The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Miners get quick start in 2016

Early spring bodes well for mining industry as markets thaw and interest in Alaska's mineral potential heats up

Most of Alaska is now enjoying a warm, early spring, allowing field programs to get off to an quicker start this year. While budgets are still tight, interest in Alaska projects has steadily increased as the mining and metals markets slowly recover from a four-year slowdown.

Current estimates for 2016 exploration expenditures are looking like they will end up in the US$50 million to US$60 million range, down from the US$75 million range of last year but less precipitous than declines seen in the past five years.

Exploration and development programs are planned for several areas of the state, ranging from northern, western and southwestern Alaska through eastern Interior Alaska to northern Southeast Alaska.

Commodities under exploration or development include, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, rare earth elements and graphite.

Funding for these efforts is coming from an ever-increasing array of sources, including traditional cash-flow or public-sector equity sources, but also less traditional private corporations, partnerships and wealth funds.

By this time next month, many of the programs discussed below will be in the field, looking to advance Alaska's next major project.

Western Alaska

NovaGold Resources Inc. posted its first-quarter financial results and updates for its flagship 50 percent-owned Donlin Gold project (50 percent NovaGold/50 percent Barrick Gold Corp).

The project's lead permitting agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are in the midst of 17 planned public meetings in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region and in Anchorage as part of the draft environmental impact statement public comment period.

The comment period closes April 30 after which the comments will be reviewed and responded to in the final EIS, which is expected to be published in 2017.

Work continued with state and federal agencies to advance all other required permits, including the air quality, pipeline authorizations, water use and fish habitat permits, as well as land and shoreline lease and right-of-way approvals.

During 2016, the company anticipates spending US$10 million for permitting and other studies on the project.

Alaska Range

White Rock Minerals disclosed the acquisition of an additional 85 state mining claims surrounding its Red Mountain massive sulfide project in the Bonnifield District. The new claims bring their land position to 70 square kilometers (27 square miles). The company's review of regional data and historic reports has highlighted a number of coincident magnetic, electromagnetic and historic surface geochemical anomalies both to the west and to the east of the Dry Creek and West Tundra Flats deposits. The newly staked lands cover these prospective zones.

Coventry Resources Inc. reported results of initial metallurgical studies on its Caribou Dome copper project in the Valdez Creek District and provided an update on planned 2016 activities.

In late 2015, the company submitted roughly 50 kilograms of sample material from Lenses 4, 5 and 6 (average grade 5.03 percent copper) with another 20 kilograms from the Lense 7/8 area for initial flotation testing.

Concentrate recoveries in excess of 85 percent were achieved with concentrate grades up to 24.5 percent copper.

Initial concentrate testing on the Lense 7/8 sample is under way.

Additional metallurgical samples will be collected during the planned 2016 drilling program.

This 8,000-meter drilling program is designed to test three coincident induced polarization and copper-in-soil targets immediately along strike from known mineralization, including one at the Lense 7/8 target where the first hole drilled to test this strong IP target intersected 14.1 meters grading 9.9 percent copper; between Lenses 3 and 4; and at Lense 2.

In addition, the program will test extensions of known mineralization, including between two possible adjacent open pits where virtually no drilling has been undertaken previously, and begin evaluation of multiple copper-in-soil anomalies over more than 7,000 meters of strike, including a strong contiguous 2,000-meter-long anomaly that coincides with known mineralization.

Primary undrilled targets to be evaluated by drilling include the Menel, Guardian and Lense 9 (induced polarization) targets.

Recent reconnaissance over the Menel target returned assays up to 9.1 percent copper from float samples.

At the Guardian target previously unrecorded outcropping gossans returned up to 16.5 percent copper and 466 grams of silver per metric ton.

Additional ground geophysics is planned to test at depth within the known 1,500-meter-long drilled zone and to test along strike within 18 kilometers of prospective geology.

Soil sampling also will be conducted northeast of the drill area, where outcropping sediment-hosted copper mineralization has historically been reported up to 6.8 miles from drilling.

Millrock Resources Inc. reported that the company has purchased mining claims comprising the Chisna project in the Chistochina District from Corvus Gold Inc. The purchase price was US$25,000 with Corvus retaining a 1 percent net smelter returns production royalty on the claims. The purchase included a proprietary exploration database covering the claims and the surrounding district. The data represents an estimated US$11 million worth of exploration work. The project is prospective for copper-gold porphyry and related deposits as well as nickel-platinum group element deposits.

Northern Alaska

NovaCopper Inc. posted first-quarter 2016 results and preliminary plans for its 2016 exploration efforts at the Upper Kobuk Mineral project, a partnership with NANA Inc. The company will spend about US$5.5 million this year mainly at its Arctic volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit.

Work will include drilling as well as in-pit geotechnical, hydrological, metallurgical, environmental and waste rock characterization studies.

The company also will continue to engage with the State of Alaska on the permitting of the Ambler access road.

Environmental baseline work planned for 2016 includes an aquatic survey, an archaeological review, a subsistence resource study, an avian and large mammal survey and further expansion and refinement of our wetlands delineation studies.

Engineering activities during this year's field season include pit slope stability studies, waste rock characterization, hydrological and metallurgical studies and completion of the LiDAR survey initiated started in 2015.

Southeast Alaska

Hecla Mining Co. released preliminary first-quarter 2016 production results for its Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island. The mine produced 2,458,275 ounces of silver and 15,981 oz. of gold, which represent a 21 percent and 4.9 percent increase, respectively, over silver and gold production levels during the year-previous period. Higher throughput and recoveries contributed to increased silver and gold production, with silver additionally benefiting from grades that were about 2 oz. per ton higher than anticipated and which are expected to moderate as the year progresses. The mill operated at an average of 2,252 tons per day in the first quarter.

Coeur Mining Inc. reported first quarter 2016 production results from its Kensington mine. The mill processed 159,360 tons of ore, a slight decrease over the year-previous period. The mine produced 31,974 oz. of gold grading 0.21 oz. /t gold with an average recovery of 95.8 percent, a slight decrease in grade and total ounces but an increase in recoveries over the year-previous period. The company also indicated that development of the decline into the high-grade Jualin deposit is progressing and is over one-third complete. The company indicated that it expects full-year 2016 production from the mine at 115,000 - 125,000 oz. of gold.

Ucore Rare Metals issued an update on the commissioning of the SuperLig-One rare earth element separation pilot plant.

The first tranche of pregnant leach solution derived from the company's Bokan - Dotson Ridge project in Alaska has been produced by SGS Lakefield Research Ltd. and delivered to IBC Advanced Technologies Inc. in American Fork, Utah.

The pregnant leach solution will be submitted to the plant's molecular recognition technology circuit.

The plant has undergone a battery of pre-pregnant leach solution water testing and automation control verification procedures and protocols to ensure proper functioning of the valving, fluid conveyance, and liquid handling systems.

The pilot plant program will entail the following components: 1) rare earth separation, in which all rare earths, as a group, are isolated from the waste materials in the pregnant leach solution; 2) removal of scandium, a valuable rare earth element used in advanced aluminum alloys for the aerospace sector; 3) class separation of the light rare earth elements (lanthanum to neodymium plus yttrium) and the heavy rare earth elements (samarium to lutetium); 4) separation of individual rare earth elements, including the pilot program separation of terbium and europium at more than 99 percent purity, plus dysprosium at 99.99 percent purity.

The remaining heavy rare earth element solution, consisting of holmium to lutetium, gadolinium and samarium; as well as the light rare earth element solution, consisting of lanthanum to neodymium and yttrium, will be retained for future work.

Author Bio

Author photo

Curt is President of Avalon Development Corporation, a mineral exploration consulting firm based in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is a U.S. Certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists (CPG #6901) and is a licensed geologist in the State of Alaska (Lic. # AA 159).


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