesty International)


Children as young as seven in the Democratic Republic of Congo toil in perilous conditions to produce cobalt for lithium-ion batteries, according to an Amnesty International report released January 19. The study casts a pall on companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony which “are failing to do basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child labourers has not been used in their products,” the organization alleged.

Child miners work up to 12 hours daily in dangerous conditions, making between $1 and $2 a day, the report states. “In 2014 approximately 40,000 children worked in mines across southern DRC, many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF.” Most of the workers lack protective clothing to guard against lung or skin disease.

“It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world’s richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components,” said Emmanuel Umpula, executive director of Africa Resources Watch, which collaborated with Amnesty on the report. “The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today’s global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory and assembly line.”

The global cobalt market is unregulated, Amnesty stated, and unlike the DRC’s gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten, cobalt falls outside American conflict minerals rules.

The report charges that Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd and its subsidiary Congo Dongfang Mining “buy cobalt from areas where child labour is rife,” process it and sell it to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. “In turn, they sell to battery makers who claim to supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.”

Amnesty said it contacted 16 multinationals listed as customers of the battery manufacturers. “One company admitted the connection, while four were unable to say for certain whether they were buying cobalt from the DRC or Huayou Cobalt. Six said they were investigating the claims. Five denied sourcing cobalt from … Huayou Cobalt, though they are listed as customers in the company documents of battery manufacturers. Two multinationals denied sourcing cobalt from DRC. Crucially, none provided enough details to independently verify where the cobalt in their products came from.”

The DRC produces at least half of the world’s cobalt, with about 20% of the country’s output coming from artisanal mines, Amnesty stated. According to numbers reported in October by Chris Berry, “cobalt demand is growing by 6% overall with demand in the battery supply chain growing by some estimates at a cumulative annual growth rate of 10% out to 2020…. This is driven almost exclusively by cobalt’s use in the cathode of the lithium-ion battery.”

In responses to the CBC, Apple and Sony said they were investigating their sources while Samsung denied doing business with CDM or Huayou Cobalt. Daimler replied, “We neither source from the DRC or the mentioned companies directly.” Volkswagen stated “to our best knowledge” the company doesn’t use cobalt from CDM, Huayou Cobalt or the DRC. “Microsoft said it is unable to confirm ‘with absolute assurance’ if its supply chain is involved,” CBC reported. “LG confirmed that Huayou is one of its suppliers of cobalt” providing material from the Katanga region of the DRC.

In The Elements of Power, a book published late last year, author David S. Abraham and MetalMiner publisher Lisa Reisman stated that long, complex supply lines prevent many major companies from knowing the origin of the minerals they use.

Download the Amnesty International report.

‘The Rare Metal Age’

December 23rd, 2015

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

by Greg Klein

Read this book and you might want to renounce technology to live in a cave—provided it’s equipped with battery rechargers. Author David S. Abraham brings out some of the paradoxes of our dependency on increasingly elusive minerals while explaining the complicated but murky background of interconnected economic, social and geopolitical forces. It might take an event comparable to OPEC’s 1973 oil embargo to jolt Western society out of its ignorance. Abraham tries to protect us from such a rude awakening with The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age.

“This book comes at a defining time when rare metals are increasingly critical for high-tech, green and military applications,” he declares. “Yet despite their prevalence, they are not understood.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

By rare metals he means rare earths, tantalum, niobium, lithium, cobalt, graphite and more. Having examined a decade’s worth of reports, he finds “more than half the elements on the periodic table are ‘critical’ to one country or another.”

Resources can be limited and the route from mine-to-market complex. As a case study he presents the electric toothbrush, comprised of roughly 35 metals and relying on “an extensive supply chain: miners like China’s Xiamen Tungsten to supply the metal; a plant in Estonia to process it; and metal traders in New York to provide the alloys to component manufacturers, who sell their wares to the toothbrush manufacturer. It is a web that spans six continents.”

That’s just one example. As the “electronification of everything” coincides with the growing aspirations of emerging economies, “the future of our high-tech goods may lie not in the limitations of our minds, but in our ability to secure the ingredients to produce them…. At no point in human history have we used more elements, in more combinations and in increasingly refined amounts. Our ingenuity will soon outpace our material supplies.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

Hardly limited to consumer luxuries, the metals are essential to uses ranging from green technology to medical instruments to the weapons systems behind a country’s national defence.

Yet sources of production can be frighteningly limited. Some 85% of the world’s niobium comes from Brazil’s Araxa mine, Abraham points out. “Relying on one country and one mine in particular is a risky proposition. A natural disaster, political changes or conflict such as we have seen in Congo can quickly create shortages.”

Then there’s the geopolitical power of countries holding scarce resources. That’s a lesson Japan learned quickly when it challenged China in a territorial dispute, only to lose access to rare earths.

In fact manufacturers from Japan and elsewhere have been relocating their operations to China to ensure supply. One academic tells Abraham that “over the next several decades, every high-tech system—from cars to solar panels—could very well be produced in China.”

Moving to another disturbing topic, Abraham looks at some conflict minerals.

In Colombia, FARC rebels, who have been fighting an insurgency against the government since 1987, produce tungsten from the depths of the Amazon jungle. In Democratic Republic of Congo, anti-government forces and rebel gangs make millions producing tungsten, tin and tantalum. In 2011, about 21% of the world’s tantalum supply came from regions in conflict and almost all of it was processed in China. On the twin Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, bands of small-scale illegal miners dig up more than a third of the world’s tin from jet-black cassiterite minerals, and unknown amounts of other minerals like xenotime and monazite, which hold rare earth elements.

Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.—David S. Abraham

Where’s that stuff going? Often into products we take for granted. Due to long, baffling supply lines, “a lot of companies have no idea whether or not they’re using conflict minerals,” MetalMiner publisher Lisa Reisman tells Abraham. The author adds, “Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.”

Abraham tackles other topics as well, including the appalling environmental practices in mining regions like China’s Jiangxi province. Our footprint is there, he says, because “nearly all of your electronics contain specks of metals from those mines.”

Here in the West, our efforts to produce cleaner energy and more energy-efficient machines call for additional metals. “Mining is not antithetical to a green economy; it’s a necessity.”

People who follow resource-related topics will certainly appreciate Abraham’s insights. But other readers might find his book an especial eye-opener. It could make a suitable Christmas gift for any high-tech consumers or green activists who not only disdain mining but deludedly think they abjure the industry.

Unless they live in caves—without battery rechargers—they’re as much a part of the Rare Metal Age as anyone else.

Casualty in Lac de Gras

December 4th, 2015

The NWT looks to Gahcho Kué diamonds as Snap Lake goes on care and maintenance

by Greg Klein

Bad news can have a way of sounding sudden, even when it’s not surprising. De Beers had publicly discussed Snap Lake’s possible closure last March and again just one day before the December 4 official announcement. It comes as the global giant revamps operations in response to faltering rough diamond prices.

The company’s first mine outside Africa and this country’s only fully underground diamond mine, Snap Lake is unique in Canada. The kimberlite “is a dyke that averages about 2.5 metres thick and slopes down beneath Snap Lake at an average of 12 degrees, making it challenging and complex to mine,” according to the company. It’s a fly-in/fly-out operation for all but six to eight weeks a year, when heavy equipment and supplies arrive via ice road.

The NWT looks to Gahcho Kué as Snap Lake goes on care and maintenance

“Even the gains made this year are not enough to overcome
the market conditions and put us in a profitable position,”
lamented De Beers Canada chief executive Kim Truter.
Photo: De Beers

De Beers said it “will evaluate market conditions over the next year to determine the potential of the ore body as a viable mine.” Its capacity was 1.4 million carats annually.

The company, owned 85% by Anglo American and 15% by Botswana, recently announced a number of restructuring moves. The same day as the Snap Lake announcement, Bloomberg cited anonymous insiders who said Anglo might cut this year’s dividend. While the company has been selling assets to raise money, Anglo might get as much as $10 billion if it sold its stake in De Beers, according to an HSBC note quoted by Bloomberg last month.

Also last month Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC reported an approximately 8% drop in rough prices this year. pegs the year-on-year decline at 18%. Rapaport Group chairperson Martin Rapaport has called on De Beers to slash rough prices another 30% to 50% and replace CEO/diamond newbie Philippe Mellier with an experienced diamantaire.

Rapaport’s news service predicted De Beers’ revenue will fall approximately 44% this year. The company that once ran the global diamond industry has missed out on the sector’s more sensational recent news, such as Lucara Diamond’s (TSX:LUC) announcement of the world’s second-largest diamond find. President/CEO William Lamb has said it might fetch more than $60 million. The stone came from Botswana’s Karowe project, in which De Beers sold its 70% stake to Lucara in 2009 for US$49 million.

The NWT looks to Gahcho Kué as Snap Lake goes on care and maintenance

The NWT’s Lac de Gras region hosts Snap Lake,
two remaining mines and mine-to-be Gahcho Kué.
Map: De Beers

Putting 434 people out of work immediately, Snap Lake’s closure deals a heavy blow to the Northwest Territories, now down to two mines with the October shutdown of the Cantung mine as operator North American Tungsten TSXV:NTC sought creditor protection.

Last year the three diamond mines provided 3,234 jobs, 47% of them going to northerners, and spent $979 million in purchasing, with $653 million on northern companies, according to figures from the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. Direct and indirect benefits contribute nearly 40% of the territory’s GDP, making diamonds the largest private sector contributor to the economy, the chamber added.

But Snap Lake contributed less than the other mines, with a total of 747 jobs and $182 million in purchasing. By comparison the Rio Tinto NYE:RIO/Dominion Diavik JV created 948 jobs and spent $332 million, while Dominion’s majority-held Ekati operation created 1,539 jobs and spent $465 million.

Still, chamber of mines executive director Tom Hoefer said, “We’re hoping that this kind of devastating action on our economy is something that will make governments take notice.” That would depend on the response from people elected federally in October and territorially in November. Among the NWT’s specific problems are the lack of infrastructure and high cost of living.

“The new federal government has spoken about investing directly in infrastructure, but that was a Canada-wide statement, so we need to see how that affects the North,” Hoefer said. “On the territorial government side, it’s pretty early to tell.” Of 19 MLAs elected, 11 are new to the legislature. Not formally aligned by party, the MLAs have yet to choose a premier or form a cabinet.

An optimistic development for both De Beers and the NWT would be Gahcho Kué, a JV with Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV that’s scheduled for H2 2016 production. Heralded as “the world’s largest and richest new diamond mine,” it would more than make up for Snap Lake’s loss.

“Certainly having Gahcho Kué in the wings is a positive thing for us,” Hoefer acknowledged. But he’s waiting to see if guidance will be adjusted. “The other two mines are more resilient operations than Snap Lake, but they’re still facing the challenges of declining revenues, so what do you do about costs?”

Yet Canada might be the jurisdiction most likely to withstand the diamond downturn, according to analyst Paul Zimnisky. Speaking to Mining Weekly Online last month, he said Ekati and Diavik “are still quite profitable projects, even in a weaker price environment.” He suggested Dominion might pull in “$250 million in free cash flow next year and almost double that the following year, using what I would consider a conservative diamond price.”

Zimnisky also pointed out that financing’s fully in place for Gahcho Kué and Stornoway Diamond’s (TSX:SWY) Renard project in Quebec, slated to begin production late next year. With its Kennady North project surrounding Gahcho Kué on three sides, Kennady Diamonds TSXV:KDI expects its successful $48-million infusion to carry the company through 2017.

De Beers also runs the Victor mine in Ontario’s James Bay region. In February 2013 the company warned the mine could close if natives continued to block the ice road during the approximately 45-day period that trucks can reach the site.

Diamonds lift Northwest Territories mining revenue

March 20th, 2015

by Greg Klein | March 20, 2015

Copper and tungsten value slipped but diamonds were enough to raise Northwest Territories’ mining revenues by 14% last year. Citing new federal government stats, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines put the territory’s 2014 mining production at $1.886 billion, a $227-million increase over the previous year. The rise came from $1.561 billion in diamond revenue, a 15% jump over 2013.

That offset tungsten’s 2% decline to $84.71 million and copper’s 17% fall to $1.86 million.

Diamonds lift Northwest Territories mining revenue

The territory’s four operating mines include North American Tungsten’s (TSXV:NTC) CanTung operation and three diamond mines—Dominion Diamond’s (TSX:DDC) majority-held Ekati mine, the Dominion/Rio Tinto NYE:RIO Diavik joint venture and De Beers’ Snap Lake.

Even if De Beers’ Victor mine in Ontario were excluded, NWT diamond production would keep Canada in third place for global diamond production by value.

The Chamber of Mines also noted a 2% increase in Nunavut’s mining revenues, which came to $642 million last year. Gold accounted for $639 million, a 2% increase over 2013, while silver contributed $2.6 million, an 8% rise. Agnico Eagle TSX:AEM operates the Meadowbank mine, 300 kilometres west of Hudson Bay.

The data, from Natural Resources Canada, provided no figures for Nunavut’s other mine, Baffinland Iron Mines’ Mary River, which began iron ore production last September.

Read more about NWT mining.

Read about diamond mining in Canada.

Canada and the mining world

February 5th, 2015

Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

by Greg Klein

Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

Clusters of Canadian mining activity. (Map: Mining Association of Canada)


Peak gold has already been called by a number of prominent observers. But without sufficient investment to spur exploration, the world faces declining resources of many other minerals too. At the centre of the conundrum sits Canada, home to one of the world’s most bountiful mining jurisdictions and many of its most important miners and explorers. Even so, the country faces five key challenges according to a Mining Association of Canada report released February 4.

Called Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry, the research relies largely on 2014 and 2013 data but emphasizes Canada’s stature in the world of mining. Over 800 Canadian companies currently explore more than 100 countries. Firms with Canadian headquarters accounted for nearly a third of global exploration spending in 2013.

Canada leads the world in mining finance, with the TSX listing 57% of the world’s publicly traded mining companies. The 331 miners raised $5.6 billion in 2013. Another 1,287 Venture-listed miners and explorers pulled in $1.3 billion the same year. “Together, the two exchanges handled 48% of global mining equity transactions in 2013 and accounted for 46% of global mining equity capital that year.” Impressive as that sounds, however, the dollar figures are declining. By May 2014 almost 60% of Canadian-listed juniors were down to less than $200,000 in working capital.

As a result, MAC points out, exploration’s share of spending has been shrinking, “indicating a shift toward defining known deposits and away from the riskier discovery of new ones.” Estimates for 2014 suggest that only 36% of exploration budgets went to actual exploration while the rest went to appraising more advanced projects.

In the current economic environment, the industry is focused on reducing costs, improving productivity and preparing for the next upswing.—Pierre Gratton, president/CEO of the Mining Association of Canada

Apart from resources unearthed by Canadians abroad, this country’s own share ranks Canada among the world’s top five countries for production of 11 major metals and minerals, MAC states. Canada comes in first for potash, second for uranium and cobalt, third for aluminum and tungsten, fourth for platinum group metals, sulphur and titanium, and fifth for nickel. With diamonds, Canada ranks fifth by volume and third by value.

As for gold, silver, zinc, copper, molybdenum and cadmium, Canada remains in the top 10 but once held top five positions. In part that slip reflects a 30-year decline in the country’s proven and probable reserves, especially in base metals. “Since 1980, the most dramatic decline has been in lead (97%), zinc (83%) and silver (79%) reserves, while copper (37%) and nickel (65%) reserves have fallen significantly as well,” MAC reports.

The news isn’t all negative. “Since 2009 gold, silver, zinc and copper reserves have increased, with copper levels not seen since the early 1990s and gold at record levels.” But that doesn’t appear to reflect a long-term trend. “Recent commodity price fluctuations and the corresponding difficulties junior miners are facing in raising capital indicate continued concern over the depletion of proven and probable reserves for the majority of Canada’s deposits.”

The group foresees “only a handful” of major Canadian projects coming into production over the next five years, a result of exploration cutbacks during the 1990s and early 2000s. Global exploration has also declined in recent years. Looking a little farther ahead, though, “this gap is slowly closing.” MAC counts over 100 advanced Canadian exploration projects identified from 2011 to 2014 among those that could “contribute to the $160 billion in potential mining investment Canada could see over the next five to 10 years.”

But standing in the way of that potential are five key challenges, the report cautions. Global economic trends have hit many commodity prices hard. Yet MAC takes an optimistic view of medium- to longer-term prospects from China, India and other emerging countries.

Among the hurdles of Canadian investment are the increasing difficulty of finding new discoveries, operating deeper mines, paying higher energy costs and meeting new regulatory requirements. To help overcome lagging productivity, MAC wants more government funding for mining R&D.

Canada’s regulatory burden comes across as an increasingly complex maze. MAC warns that new legislation will likely increase the number of necessary federal approvals. The group calls for greater co-ordination between federal agencies and their provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as between government agencies and aboriginal and public consultation.

Developing undeveloped regions of course calls for infrastructure. A separate MAC study found that building and operating a remote, northern mine costs from two to 2.5 times the cost of a similar mine down south. To lessen the burden, the group calls for tax incentives, infrastructure investments and public-private partnerships.

Finally, there’s the need for new faces. The Mining Industry Human Resources Council says the industry will need 121,000 new workers over the next decade. That number doesn’t even take into account an estimated 53,000 retirements over the same period, according to MAC. Where to look for replacements?

Not far, apparently. “Approximately 1,200 aboriginal communities are located within 200 kilometres of some 180 producing mines and more than 2,500 active exploration properties,” the report notes. While mining’s already proportionately Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives, “addressing the human resources challenge will take a large and co-ordinated effort by the industry, educational institutions and all levels of government in the coming years.”

MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton said, “In the current economic environment, the industry is focused on reducing costs, improving productivity and preparing for the next upswing.” In his statement accompanying the report he added, “We are confident about the future demand for our products and the Canadian mining industry is focusing on getting in shape now to seize the growth opportunities ahead of it.”

Download Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry.


Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

Geographical distribution of Canada’s mining assets in 2012. (Map: Mining Association of Canada)