Hecla slows exploration during pandemic
Mining Explorers 2020 - Published January 19, 2021
Last updated 1/17/2021 at 1:42pm
Continuing a tradition of growth, Hecla Mining Company entered 2020 with 37.08 million metric tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 212.2 million ounces of silver, 2 billion pounds of zinc, 1.6 billion lb of lead and 2.71 million oz of gold – historic levels of silver reserves for the 129-year-old mining company.
This is an 11% increase in silver reserves, even after replacing the 15.4 million oz of silver mined (12.6 million oz produced) during 2019, despite using a conservative US$14.50/oz silver price to calculate the reserves.
Hecla's 2020 exploration, however, was scaled back significantly as the Idaho-based miner focused on protecting its people in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
While COVID-19 is unique in terms of the government and societal response, Hecla has dealt with pandemics over its more than a century of mining, experience that played a key role in the miner's swift actions at its five mines in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
"Hecla's quick response to the COVID-19 outbreak began in February and has protected our workforce, enabling them to continue to safely operate our mines," said Hecla Mining President and CEO Phillips Baker Jr.
This decisive action resulted in stronger than forecast gold and silver production during 2020, despite government mandated temporary shutdowns at its Casa Berardi Mine in Quebec and San Sebastian Mine in Mexico.
Hecla's roughly 50% cut back in exploration during the first half of 2020 included a significant reduction in drilling at Greens Creek, a Southeast Alaska mine that currently accounts for roughly 80% of the company's silver production.
Going into 2020, Greens Creek hosted 10.72 million tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 12.2 ounces per ton (130.9 million oz) silver; 0.09 oz/t (932,000 oz) gold; 7.3% (1.6 billion pounds) zinc; and 2.8% (610 million lb) lead.
This is enough ore to keep the Juneau area mine in operation until 2031.
In addition to reserves, Greens Creek hosts 8.65 million tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 11.7 oz/t (101 million oz) silver, 0.1 oz/t (835,000 oz) gold, 8.1% (1.4 billion lb) zinc, and 2.8% (488 million lb) lead; and 1.85 million tons of inferred resource averaging 13.7 oz/t (25.4 million oz) silver, 0.09 oz/t (159,000 oz) gold, 7.4% (272 million lb) zinc and 3.1% (113 million lb) lead.
This provides the Greens Creek exploration team plenty of resources to upgrade to reserves to keep Hecla's flagship asset operating deep into the 21st century.
The reduced 2020 drill program at this underground mine focused on supporting active mining with limited definition drilling in the near-surface East Ore Zone and pre-production drilling in the deeper Southwest Zone.
Drilling along a 600-foot (182 meters) middle portion of East Ore Zone encountered strong mineralization, including seven feet (2.1 meters) averaging 12.2 ounces per ton silver, 0.09 oz/ton gold, 7.7% zinc, and 2.8% lead; and three feet (0.9 meters) averaging 10.6 oz/ton silver, 0.12 oz/ton gold, 16.6% zinc, and 5% lead.
During the third quarter, drilling at Greens Creek transitioned to 200 South, which is about 750 feet (228 meters) south of existing mining. Strong results such as 28.5 feet averaging 20.2 oz/ton silver, 0.02 oz/ton gold, 6.3% zinc and 2.9% lead has confirmed and upgraded resources at 200 South. One hole targeting the lower contact of this zone cut 32.9 feet averaging 31.6 oz/ton silver, 0.22 oz/ton gold, 1.2% zinc and 0.6% lead.
A second drill rig mobilized to Greens Creek in October brought drilling at the Southeast Alaska mine back to pre-pandemic levels.
Hecla also owns Kinskuch, a 596-square-kilometer precious and base metals exploration project in northwestern British Columbia that it acquired in 2016. Three holes drilled at Kinskuch in 2011 cut significant widths of high-grade silver mineralization, including a 2.8-meter interval averaging 318 g/t silver, 0.40 g/t gold, 6.5% zinc, and 2.2% lead.
Kinskuch lies adjacent to the high-grade silver property being explored by Dolly Varden Silver Corp., a company Hecla owns a roughly 11% equity stake in.