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Northwest gold explorers discovering reasons to be bullish
By Scott Simpson
Its unofficial name among British Columbia prospectors and mining entrepreneurs is the Golden Triangle.
Soon, it appears, the global mining community will be adopting that nickname in recognition of vast mineral wealth that new and recent discoveries suggest is available in northwest B.C.
A world-class copper-gold-silver property, Galore Creek is awaiting only a resolution of economic issues pertaining to development of a flagship mine in the northwest. Galore partners Teck Mining and NovaGold are expected to make an announcement in 2010.
Work could begin on a second potential mine, Imperial Metals’ Red Chris, next year pending a decisionin the Supreme Court of Canada on a petition by environmental groups seeking a ruling that the project, which already has provincial approval, also needs a full federal review. That ruling is anticipated early next year.
If the environmentalists lose, Red Chris is a go — and additional drilling results on nearby property suggest that the permitted mine, although relatively large, may be considerably smaller than the vast and rich copper-gold deposit on adjacent land that is also held by Imperial.
Drill core samples from at least two other northwest projects in early stages of development, Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) project and Silver Standard Resources’ Snowfield-Bruce lake project, are also suggestive of exceptional deposits.
Silver Standard president and CEO Bob Quartermain said in an interview this week that one of the drill core samples collected this summer at Snowfield contained the highest-grade gold and silver mineralization he’d personally seen in his 33-year career as a mining geologist.
“At the start of the year, they had an estimated four million ounces of indicated gold resources in the main Snowfield zone, and about 14 million ounces of inferred resources,” Quartermain said. “We drilled over 40,000 metres of drill core up there [in 2009] and we did that from middle of June through middle of October. We had in excess of 80 people working at our sites, at seven drills and as a result of that we increased our measured and indicated resources on the project almost five-fold.
“We are now sitting on 23.8 million ounces of measured and indicated [gold] resources, and 14.9 million ounces of inferred. But more importantly, we had some pretty high-grade hits. At one hole we hit probably the highest grade gold I’ve seen in my career, for any project I’ve worked on personally — and I’ve been in the business since 1976.
“One of our holes hit massive visible gold that ran at assayed 16.9 kilograms of gold and eight kilograms of silver over one metre and a half.”
Meanwhile, Seabridge president and CEO Rudi Fronk saw the value of his company’s shares double this month from $11 to $22 after he told a Bloomberg News reporter that the company’s KSM copper-gold deposit — purchased for $200,000 from Placer Dome in 2000 — is far too large for the junior miner to develop by itself.
“When we bought it there were two known zones, the Kerr zone and the Sulphurets zone, which are the K and the S in KSM,” Fronk said in an interview. “Known resources were about 3.4 million ounces of gold and about 2.7 billion pounds of copper.”
The real discovery came after Seabridge began drilling in earnest two years ago at the Mitchell zone.
“At Mitchell, we are now at just about 40 million ounces of gold and over five billion pounds of copper. It’s the largest gold deposit ever found in Canada.
“The next big step for us is completing the preliminary feasibility study. At that point in time you’ve done enough engineering to quantify reserves. We will have that study done by March of 2010.”
There are precedents.
Snip Mine and Eskay Creek, two of the richest mines in B.C.’s history, were northwest discoveries.
There are other intriguing projects as well — B.C.’s geological survey database says there are 935 documented mineral occurrences in the Triangle, and ranks 67 in the “resource” category.
Both the federal and provincial governments have been awakening to the opportunities in the area, recognizing that development cannot proceed without major infrastructure, particularly a connection to the BC Hydro electricity grid.
The province last year committed $250 million to a high-voltage transmission line to service mining activity in the northwest along what is known as the Highway 37 route.
The federal government dramatically signaled its support when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at a meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama on Sept. 16 that Ottawa was kicking in $130 million for the transmission project.
“I don’t want to overemphasize it, but [the companies] are putting money into the ground there. They are drilling, and either they are making further discoveries or adding value to their resource,” said Gavin Dirom, president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration BC. “It’s quite remarkable, and I don’t think that’s going to be changing anytime soon. But you’ve really got to demonstrate to the sector, to investors, to the government, that you are making a discovery, that you are serious, and that you are committed to building that mine. That is the best measure of success.”
Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of B.C., noted that recent drill results announced for the Deep East zone outside the designated footprint of Red Chris suggest that the additional deposit, regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, is too large to ignore.
Last week, Imperial Metals reported mineral content in its final drill results from its 2009 Deep East program ran as high as 4.12 per cent copper and 8.83 grams of gold per tonne. Even the lowest concentration found at 10 Deep East drill sites, 0.82 per cent, would be ample to sustain a major new mine if they are consistent across the property.
“They have uncovered incredible results that are really positioning this, not just as a decent mine but as a pretty top-class copper mine, a multi-generational copper mine,” Gratton said in an interview.
“The results are significant in terms of what it means for porphyry deposits generally in North America. It’s changing the way people are looking at porphyry deposits here in B.C. So it’s actually huge news. We all hope [Imperial] wins in the court, but this is now a project that they will go back and do the federal environmental assessment for, if it’s required. This is going to get built.”
Steve Robertson, exploration manager for Imperial Metals, echoed those comments. He noted that the Deep Zone findings need to be mapped out through further exploration, and sit outside the area of the proposed Red Chris Mine.
But he said the results could change the way that mining companies think about opportunities in B.C.
“People had traditionally thought of British Columbia porphyry deposits as being modest in size and low in grade. This is making it appear Red Chris will be neither modest in size nor low in grade,” Robertson said. “It really is changing the goalposts for what we think is achievable for mineralization in B.C.”
Minister of State for Mining Randy Hawes expects the Highway 37 project, which is now in the process of a provincial environmental assessment, will give the region an additional spark beyond the buzz that companies like Imperial Metals are creating with Red Chris.
“We can’t go out and stir up the stock market, but this is happening on a regular basis right now, particularly up in the northwest. There is a huge amount of activity, and I really do believe the Highway 37 announcement has spurred this tremendously.”