Northern BC explorers load up assay labs
Neither heavy rains nor earlier snowstorms stays 2021 drilling Mining Explorers 2021 - January 27, 2022
Last updated 1/26/2022 at 4:15pm
Despite a season challenged by heavy rains and an early snowstorm, the massive amount of exploration carried out in Northern British Columbia during 2021 piled loads of drill core and surface samples on assay labs already severely backlogged by COVID-19 protocols and restrictions that slowed the flow of samples in and data out of these facilities.
Just how busy was the 2021 exploration season across the northern half of BC? According to North of 60 Mining News calculations, more than 600,000 meters, or 600 kilometers (375 miles), of drilling was completed last year across this particularly metal-rich patch of Earth's crust.
The bulk of this drilling was carried out in BC's famed Golden Triangle, an area that is nearly synonymous with the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation, which is taking an increasingly active role in ensuring that exploration and mining in its homeland is beneficial to its people and not detrimental to the cultural and environmental resources found there.
"It is imperative that exploration and mining companies wishing to operate within Tahltan Territory do so in a respectful manner, as they are guests in Tahltan Territory with provincial permits, most of which were not granted with Tahltan support or consent," Tahltan Central Government penned in a statement.
The roughly 96,000-square-kilometer (37,000 square miles) Tahltan Territory covers approximately 70% of the Golden Triangle, an area of northwestern BC that is extremely rich in gold, copper, silver, and other valuable metals.
Having mined in this region long before European prospectors arrived in the search for gold at the end of the 19th century, the Tahltan people understand the mineral riches their lands hold.
"Mining has always been part of our culture, both in the past and in present-day times. For thousands of years, our people prospected, mined, and utilized obsidian for tools, weaponry, and trade," said Tahltan Central Government President Chad Day. "More recently, Tahltans supported miners during the gold rush and have had operating mines in our homelands for multiple generations."
Today, the Tahltan Nation is generally supportive of mining and exploration activities in its region as long as this work is carried out in accordance with Tahltan laws and policies.
To ensure the mining sector understands what is expected, Tahltan Central Government developed an engagement framework that applies to mineral exploration companies operating in its homeland. Signed off by more than thirty companies, this framework allows the Tahltan Nation governing body to oversee activities in its territory and calls for companies doing business there to meaningfully engage Tahltan communities and people.
Something most companies exploring the mineral-rich Tahltan Territory take to heart.
Skeena builds partnerships
When it comes to building strong partnerships with the Tahltan Nation, no mining or mineral exploration company has done a better job than Skeena Resources Ltd., which is working towards reestablishing operations at two historic Golden Triangle mines – Eskay Creek and Snip.
This partnership has become so strong that the Tahltan Central Government invested C$5 million to acquire 1.6 million shares of Skeena.
"In partnering with Skeena, the Tahltan Nation is evolving and taking significant steps forward by becoming meaningful equity partners in these projects," said Day. "Ownership provides the Tahltan Nation with a strong seat at the table as we continue our pursuit towards capacity building and economic independence for the Tahltan people."
The most advanced of the Skeena projects is Eskay Creek, a very rich gold-silver mine project in the heart of the Golden Triangle and in the southern half of the Tahltan Territory.
"Eskay Creek has a rare combination of attributes: scale, impressive grade and location in a tier one mining jurisdiction with strong First Nations support," said Skeena Resources President and CEO Walter Coles Jr.
A prefeasibility study completed in mid-2021 outlines plans for an open pit mine at Eskay Creek that would produce 2.45 million ounces of gold and 79.9 million oz of silver from mining 26.4 million metric tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 3.37 grams per metric ton gold and 94 g/t silver over an initial 10-year mine life.
To bolster reserves ahead of the feasibility study slated for completion early this year, Skeena completed roughly 35,000 meters of drilling at Eskay Creek during 2021.
To focus its own resources on advancing Eskay Creek toward permitting and mine development, Skeena optioned Snip to Hochschild Mining, a Peru-based mining company with a penchant for mining narrow high-grade veins.
According to a 2020 calculation, the high-grade veins outlined so far at Snip host 539,000 metric tons of indicated resource averaging 14 g/t (244,000 oz) gold; and 942,000 metric tons of inferred resources averaging 13.3 g/t (402,000 oz) gold.
Under the terms of the option agreement, Hochschild is expected to invest as much as C$115 million into Snip over the next three or four years.
"This will allow the Skeena management team to focus resources on aggressively exploring and advancing Eskay Creek," said Coles.
Heart of the Golden Triangle
Skeena's Eskay Creek project lies within a 1,600-square-kilometer (620 square) region of the Golden Triangle that ranks amongst the most richly endowed mineral estates on Earth.
In addition to Eskay Creek (4 million oz of gold and 105 million oz silver), this patch of Earth's crust is home to:
• Pretium Resources Inc.'s Brucejack property (10.3 million oz gold and 62.2 million oz silver).
• Tudor Gold Corp.'s Treaty Creek property (24.5 million oz gold, 134 million oz silver, and 1.4 billion lb copper).
• Seabridge Gold Corp.'s KSM-Snowfield property (142.2 million oz gold, 727.6 million oz silver, 50.4 billion lb copper, and 1 billion lb molybdenum).
• Garibaldi Resources Corp.'s Nickel Mountain property, which hosts an emerging high-grade nickel-platinum group metals deposit.
Lying at the center of all these high-grade and bulk tonnage deposits in the heart of the Golden Triangle lies Eskay Mining Corp.'s namesake property, which covers a long trend of gold-silver mineralization that extends south from Skeena's Eskay Creek mine project.
In a deal that is expected to lower costs and improve safety for future exploration and development on this, and KSM, Eskay Mining and Seabridge agreed to share the C$12-million cost of extending road access nine kilometers (5.6 miles) into Eskay Mining's property.
Branching off the road that provides access to Eskay Creek, this will be the first section of the already planned and permitted Coulter Creek Access Road to KSM.
"Constructing this segment now will shorten the time needed to establish early site access to the KSM deposits, enabling more rapid development of the project once we have consummated our anticipated joint venture," said Seabridge Gold Chairman and CEO Rudi Fronk.
For Eskay, road access will reduce the need for costly helicopter support for exploration.
"This will provide Eskay Mining with a tremendous benefit as it continues exploration on its 100% owned Consolidated Eskay precious metal-rich volcanogenic massive sulfide project in the Golden Triangle, British Columbia," said Eskay Mining President and CEO Mac Balkam.
During the 2021 season, Eskay drilled several targets with VMS mineralization similar to Eskay Creek. Much of this program targeted TV and Jeff, to VMS targets where 2020 drilling cut 29.9 meters averaging 3.18 g/t gold and 25.7 g/t silver (TV); and 50.4 meters averaging 1.13 g/t gold and 43.5 g/t silver (Jeff).
Eskay planned to drill 30,000 meters last year but only ended up with around 23,500 meters due to mid-September snow cutting the season short.
Seabridge's 2021 program at KSM included drill programs for metallurgical testing at Mitchell, one of the deposits on the world-class KSM property, and Snowfields, an adjacent deposit on property Seabridge acquired from Pretium last year.
This, along with geotechnical drilling, will be used for a 2022 prefeasibility study that incorporates Snowfield into the KSM mine plan.
While Seabridge was investigating the potential of bringing Snowfield into the KSM mine plan, Pretium was discovering a new deposit of bonanza-grade gold on its Brucejack property immediately to the southeast.
Before the start of a 2021 drill program seeking new high-grade gold deposits at Brucejack, Pretium employed the services of GoldSpot Discoveries Corp., a technology company that leverages the power of machine learning to help mineral exploration and mining companies pinpoint the best places to make new discoveries.
This prospectivity mapping and target ranking initiative identified 65 targets across the 123,000-hectare (303,900 acres) property.
Golden Marmot, a discovery target about 3,500 meters northwest of the Valley of the Kings deposit at Brucejack, was identified as a high priority drill target by the GoldSpot machine learning algorithms.
Following up on the artificial intelligence-generated target, Pretium cut 53.5 meters averaging 72.5 g/t gold, including 0.5 meters averaging an astonishing 6,700 g/t gold and 3,990 g/t silver in a 2021 hole drilled at Golden Marmot.
Highlights from other holes drilled into this discovery zone include 38 meters averaging 22.8 g/t gold and 5.8 meters averaging 46.1 g/t gold.
"These results continue to support our view that additional deposits and sources of high-grade mineralization will be identified near the Valley of the Kings deposit opening up the potential for a significantly longer mine life and continued impressive cash flow generation," said Pretium Resources President and CEO Jacques Perron.
This potential will be pursued by Newcrest Mining Ltd., which owns a 70% interest in the Red Chris copper-gold mine about 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Brucejack.
In November, Newcrest entered into an agreement to pay roughly C$3.5 billion (US$2.8 billion) to acquire Pretium Resources Inc.
"We are delighted to be expanding our presence in this highly prospective region in British Columbia," said Newcrest Mining CEO Sandeep Biswas. "Brucejack is a tier one mine in a tier one jurisdiction and will deliver immediate production, free cash flow and earnings diversification to Newcrest and will fit seamlessly into our long-life, low-cost portfolio."
The Australia-based miner plans to apply its experience in mining and exploring epithermal gold deposits to unlock the fantastic high-grade gold potential at Brucejack.
At the northwest corner of this particularly well-mineralized section of the Golden Triangle, Garibaldi Resources carried out extensions of the E&L intrusion on its aptly named Nickel Mountain property.
E&L is a magmatic nickel-copper-cobalt massive sulfide discovery surrounded by a multitude of base and precious-metal outcrops of nickel, copper, zinc, gold, silver, and platinum group metals.
Garibaldi first tapped the E&L intrusion in 2017. One of the earliest holes, EL-17-14, cut 16.75 meters averaging 8.29% nickel, 4.24% copper, 0.19% cobalt, 1.96 g/t platinum, 4.47 g/t palladium, 1.13 g/t gold, and 11.12 g/t silver.
Following up on this discovery, the Vancouver, B.C.-based explorer continued to drill into exceptionally high grades in what is shaping up to be a widespread deposit with multiple layered zones of nickel- and copper-rich massive sulfide mineralization.
The early onset of winter forced Garibaldi off the E&L zone on Nickel Mountain and onto Casper, a gold-rich polymetallic quartz vein that is easier to access due to its lower elevation.
"Our highest priority at Casper is vectoring towards the source of the high-grade gold veins and gold bearing silicified volcanics," said Garibaldi Resources Vice President of Exploration Jeremy Hanson.
The northern half of BC's Golden Triangle is dominated by large porphyry-style copper-gold deposits that have attracted major producers such as Newmont Corp., which laid down US$311 million (C$393 million) to acquire GT Gold, a junior exploration company that outlined such a deposit on its Tatogga property.
Newmont first grabbed a solid foothold in the northern half of Golden Triangle with the 2018 acquisition of Novagold Resources Inc.'s 50% interest in Galore Creek, a large copper-gold-silver project it now owns in partnership with Teck Resources Ltd.
According to a 2018 calculation, Galore Creek hosts 1.1 billion metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 0.47% (11.3 billion lb) copper, 0.26 g/t (9.3 million oz) gold, and 4.2 g/t (150 million oz) silver.
Shortly after the Galore Creek acquisition, Newmont invested C$17.6 million to acquire an initial 10% stake in GT Gold.
This interest in Tatogga came on the heels of GT Gold's discovery of Saddle North, a porphyry deposit with 298 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 0.28% (1.81 billion pounds) copper, 0.36 g/t (3.47 million oz) gold, and 0.8 g/t (7.58 million oz) silver; plus 543 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 0.25% (2.98 billion lb) copper, 0.31 g/t (5.46 million oz) gold, and 0.7 g/t (11.64 million oz) silver.
Following its early 2021 offer to buy GT Gold, Newmont said this deposit "has the potential to contribute significant gold and copper annual production at attractive all-in sustaining costs over a long mine life. In addition to the known deposits at Saddle North, there are further exploration opportunities throughout the land package."
And the new Tatogga owner recognizes the importance of building a relationship with the Tahltan Nation, a key to ensuring local support for any future development there.
"We understand and acknowledge that Tahltan consent is necessary for advancing the Tatogga project and we will partner with the Tahltan Nation at all levels, and with the government of British Columbia to ensure a shared path forward," said Newmont President and CEO Tom Palmer.
In addition to its 50% stake in Galore Creek, Teck holds a 75% stake in Schaft Creek, a porphyry copper-gold deposit about 30 kilometers to the northeast.
According to a 2021 calculation, Schaft Creek hosts 1.35 billion metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 0.26% (7.76 billion lb) copper, 0.17 g/t (7 million ounces) gold, 1.25 g/t (54.3 million oz) silver, and 0.017% (510.6 million lb) molybdenum.
Copper Fox Metals Inc., which owns the other 25% of Schaft Creek, incorporated this resource into a preliminary economic assessment that evaluates a 133,000-metric-ton-per-day mill and open pit mine at Schaft Creek, which is slightly larger than the operation outlined in a 2013 feasibility study.
In addition to a larger mill, the 2021 PEA includes changes in financial assumptions and metals prices over the eight years since the completion of a feasibility study for Schaft Creek.
"We are very pleased with the results of the PEA and the recommended program work of C$23 million that could be considered by the operator to advance the Schaft Creek project to the prefeasibility study stage of study and evaluation," said Copper Fox Metals President and CEO Elmer Stewart.
Copper Fox says it is committed to working with Teck to develop and operate the Schaft Creek project in a safe, ethical, and socially responsible manner that maximizes the benefits and economic opportunities for First Nations and communities in BC's Golden Triangle.
Australia-based Newcrest is the only mining major that currently owns multiple operations in the northern reaches of the Golden Triangle.
Since acquiring 70% interest in Imperial Metal Corp.'s Red Chris mine in the fall of 2019, Newcrest has invested heavily in expanding the copper-gold resource in preparation for transitioning this operation from open pit to block cave underground mining.
According to a new calculation published in March, Red Chris hosts 980 million metric tons of measured and indicated resource averaging 0.41 g/t (13 million oz) gold and 0.38% (3.7 million metric tons) copper.
This resource formed the basis for a prefeasibility study published in October that details a block cave mine at Red Chris forecast to produce 316,000 oz of gold annually over the first six years at a cost of negative US$144/oz after accounting for the value of the 80,000 metric tons of copper also recovered each year.
"Since acquiring our 70% interest in Red Chris in August 2019 we have been focused on unlocking its future potential, which we have always believed to be significant, and which is confirmed by the study," said Newcrest Mining CEO Sandeep Biswas.
Newcrest, however, says this PFS only captures a portion of the opportunities discovered at Red Chris. The more than 200,000 meters of drilling completed during Newcrest's first two years at Red Chris has identified pods of higher-grade mineralization in the East Zone that could bolster copper-gold output prior to block cave mining and an expansion area that seems likely to substantially increase underground resources.
With the purchase of Pretium, Newcrest has further strengthened its place in BC's Golden Triangle.
"Resource and reserve growth and our commitment to investing in the area will underpin the success and longevity of mining in the region for the benefit of the First Nations people, host communities, British Columbia and Canada," said Biswas.
The southern end of the Golden Triangle extends into the traditional territory of the Nisga'a Nation.
Ascot Resources Ltd., which is advancing a new era of mining at its Premier gold-silver project just outside the town of Stewart, recently renewed a benefits agreement that expands its relationship with the Nisga'a Nation.
"I am very delighted to represent the Nisga'a Nation in our partnership with Ascot," said Nisga'a Lisims Government President Eva Clayton. "Since the beginning, our relationship has been one based on the principle of mutual respect and a commitment to improving the quality of life of Nisg̱a'a citizens."
The mining company and First People of the Nass Valley area of northwestern BC already had a benefits agreement in place for Red Mountain, an underground gold-silver mine project roughly 15 kilometers (nine miles) northeast of Stewart. This agreement was signed between Nisga'a Nation and IDM Mining Ltd. right before Ascot bought the latter and its Red Mountain project in 2019.
Rob McLeod, who was born and raised in Stewart and was the CEO of IDM Mining, was a key to brokering this original agreement with the Nisga'a Nation.
The new benefits agreement builds upon this work and has been expanded to include Premier, a past-producing mine that last operated in the 1990s. With all the major infrastructure – mill, assay lab, crusher, tailings storage area, and underground workings – already in place, Premier is the site of the first mine to be developed by Ascot.
A feasibility study completed in 2020 envisions a 2,500-metric-ton-per-day operation that is expected to produce roughly 1.1 million oz of gold and 3 million oz of silver over an initial eight years of mining.
Even before signing a formal agreement with Ascot in mid-2021, the Nisga'a Nation has been working closely with the company, including assisting in putting together an application to amend the previously established permits for Premier.
"As I look back at how far we have come in just a few short years, our partnership and relationship with Nisga'a Nation has been instrumental in the advancement of the projects," said Ascot Resources President and CEO Derek White.
Other companies exploring within the Nisga'a Nation territory at the southern tip of the Golden Triangle include:
• StrikePoint Gold Inc., which carried out summer programs at Porter, a high-grade and past-producing silver project overlooking Stewart, and Willoughby, an early staged gold-silver project that lies about four miles (seven kilometers) east of Ascot's Red Mountain.
• Dolly Varden Silver Corp., which is exploring high-grade gold deposits associated with historical mines south of Stewart.
• Hecla Mining Company at its 596-square-kilometer Kinskuch precious and base metals project.
• Fury Gold Mines Ltd. at its Homestake Ridge high-grade gold-silver project.
One of the largest contributors to the backlog of samples at assay labs during 2021 was Benchmark Metals Inc., which carried out 83,570 meters of drilling at its Lawyers gold-silver project.
Located in BC's northern reaches but east of the Golden Triangle, Lawyers is a large gold-silver project that is quickly advancing towards permitting and production.
Toward this goal, Benchmark is simultaneously conducting preliminary economic assessment and feasibility-level studies alongside a massive drill program at Lawyers.
"Because there has been such a heavy focus on fast-tracking to a construction decision and defined exploration windows the company has been steadfast in maintaining a detailed overall project schedule," said Benchmark Metals Vice President of Engineering Ian Harris. "Not only has this allowed us to maintain a fast-track pace but added to the cost-effectiveness by executing multipurpose drilling and data collection."
The initial PEA and feasibility work are based on a resource calculated in May for the Cliff Creek, AGB, and Dukes Ridge deposits at Lawyers.
According to calculations completed in May, the Cliff Creek, AGB, and Dukes Ridge deposits at Lawyers host 40.3 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 1.19 grams per metric ton (1.55 million ounces) gold and 38.7 g/t (50.2 million oz) silver; plus 16.2 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 1.19 g/t (620,000 oz) gold and 34.7 g/t (18.1 million oz) silver.
While much of the 2021 drill program at Lawyers focused on upgrading and expanding the resources in these deposits, the company continues to explore the property's wider potential.
The results of Benchmark's expansive 2021 drill program is being incorporated into an updated mineral resource estimate, which will form the basis of a PEA for Lawyers. Benchmark plans to immediately follow this scoping level assessment with a feasibility study slated for completion by the end of the year.
In addition to drilling, Benchmark geologists completed a comprehensive geological reconnaissance program consisting of rock and soil sampling, mapping, and geophysics across a wide swath of the property.
In order to meet this accelerated schedule and not be restricted by the seasonal weather conditions that interrupted exploration by some of its colleagues in Northern BC, Benchmark has established a winterproof camp and other infrastructure needed to carry out the year-round exploration aimed at unveiling Lawyers' potential.