Sunday 8th December 2019

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Posts tagged ‘zinc’

Potosí’s legacy

December 5th, 2019

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

by Greg Klein

Far overshadowed by the political violence plaguing Bolivia over the last several weeks was a slightly earlier series of protests in the country’s Potosí department. Arguing that a proposed lithium project offered insufficient local benefits, residents convinced then-president Evo Morales to cancel a partnership between the state-owned mining firm and a German company that intended to open up the country’s vast but unmined lithium resources.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

In the heart of the Andes, 4,000 metres above sea level,
the city of Potosí sits beneath the infamous Cerro Rico.
(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Other events overtook the dispute, sending Morales into exile and the country towards an uncertain future that could bring elections, military coup or civil war. Yet Potosí serves as a stark example of Bolivia’s plight: a mineral-rich land that’s one of South America’s poorest countries. That’s one of the contradictions related in Kris Lane’s recent book Potosí: The Silver City that Changed the World.

Unlike so many other New World mineral rushes, the 1545 discovery held enduring global importance. More typically, and probably more dramatically, it was “rife with paradox from the start, a site of human depravity and ingenuity, oppression and opportunity, piety and profligacy, race mixture and ethnic retrenchment,” Lane recounts. “The list could go on.”

Looming over a boom town both squalid and magnificent was the great mountain of silver, Cerro Rico. For their first century of operation its mines and mills churned out nearly half the world’s silver, and then about 20% up to 1825.

The red mountain of Potosí is still producing silver, tin, zinc, lead, and other metals, and it never seems to have stopped doing so despite many cycles since its discovery in 1545. Current estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 tons of silver produced to date, and geologists estimate that the Cerro Rico, easily the world’s richest silver deposit, contains an equivalent amount dispersed in low-grade, refractory ores that would require sophisticated processing.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

This huge supply came online just as Europe was suffering a “bullion famine,” Lane writes. More than gold, silver served as the world’s exchange medium. Globalization can be dated to 1571, when Spain launched trans-Pacific trade and Chinese demand for silver “reset the clock of the world’s commercial economy just as Potosí was hitting its stride.”

Yet Spain served as little more than a transfer point for its share. With longstanding armed conflicts on a number of fronts, “the king’s fifth went to fund wars, which is to say it went to pay interest on debts to Charles V’s and Philip II’s foreign creditors in southern Germany, northern Italy, and Flanders.”

As for the rest, “once taxed, most private silver went to rich merchants who had advanced funds to Potosí’s mine owners. They then settled their accounts with distant factors, moving massive mule-loads and shiploads of silver across mountains, plains, and oceans. Global commerce was the wholesale merchants’ forte, and most such merchants were junior factors linked to larger wholesalers in Lima, Seville, Lisbon, and elsewhere. Some had ties to Mexico City and later to Manila, Macao, and Goa; still others were tied to major European trading hubs such as Antwerp, Genoa, and Lyons.”

But wealth wasn’t unknown near the source. Known for its “opulence and decadence, its piety and violence,” the boom town “was one of the most populous urban conglomerations on the planet, possibly the first great factory town of the modern world…. By the time its population topped 120,000 in the early seventeenth century, the Imperial Villa of Potosí had become a global phenomenon.”

It was also a “violent, vice-ridden, and otherwise criminally prolific” contender for the world’s most notorious Sin City.

By comparison the much-later Anglo-Saxon boom towns seem small time, only partly for their ephemeral nature. But the men (and later women) who moiled for Potosí silver weren’t the adventurous free spirits of gold rush legend. Slaves and, to a greater extent, conscripted Andean natives endured the inhumane conditions “perhaps exceeded only by work in the mercury mines of Huancavelica, located at a similarly punishing altitude in Peru.”

Native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.

At the same time some natives, like some foreigners, achieved affluence as merchants, contractors or traders in bootleg ore boosted by the conscripts. Andean innovation helped keep the mines going, for example by smelting with indigenous wind furnaces after European technology failed, and using a native method of cupellation.

“Put another way, native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.”

A “noisy, crushing, twenty-four-hour polluting killer, a monster that ate men and poisoned women and children” needed some rationale for its existence. Spain’s excuse was the money-burning responsibility of defending the faith. Still “the steady beat of Potosí’s mills and the clink of its newly minted coins hammered away at the Spanish conscience. Priests, headmen, and villagers, even some local elites denounced the mita [forced native labour] as immoral. As one priest put it, even if the king’s demand for treasure was righteous, [the] Potosí and Huancavelica mitas were effectively killing New World converts in the name of financing the struggle against Old World heresy. God’s imagination could not possibly be so limited.”

More practical matters stained the empire’s reputation too, as the 1649 Potosí mint debasement scandal unfolded. World markets recoiled and Spain’s war efforts suffered as money lenders and suppliers refused the once-prized Spanish coins. “Indeed, the great mint fraud showed that when Potosí sneezed, the world caught a cold.”

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

Potosí miners, seen here in 2017, work at
surface with Cerro Rico in the background.
(Photo: SL-Photography/Shutterstock.com)

With the 1825 arrival of Simón Bolívar, “the Liberator symbolically proclaimed South American freedom from atop the Cerro Rico. Yet British investors were close on his heels.”

Foreign owners brought new investment and infrastructure. But “the turn from silver to tin starting in the 1890s revolutionized Bolivian mining and also made revolutionaries of many miners. The fiercely militant political sensibility of the Potosí miner so evident today was largely forged in the struggles of the first half of the twentieth century.”

Those clashes bring to mind events of recent weeks, in which dozens have been killed by police and military.

Lane’s narrative continues to Morales’ “seeming ambivalence” toward miners and Potosí’s transformation into a “thriving metropolis” that hopes tourism will offset mineral depletion. Meanwhile underpaid, often under-age, miners continue to toil in woefully unhealthy conditions.

The breadth of Lane’s work is tremendous. He covers Potosí’s history from global, colonial, economic and social perspectives, outlines different practices of mining and metallurgy, recites contemporary accounts and provides quick character studies of the people involved. All that gives the book wide-ranging Christmas gift potential. It also offers considerable context as the geologically bountiful country once again experiences troubled times.

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:

Emerita Resources announces positive legal outcome in disputed Spanish tender

November 6th, 2019

by Greg Klein | November 6, 2019

A lengthy legal battle has reached a favourable decision from Spain’s Supreme Court, Emerita Resources TSXV:EMO reported November 5. The company says judges affirmed its appeal and rejected a counter-appeal regarding the tender process for the Paymogo zinc project in the country’s southwest.

Emerita Resources announces positive legal outcome in disputed Spanish tender

The dispute dates back to a 2014 public tender decision that awarded the property to another company. Emerita challenged the process behind that decision, alleging procedural errors and a lack of impartiality. In 2017 the Upper Court of Andalusia ordered that the two companies’ bids be reconsidered under altered criteria. The following month, Andalusia’s regional government appealed that order to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has now upheld the regional court’s decision. Emerita maintains the court-ordered tender process would award the company 34.46 points over 29.37 points for the rival bidder.

Emerita is “prepared to begin work on the Paymogo project as soon as the tender can be finalized, in line with the instructions from the courts,” said CEO David Gower. “We are highly encouraged by public statements from senior officials of the new government in Andalusia that they will abide by the rulings of the court and that they look forward to seeing the economic activity and potential job creation such a project can generate. The Paymogo project is highly prospective in our view and we are excited to work on its development.”

With paved road access to the port of Huelva about 50 kilometres away, the property sits within the Iberian pyrite belt, one of the world’s most highly mineralized VMS terrains, Emerita states. Extensive drilling at Paymogo has probed two areas about eight kilometres apart, La Infanta and Romanera. The latter hosts an historic, non-43-101 estimate dating to the 1990s that showed 34 million tonnes averaging 0.42% copper, 2.2% lead, 2.3% zinc, 44.4 g/t silver and 0.8 g/t gold. The deposit reportedly extends from surface to about 350 metres in depth.

Within that deposit is a higher-grade resource, again historic and non-43-101, showing 11.21 million tonnes grading 0.4% copper, 2.47% lead, 5.5% zinc, 64 g/t silver and 1 g/t gold.

The Infanta zone has been drilled from surface outcrops to about 100 metres in depth, with historic, non-43-101 reports from the 1980s of several high-grade copper-lead-zinc-silver intervals.

In another disputed tender, last month the company announced the Appellate Court of Seville ordered an investigation into the process for the Aznalcollar zinc-lead property, which Emerita argues was wrongfully awarded to another bidder.

Reporting on summer drilling at its Plaza Norte project last August, Emerita released an initial result of 4.57% zinc over 9.5 metres. The company holds a 50% stake in the JV near the northern Spanish coast.

Global decline affects exploration in Canada and abroad

October 18th, 2019

by Greg Klein | October 18, 2019

Some optimistic indications are already apparent but 2019 marked a generally disappointing year for exploration spending world-wide. The upturn that began in 2016 slumped in late 2018 and continued to languish through most of this year. That’s the verdict of S&P Global Market Intelligence, which announced the exploration world’s first cumulative budget decrease since 2016 and Canada’s first slip behind Australia since 2001. Commodity prices and U.S.-China trade tensions played a role, but so did corporate mergers, S&P found.

Canadian companies follow global decline in exploration

“Difficult market conditions and high-profile M&A activity have unsurprisingly impacted budgets the most, as the amount of money being raised by companies dropped sharply from November 2018 through February of this year,” said S&P’s Mark Ferguson, who co-wrote the study with Kevin Murphy. “We are encouraged, however, by some positive signs, such as the rising number of active companies, and copper recording a year-over-year increase.”

The data comes from a survey of 3,300 public and private companies to determine their spending on non-ferrous exploration within continents and regions or, in the case of top three countries Canada, Australia and the United States, within national borders.

Preliminary data shows an estimated $300-million drop in global nonferrous exploration spending this year, to $9.8 billion (all figures in U.S. dollars). But the decline was hardly uniform. Of those countries that bucked the trend, Australia attracted the highest spending increase within its borders, gaining $199 million while Canada dropped by $134 million.

Despite Latin America’s $117-million decline, the region retained global first place with $2.62 billion in spending. Australia’s $1.53 billion took second place, followed by the Rest of the World category’s $1.44 billion, Canada’s $1.31 billion, Africa’s $1.12 billion, the United States’ $944.8 million and Pacific/Southeast Asia’s $327 million.

Exploration at existing mine sites outpaced grassroots and advanced-stage projects, continuing a trend since the 1990s. This year’s mine site exploration grew by $225.6 million to reach $3.6 billion, compared with reductions of $529.4 million for advanced stage projects and $35.7 million for grassroots work. “This marks the first year that mine site allocations have accounted for the largest share of global exploration at 38.5%, with late stage dropping to 35% and grassroots almost flat at 27%,” S&P stated.

As is normally the case in high-level mergers, the exploration budgets of the combined entities are much lower than the totals budgeted by the individual pre-merger companies, with Newmont Goldcorp Corp [TSX:NGT] and Barrick Gold Corp [TSX:ABX] allocating about $48 million and $54 million less, respectively, than the two pairs of companies did in 2018.—S&P Global Market Intelligence

Among culprits for the overall decline was M&A, “most notably the Newmont-Goldcorp and Barrick Gold-Randgold tie-ups.”

Additional factors included market apprehension about China and the U.S. along with generally disappointing commodity performance. Exceptions were “mostly smaller players.” Despite rising prices in nickel and palladium, the two metals combined attracted less spending than zinc. But thanks largely to copper, base metals exploration overall rose by $191.1 million to $3.23 billion.

Diamonds increased for the second time since 2012, by $75.8 million to $304.6 million.

If gold offered encouragement, it came too late for 2019 budgets. The yellow stuff suffered the worst exploration decrease of any of the survey’s commodities, dropping by $559.4 million to $4.29 billion. Although still a contender for 2020 improvement, “any rise in gold budgets will likely be offset by lower allocations for other commodities.” As a result, S&P predicts next year’s exploration budgets “to remain fairly flat.”

Global spending by Canadian explorers will total about $2.16 billion this year, according to a forecast released by Natural Resources Canada in August (these figures in Canadian dollars). That number compares with $2.3 billion last year. Juniors are expected to pony up about $961 million and seniors another $1.2 billion, marking declines of 4% and 9% respectively from 2018.

MGX Renewables/Zinc8 provides unique energy storage for innovative building

October 16th, 2019

by Greg Klein | October 16, 2019

New technology will help conserve energy in an architecturally distinct new home now under construction in suburban Vancouver. MGX Renewables’ (CSE:MGXR) zinc-air energy storage system has been chosen for 75.9 House, a design by acclaimed architect Omer Arbel. The building’s structure will be distinguished by cement poured into fabric forms instead of plywood structures, providing not only strong thermal insulation but also a sculpted look that blends into the landscape. Arbel’s design was one of only two Canadian projects shortlisted for the future homes award at the World Architecture Festival to be held in Amsterdam next December.

MGX Renewables Zinc8 provides unique energy storage for innovative building

A depiction of 75.9 House,
now under construction in Surrey, B.C.

The energy storage system uses proprietary and patented technology of MGX Renewables, soon to be renamed Zinc8 Energy Solutions. President/CEO Ron MacDonald called the project “a significant milestone towards the commercialization of our breakthrough, long-duration, energy storage technology.”

Drawing on solar-generated energy, storage capacity for 75.9 House will start at 40 kW and 160 kWh and can be modified to accommodate increased demand.

As a modular system, Zinc8 can deliver power ranging from 20 kW to 1 MW or more, and energy from 160 kWh to 8 MWh or more, the company stated. The rechargeable zinc-air battery “can be configured to support a wide range of discharge power, recharge power and duty cycle requirements…. A very cost-effective and scalable solution now exists as an alternative to the fixed power/energy ratio of the lithium-ion battery for users requiring high storage capacity.”

“We are extremely excited to be working with Zinc8 to implement a new innovative zinc-air energy storage system for our build,” commented property owner Joe Haley. “Working with our world class architect with the intention to achieve a net zero home in this all-concrete modern structure, we feel this house will be one for the ages with its forward thinking and design.”

Paved with promises II

October 9th, 2019

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

by Greg Klein

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Chinese government’s majority-held Izok Corridor project
would benefit from Canadian infrastructure. (Photo: MMG Ltd)

 

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

Canada would gain a deep-water arctic port, Nunavut would get its first road out of the territory and mineral-rich regions would open up if two mega-proposals come to fruition. Recent funding announcements to study the Northwest Territories’ Slave Geological Province Corridor and Nunavut’s Grays Bay Road and Port projects could lead to a unified all-season route from a highway running northeast out of Yellowknife to stretch north through the Lac de Gras diamond fields, past the Slave and Izok base and precious metals regions, and on to Arctic Ocean shipping.

In mid-August, as federal and NWT elections neared, representatives from both levels of government announced a $40-million study into a possible 413-kilometre all-season route linking the NWT’s Highway #4 with a proposed Nunavut road. The project would also extend the NWT electrical grid to the Slave region, which straddles both sides of the NWT-Nunavut border.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

Isolated Grays Bay could become an arctic shipping hub,
helping fulfill a dream that dates back to John Diefenbaker
and, not exactly a contemporary, Martin Frobisher.
(Photo: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

That same month the federal and Nunavut governments, along with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, announced $21.5 million to study a possible 230-kilometre Nunavut section. That proposal includes building a deep-sea port at Grays Bay, about midway along the Northwest Passage. Supporters hope to reach the “shovel-ready” stage in two to three years.

A “champion and proponent” of the project, KIA president Stanley Anablak said, “We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.”

KIA perseverance helped revive the proposal after Ottawa refused to provide majority funding for the $527-million estimate in April of last year, 18 months before the federal election.

Another supporter is MMG Ltd, with two advanced base metals deposits in the region: Izok holds 15 million tonnes averaging 13% zinc and 2.3% copper, while High Lake shows 14 million tonnes averaging 3.8% zinc and 2.5% copper.

The North’s infrastructure deficit impacts sovereignty, the economy and quality of life

The Nunavut portion of a grand trans-territorial proposal.
(Map: Grays Bay Road and Port Project)

The Kitikmeot region “hosts some of the world´s more attractive undeveloped zinc and copper resources,” MMG stated. “However, located near the Arctic Circle and with no supporting infrastructure, these resources have remained undeveloped since their discoveries roughly 50 years ago.”

But could a supposed nation-building project become a nation-buster, compromising sovereignty for the sake of another country’s new silk roads? The proposal’s main beneficiary “will be the Chinese government, more so than the government of Nunavut or the government of Canada,” Michael Byers told the National Post in August.

About 26% of MMG stock trades on the ASX. China’s state-owned China Minmetals Corp owns the rest.

Byers, a political science prof and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, “does not see a problem with a Chinese-controlled company operating mines in Canada,” the NP stated, “but he wonders if the company will be allowed to bring in Chinese workers to build the road and if Canadian taxpayers should foot the bill.”

The prospect of a Chinese company importing Chinese workers for a Canadian resource project has already been demonstrated by HD Mining International. In 2012 the company planned to staff underground operations at a proposed British Columbia coal mine exclusively with Mandarin-speaking Chinese. The mine was later put on hold, but not before an 18-month bulk sampling program conducted entirely by Chinese workers.

A new Grays Bay port and 350-kilometre all-season road formed part of the 2012 pre-feasibility study for MMG’s proposed mine. The company has since backed away from the estimated $6.5-billion price tag, calling for collaboration with others to build regional infrastructure.

We know that this is only the first step, but if it is constructed, this infrastructure project will be a game-changer with respect to improved community re-supply, marine safety, arctic sovereignty, regional economic development and international investment.—Stanley Anablak,
president of the
Kitikmeot Inuit Association

Certainly other companies would benefit too, as would the communities represented by the KIA. And as for sovereignty, neglecting infrastructure would cause the greater setback. That’s the perspective of a Senate report issued in June that called for several measures to expand the northern economy and enhance its culture. “The impact of federal under-investment hits hardest on the Arctic’s greatest asset, Indigenous youth,” the committee emphasized. “Opportunities for nation-building can no longer be missed.”

Among the senators’ priorities were energy and communications, as well as transportation, for the benefit of communities and industry. The committee recognized that mining comprises “the largest private sector employer in the Arctic, contributing to 20% to 25% of the GDP of the northern territories and supporting about 9,000 jobs directly, or one in every six jobs.”

The report also noted “growing global interest in the Arctic and rising international rivalry outside of the Arctic. Several non-arctic states in Europe and Asia have developed arctic policies or strategies.” Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage and other arctic waters depends on the principle of use it or lose it, the committee suggested.

The Northwest Passage route to Asia had been an alternative considered by Baffinland Iron Mines, the Nunatsiaq News reported last month. With ambitious infrastructure proposals of its own, the Baffin Island company currently relies on  trans-Atlantic routes to Europe and has also used Russia’s Northern Sea Route to reach Asia.

As part of its Phase II plans to increase production, Baffinland has applied for permission to build the territories’ second railway, which would run north from the Mary River mine to the company’s Milne Inlet port, now reached by a 100-kilometre freight road. The new track would precede a 150-kilometre southern rail extension to a port the company would build at Steensby Inlet. The Steensby route and facilities received environmental approvals in 2014.

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

Related reading: Reaching arctic mines by sea.

Paved with promises

October 7th, 2019

The North’s infrastructure needs get some attention from campaigning politicians

by Greg Klein

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

Could this be the time when decision-makers finally get serious about Northern infrastructure? With one territorial election just concluded and a deficit-budget-friendly incumbent federal party campaigning for re-election, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut might have reason to expect definitive action demonstrated by men, women and machinery at work. But while some projects show real progress, much of Canada’s Northern potential remains bogged down in talk and studies.

The North’s infrastructure deficit gets some attention from campaigning politicians

That’s despite some $700 million allocated to the North in Ottawa’s pre-election budget and months of Liberal spending promises since then. Not all that money was intended for infrastructure, however, and even some of the projects labelled that way turn out to be social or cultural programs. Not necessarily new money either, much of it comes out of Ottawa’s $2-billion National Trade Corridors Fund, now two years into an 11-year program that promised up to $400 million for transportation infrastructure in the three territories by 2028.

Yukon, once again home to active mining, has $157 million planned to upgrade the North Klondike Highway from Carmacks up to the mineral-rich White Gold region, where the Dempster Highway branches off towards Inuvik.

The Klondike section slated for upgrades has connections to a new mine and a soon-to-be revived operation. Highway #11 turns east from the Klondike, meeting with a 90-kilometre year-round service road to Victoria Gold’s (TSXV:VIT) recently opened Eagle operation.

The Minto copper-silver-gold mine that Pembridge Resources plans to restart in Q4 has a 20-kilometre access road with seasonal barge service or ice bridge crossing the Yukon River to the Klondike Highway at Minto Landing. From there, the company will ship concentrate to the Alaska Panhandle deep water port of Skagway.

The North’s infrastructure deficit gets some attention from campaigning politicians

With no deep water facilities of its own, Yukon connects
with the Alaskan port of Skagway and, pictured above,
the B.C. port of Stewart. (Photo: Stewart Bulk Terminals)

Intended to increase safety and capacity while addressing permafrost thaw, the North Klondike Highway project gets $118 million from Ottawa and $29 million from the territory. The money will be spent over seven years beginning in 2020.

A July feasibility report for BMC Minerals’ Kudz Ze Kayah polymetallic copper mine foresees concentrate shipment along a 24-kilometre access road to southern Yukon’s Highway #4, part of a 905-kilometre journey to Stewart, British Columbia, the continent’s most northerly ice-free port.

Another project approaching development but more distant from highways, Newmont Goldcorp’s (TSX:NGT) proposed Coffee gold mine calls for a 214-kilometre all-season road north to Dawson City. But with upgrades to an existing service road, the route would require only 37 kilometres of new construction.

In the NWT, work began last month on the Tlicho all-season road to connect the hamlet of Whati with Yellowknife, 97 kilometres southeast. Expected to finish by fall 2022, the $200-million P3 project would replace an existing ice road, giving communities year-round access to the highway system and encouraging resource exploration and development.

[The Tlicho road], which includes Indigenous participation from the Tlicho Government, is great news for our industry and a positive step forward in addressing the infrastructure deficit in the Northwest Territories.—Gary Vivian, NWT and Nunavut
Chamber of Mines president

About 50 kilometres north of Whati, Fortune Minerals’ (TSX:FT) NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper project undergoes studies for a scaled-down feasibility update in light of lower cobalt and bismuth prices. Fortune has already received environmental approval for a spur road to Whati, part of a plan to truck NICO material to Hay River where the territories’ only rail line (other than short tourist excursions in southern Yukon) connects with southern Canada.

A much more ambitious priority of the NWT’s last legislative assembly was supposed to have been the Mackenzie Valley Highway, a Diefenbaker-era dream that would link the territory’s south with the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. The subject of numerous studies, proposals and piecemeal construction for about 60 years, the proposal has received more than $145 million in taxpayers’ money since 2000.

A 149-kilometre stretch from Inuvik to Tuk opened in 2017, linking the ocean with the Dempster route to the Yukon. Now underway are studies for a 321-kilometre route between Wrigley and Norman Wells, where further driving would depend on an ice road. Assuming receipt of environmental approvals, native agreements and an estimated $700 million, the NWT’s last assembly hoped construction on the Wrigley-to-Wells portion would begin in September 2024.

Far more ambitious proposals for the NWT and Nunavut took initial steps forward with funding announcements made just prior to the federal election campaign’s official start. Part 2 of this series discusses the Slave Geological Province Corridor and Grays Bay Road and Port projects.

Mining returns to the Yukon

September 20th, 2019

Advanced projects prepare to follow Victoria Gold into production

by Greg Klein

Advanced projects prepare to follow Victoria Gold into production

Rich geology trumps challenging geography in Yukon’s appeal to miners.
(Photo: Victoria Gold)

 

If John McConnell seemed a tad tipsy it might have been due to giddiness, not the super-sized wine goblet he brandished. Either way, celebration was in order as the president/CEO of Victoria Gold TSXV:VIT took the podium at the Denver Gold Show this week to preside over a ceremonial first doré bar at Yukon’s new Eagle operation. The event marked not only the resumption of mining in one of the world’s most fabled mining regions, but the beginning of Yukon’s largest-ever gold mine. Meanwhile other companies vie to expand the industry’s territorial presence.

The festivities took place one month ahead of schedule and within a revised budget intended to address a capex miscalculation that marked one of the low points during what McConnell called a decade of ups and downs. Expected to produce an average 200,000 gold ounces annually for 10 years, Eagle currently employs about 230 people, half of them Yukoners.

Advanced projects prepare to follow Victoria Gold into production

Minto’s suspension left Yukon without a mine for
nearly a year, but a new owner plans a Q4 restart.
(Photo: Pembridge Resources)

The territory lost its last mining operation in October, but a new owner plans to bring that one back to production by Q4 this year. Capstone Mining TSX:CS put Minto on care and maintenance as acquisition negotiations faltered, but LSE-listed Pembridge Resources closed the purchase in June. Proven and probable reserves totalling 40,000 tonnes copper, 420,000 ounces silver and 45,000 ounces gold give Minto an estimated four more years of production.

Pembridge hopes to extend that, however, noting that “Minto had successfully replaced and grown reserves by 103%, adding new discoveries each year up until 2013.” That’s when Capstone suspended Minto exploration, after buying the much larger Pinto Valley copper mine in Arizona from BHP Billiton NYSE:BHP.

The central Yukon combined open pit/underground mine began operation in 2007. Pembridge wants its new cornerstone asset to achieve annual production of about 40 million pounds copper in concentrate, along with silver-gold byproducts.

Waiting in the wings with a project comparable to Eagle, Newmont Goldcorp’s (TSX:NGT) Coffee now has a territorial environmental/socio-economic review underway. Like Eagle, this would be an open pit, heap leach operation. The 2016 feasibility study by previous operator Kaminak Gold projected 10 years of mining, averaging 202,000 gold ounces annually based on a probable reserve of 2.16 million ounces. But last year, following Goldcorp’s 2016 acquisition of Kaminak, the new owner slashed that number to 1.67 million ounces.

Goldcorp cited different standards for drill spacing, geological modelling and other criteria but expected to rebuild the reserve with an 80,000-metre infill drill program scheduled for this year. More recently, however, the merged Newmont Goldcorp has talked about divesting some assets, casting uncertainty over Coffee’s near-term agenda.

But by far the territory’s biggest proposed mine would be Western Copper and Gold’s (TSX:WRN) Casino, in west-central Yukon. A 2013 feasibility report foresaw a combined heap leach and milling operation with 22 years of annual output averaging 171 million pounds copper, 266,000 ounces gold, 1.43 million ounces silver and 15.5 million pounds molybdenum.

Advanced projects prepare to follow Victoria Gold into production

Even with a recent feasibility in hand, BMC Minerals
wants to build its Kudz Ze Kayah polymetallic reserve.
(Photo: BMC Minerals)

Although the report boldly envisioned construction beginning in 2016 and commercial production in 2020, the company currently has environmental and engineering studies underway prior to submitting an application for an environmental/socio-economic review. Capex was estimated at $2.456 billion.

Meanwhile Western has two rigs drilling a $3.3-million, 10,000-metre program, with a resource update planned for this year and, coming later, a revised feasibility that the company hopes will extend the mine life.

Operating under the stock market’s radar, privately held BMC Minerals brought its Kudz Ze Kayah polymetallic project in south-central Yukon to full feasibility last July. The report sees a $587-million capex and 20-month construction period for a combined open pit and underground operation producing an annual average of 235 million pounds zinc, 32 million pounds copper, 56 million pounds lead, 7.8 million ounces silver and 56,500 ounces gold.

BMC hopes to lengthen the nine-year mine life by adding reserves and exploring new targets beyond the two zones considered in the feasibility study.

Sharing with Coffee a White Gold district address and a progenitor in legendary prospector Shawn Ryan, White Gold TSXV:WGO holds 35 properties covering some 439,000 hectares. Last June the company released resource updates for its two most advanced deposits. Golden Saddle hosts an open pit resource of 1.01 million gold ounces indicated and 259,600 ounces inferred, along with an underground resource of 12,200 ounces indicated and 54,700 ounces inferred. The Arc deposit adds an open pit resource of 17,700 ounces indicated and 194,500 ounces inferred.

With money from Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM and Kinross Gold TSX:K, each holding 19% of White Gold, the company has a $13-million drilling, trenching and sampling campaign now targeting Golden Saddle and the new Vertigo discovery, along with other areas. Among noteworthy intercepts was 3.59 g/t gold over 68 metres starting from 73 metres at Golden Saddle. Using a method integral to Ryan’s successes, soil sampling surpassed 100,000 ppb gold at the new Titan discovery, the highest value on the company’s database of over 400,000 soil samples.

Taking advantage of a past producer with all permits in place, Golden Predator Mining TSXV:GPY last month stated it began site re-development work and “provided formal notice to the Yukon government to move the Brewery Creek mine into the production phase.” The company has also stated it plans a feasibility study before making a production decision. Located about 55 kilometres east of Dawson City, the open pit and heap leach operation produced about 279,000 gold ounces between 1996 and 2002. The company plans at least 6,000 metres of drilling this year to build on a 2014 PEA.

The Red Lake resurgence

September 16th, 2019

Miners and explorers seek ever more gold from this busy Ontario district

by Greg Klein

Miners and explorers seek ever more gold from this busy Ontario district

Benefiting from reinterpretation of past work, Great Bear now
has three rigs drilling Dixie Lake. (Photo: Great Bear Resources)

 

A new gold producer on the way, attention-grabbing assays from a well-financed junior and high hopes for the price of gold—could that in any way explain the current excitement at Red Lake? A region that’s produced 30 million ounces since its first rush in 1926 still has more gold to mine and, explorers believe, more mines to find.

Just as Newmont Goldcorp TSX:NGT was considering the sale of its Red Lake operations, Pure Gold Mining TSXV:PGM began building Madsen Red Lake, billed as Canada’s highest-grade gold development project. But, as far as juniors are concerned, the district’s biggest newsmaker has been Great Bear Resources’ (TSXV:GBR) Dixie Lake property.

While focused on British Columbia’s Golden Triangle in 2017, Great Bear optioned Dixie from Newmont, also getting decades of data from over 160 historic holes. Given the succession of companies that drilled and departed, the data might have seemed more encumbrance than encouragement. Undeterred, Great Bear geologists began relogging core to “resolve geological differences between generations of work dating back to the 1980s and provide a coherent framework for the company’s own drilling.”

The prepping paid off. That summer’s Phase I program found success with its first hole and reached up to 16.84 g/t gold over 10.4 metres in hole #5 at the Dixie Limb zone. As the campaign progressed, the company tripled its turf to cover a potential gold-bearing structure of regional significance.

Miners and explorers seek ever more gold from this busy Ontario district

Pure Gold conducts underground test mining at Madsen Red Lake.
(Photo: Pure Gold Mining)

More expansions followed, with assays reaching up to 26.91 g/t over 16.35 metres at the newly discovered and near-surface Hinge zone. Financings came through too, most notably with an $11.1-million infusion that included a total of $5.7 million from McEwen Mining TSX:MUX and Rob McEwen himself, progenitor of Red Lake’s last renaissance. The Canadian Mining Hall of Fame credits him with transforming the Goldcorp mine “from a 50,000-ounce producer in 1997 to a 500,000-ounce producer in 2001, while cash costs fell from $360 per ounce to $60 per ounce over this period.”

The stock soared past $2 from about $0.58 pre-McEwen. The grades, discoveries and financings continued, even with what president/CEO Chris Taylor called “the cheapest discovery hole we’ve ever had.” That happened after a keen-eyed geo spotted high-grade visible gold on unassayed core that had been neglected for 12 years. Clearly, the company was on to something when its management decided past operators had overlooked Dixie’s promise.

Great Bear now has three rigs at work.

But this is no spectator sport, as the inevitable influx demonstrated. For Pistol Bay Mining TSXV:PST, however, the attraction is base metals more than the yellow stuff. The company’s Garnet deposit features a 2017 inferred resource showing 2.1 million tonnes averaging 5.78% zinc, 0.72% copper, 19.5 g/t silver and 0.6 g/t gold, using a 3% zinc-equivalent cutoff. 

Miners and explorers seek ever more gold from this busy Ontario district

Visible gold attests to Great Bear’s confidence in Dixie Lake.
(Photo: Great Bear Resources)

An historic, non-43-101 resource for Pistol Bay’s Fredart zone estimated 385,000 tonnes averaging 1.56% copper and 33.6 g/t silver. Historic drilling on the company’s Joy-Caravelle area shows non-43-101 results including 21.6% zinc and 0.13% copper over 0.25 metres.

Up to recently, Pistol Bay’s portfolio had been about 25 kilometres northeast of Dixie Lake. But the company moved closer in July, with an option on 2,130 hectares southeast of Great Bear. Part of the former Goldpines claims, the property’s past work consisted mainly of geochemical sampling.

An NSR held by Perry English on Fredart hints at the prospector’s impact on the district. English sold the Dixie and Packwash properties to Great Bear and, under an LOI signed earlier this month, will vend Red Lake’s Camping Lake and Bruce Lake projects to Prime Meridian Resources TSXV:PMR.

Spurred on by recent grab samples as high as 19 g/t, 23.3 g/t and 126.5 g/t gold, Pacton Gold TSXV:PAC plans 10,000 metres of drilling to begin next month at its Red Lake project. Historic work included sampling, trenching and drilling.

A more advanced project towards the district’s eastern reaches, First Mining Gold’s (TSX:FF) Springpole reached PEA in 2017 with an indicated 4.67 million gold ounces and 24.19 million silver ounces, along with an inferred 230,000 gold ounces and 1.12 million silver ounces.

Proximal to both Newmont Goldcorp and Pure Gold, Nexus Gold’s (TSXV:NXS) McKenzie project underwent a spring field program that scored a sample result of 135.4 g/t gold. In August the company signed an LOI with privately held Hawkmoon Resources that could have the latter company acquire or JV on Nexus’ Canadian projects.

With a Phase I drill program of at least 2,500 metres well underway, BTU Metals TSXV:BTU hopes to find evidence that Great Bear’s high-grade LP fault structure crosses BTU’s Dixie Halo property.

Under an LOI signed last week, Maxtech Ventures CSE:MVT would acquire the Panama Lake project from Benton Resources TSXV:BEX. The latter company assembled the property by staking, last year adding the former Goldcorp Ben Lake project. This year’s drilling produced assays up to 1.23 g/t gold over 6.5 metres.

Some other companies in the district include Confederation Minerals TSXV:CFM, which last May added the Leo property to its Red Lake portfolio with the company’s 70%-held Newman Todd property.

This month GoldON Resources TSXV:GLD completed prospecting and soil sampling on its West Madsen project optioned from Great Bear last May. GoldON sees rare earths as well as gold potential in the property.

Meanwhile Madsen begins construction, with commercial production expected by the end of 2020. The project came together quickly after Pure Gold, then called Laurentian Goldfields, assembled claims including the former Madsen mine in late 2013 and early 2014. Within five years Pure Gold built a resource of 2.06 million ounces indicated and 467,000 ounces inferred. That includes a probable reserve of 3.51 million tonnes averaging 8.97% for 1.01 million ounces that’s expected to keep the mine busy for 12 years.

Deep-pocketed support comes from AngloGold Ashanti NYSE:AU, Eric Sprott, Rob McEwen and Newmont Goldcorp, who collectively hold over 30% of Pure Gold.

Although the district’s success stories encourage enthusiasm, Red Lake also spawned a cautionary tale. Rubicon Minerals TSX:RMX notoriously skipped feasibility to take its Phoenix project directly from PEA to production in 2015. Six months later the mine shut down. The explanation: Unexpectedly complex geology. The resource shrank dramatically, from 1.13 million gold ounces measured and indicated in 2013 to just 106,000 ounces in 2016. Inferred fell from 2.22 million ounces to 307,000 ounces.

Later that year the company sought creditor protection.

But last month Rubicon bravely unveiled a new PEA with “a lower margin of error and risk.” Still a far cry from the 2013 estimate, however, are the current numbers of 589,000 ounces measured and indicated, along with 540,000 ounces inferred. Chastened, the company plans to begin feasibility studies in Q1 2020.

Belmont Resources moves into Ontario’s Red Lake camp with zinc-polymetallic acquisition

September 4th, 2019

by Greg Klein | September 4, 2019

A newly signed option opens a substantial land package with historic deposits for further exploration. Under the agreement, Belmont Resources TSXV:BEA takes a substantial interest in part of Pistol Bay Mining’s (TSXV:PST) Confederation Lake greenstone belt portfolio.

The Fredart/Gerry Lake and adjoining claim groups sit about 25 kilometres northeast of Great Bear Resources’ (TSXV:GBR) Dixie property and adjacent to Pistol Bay’s Garnet Lake claims in an increasingly busy camp where Great Bear’s drill results have attracted other explorers.

Belmont Resources moves into Ontario’s Red Lake camp with zinc-polymetallic acquisition

The Arrow zone on Pistol Bay’s Garnet Lake hosts a 2017 43-101 inferred resource using a 3% zinc-equivalent cutoff to show 2.1 million tonnes averaging 5.78% zinc, 0.72% copper, 19.5 g/t silver and 0.6 g/t gold. “The geological setting of the Fredart and associated claims is similar to the Garnet Lake claims area,” Belmont and Pistol Bay stated.

Belmont’s acquisition comprises about 6,700 hectares over a 17-kilometre stretch of the greenstone belt. A 2017 VTEM-Plus survey found granitic intrusions in the northeast part of the Fredart area and two or possibly three parallel conductive responses over parts of the Fredart-Gerry Lake trend.

Extensive past work includes 124 drill holes totaling 22,500 metres between 1956 and 2003 on the Fredart zone. Data has yet to be compiled for additional drilling on the Fredart trend’s western extension and the Joy-Caravelle area.

The Fredart zone, also known as Copperlode A, has an historic, non-43-101 estimate showing 385,000 tonnes averaging 1.56% copper and 33.6 g/t silver. The companies describe the property’s mineralization as volcanogenic massive sulphide dominated by zinc, copper and silver, with occasional associated gold values.

The acquisition’s Joy-Caravelle area has historic, non-43-101 drill results that include 21.6% zinc and 0.13% copper over 0.25 metres, 17.17% zinc and 0.28% copper over 0.6 metres, as well as 4.01% copper over 3.55 metres.

Infrastructure includes all-weather roads, a transmission line crossing the property, water and nearby natural gas.

Belmont may earn an initial 65% of the claims for $40,000 and 1.5 million shares on TSXV approval, another $50,000 and 1.5 million shares within one year and an additional $50,000 and one million shares in the second year.

An additional 10% interest would cost $200,000, after which the two companies would form a JV. Two third parties each hold a 2% NSR on separate parts of the claims, with one NSR also including a $10,000 annual advance royalty payment.

Looking at another recent acquisition in another busy mining camp, last month Belmont announced an upcoming field program for its Pathfinder project in southern British Columbia’s Greenwood district. Surface sampling results released in July showed assays up to 29.2 g/t gold, 16.4 g/t silver, 365 ppm copper and 4 ppm lead.

Belmont’s portfolio also includes a 75% stake in Nevada’s Kibby Basin lithium project, where drilling has found 393 ppm lithium over 42.4 metres and 415 ppm over 30.5 metres.

Additionally, Belmont shares 50/50 ownership with International Montoro Resources TSXV:IMT on two northern Saskatchewan uranium properties.

Belmont closed a private placement of $252,000 in June and arranged two loans totalling $50,000 in August.