Nunavut exploration heats up in 2021
Miners seek gold, other minerals; gov eyes infrastructure Mining Explorers 2021 - January 27, 2022
Last updated 2/10/2022 at 2:55pm
Mineral exploration activity in Nunavut intensified in 2021 as mining companies mounted larger and more extensive programs in response to stronger capital markets, government infrastructure initiatives, and the easing of restrictions imposed to curb effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Spanning 2 million square kilometers (about 782,000 square miles), the territory has 25 communities and about 39,353 residents, of whom 84% are Inuit. Nunavut has no roads, and all but one of its hamlets are coastal communities. Access is by air, with ships delivering supplies during the open-water season, typically from July to October.
Representing one‑fifth of Canada's landmass, Nunavut has tremendous resource potential. However, the COVID‑19 pandemic and the restrictions put in place by the territorial government to prevent the spread of the virus led many mineral explorers to cancel or delay planned exploration programs in the territory in 2020.
For the Arctic territory's two mine operators and half-dozen or so advanced- and early-stage explorers, the larger exploration programs paid off with especially promising results.
The Canadian and territorial governments, meanwhile, pursued initiatives aimed at improving infrastructure in the Far North jurisdiction in response to the need for better transportation arteries and cleaner and more economical energy sources.
Focus on infrastructure
Gold production in Nunavut climbed in 2020 due to output from the Meliadine Amaruq gold mines. With this increase, combined with stronger prices and production for iron and gold, Natural Resources Canada estimates 2020 mineral production in Nunavut topped C$2.07 billion, up 27% from C$1.57 billion in 2019 and a 57% increase from C$974 million during 2018.
Economic development in the northern territory, however, continues to be hampered by its lack of infrastructure, observers say.
The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency continued technical and feasibility work supporting the potential development of a hydroelectric and fiber-optic link that would connect Nunavut communities and mining operations in the central Kivalliq region to northern Manitoba.
In May, CanNor officials announced nearly C$3 million in additional investments to support early phase data collection and analysis for the Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link Project. The funding will pay for preliminary geomorphological, biophysical, heritage, and permafrost studies that will be conducted along the proposed route of the hydro-fiber line, as well as consultation with First Nation communities in Manitoba and Inuit in Nunavut.
The Kivalliq Inuit Association is also contributing $752,934 to fund the early phase work.
Canadian officials have proposed to invest C$40.4 million over three years, starting in 2021, to support feasibility and planning of hydroelectricity and grid interconnection projects in the North. The funding could advance projects such as the Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link Project.
"The hydro-fiber link will bring significant benefits to Nunavut's Kivalliq region. The project will deliver clean energy to communities and businesses currently reliant on diesel, and high-speed internet will significantly improve communication and give communities an economic boost. That is why the Government of Canada is funding research into the link as part of our continuing commitment to sustainably grow Nunavut's economy," said CanNor Minister Mélanie Joly.
Another bright spot on the horizon is the planned development of the Grays Bay Road and Port Project in the Kitikmeot region of western Nunavut.
With no current road connections between the Kitikmeot communities, the Northwest Territories capital city of Yellowknife is the main logistical and supply center for the region. The Grays Bay project is an intended infrastructure and transportation system that would connect the Slave Province (located in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) to Arctic shipping routes. This would not only promote regional economic development but also would create the transportation backbone needed to improve the quality of life of communities in this region. The proposed port at Grays Bay would be Canada's first and only deep‑sea water port in the Western Arctic. This route would also connect Nunavut to the national highway and rail systems in the Northwest Territories.
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which is leading the project, plans to take out a 10-year, C$7.25 million loan from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory's Inuit organization, to begin work on the transportation system.
The project includes a 227-kilometer (141 miles) all-weather road to be built north of the shuttered Jericho diamond mine near the Northwest Territories border at the north end of the Tibbitt-Contwoyto winter road to Grays Bay on the Arctic coast and a deep-water port at Grays Bay in the Coronation Gulf.
Initially projected to cost C$550 million, the project has seen rising construction costs in recent years, which could inflate its final price tag. The transportation system, however, is expected to bring a lower cost of living, cheaper electricity, and improved telecommunications to the Kitikmeot region.
Mine expansion plans
Both Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. pursued aggressive expansion plans as their Nunavut employees returned to work after being furloughed for most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agnico purchased the Hope Bay Mine and related assets from TMAC Resources Inc. early in the year, increasing to three the number of its Nunavut mining operations in the territory. At the same time, Baffinland worked to allay regulatory and community concerns about the timing and plans for increased iron ore shipments from its Mary River Mine in eastern Nunavut.
Agnico Eagle reported positive exploration results at its mines during the year, including Hope Bay, where it confirmed the expansion potential of the Doris and Madrid deposits.
At Mary River, Baffinland said it would forego icebreaking activities this year to preserve the integrity of the Eclipse Sound summer narwhal stock after Inuit residents expressed concerns about the animal population.
The company agreed that the trigger to begin its 2021 shipping season would be enough open water to avoid the need for icebreaking, which delayed the start of Baffinland's shipping season.
Baffinland's production for the Mary River mine for 2020 was 5.45 million metric tons of iron ore shipped in 72 loads from Milne Inlet, down from 5.93 million metric tons shipped in 2019.
More gold at Back River
Sabina Gold & Silver Corp. Aug. 10 confirmed identifying a key linking gold zone, the Hook Target, between the Goose Main and Nuvuyak deposits, on its Back River gold project in central Nunavut.
"The ability to demonstrate significant resource growth potential such a short distance from our proposed mining infrastructure is a tremendous success and further testament to the Goose Property gold endowment. Our Hook target is located within the shadows of the Goose Main open pit and provides opportunities for exceptional alignment as we advance both exploration and development synergies for the entire southern Goose Main – Hook – Nuvuyak gold trend," said Sabina Gold President and CEO Bruce McLeod.
The Goose Main deposit currently hosts an open pit and underground proven reserve of 548,000 oz at an average grade of 4.6 g/t and an additional open pit and underground probable reserve of 301,000 oz at an average of 4.96 g/t. Currently, the Nuvuyak deposit hosts an initial NI 43-101 compliant inferred resource of 583,000 oz at an average grade of 7.5 g/t and remains open in all directions.
The Back River project has all major permits and authorizations for mine construction and operation. In November, Sabina said pre-construction activities were underway for the proposed Goose Mine, and for the first time, site operations will continue year-round at Back River as the explorer works to complete more than 700 meters of the Umwelt underground exploration ramp and prepares for winter ice road construction.
High-grade gold at Ulu, Hood
Blue Star Gold Corp. completed a 2021 exploration program at its Ulu and Hood River projects located in the High Lake Greenstone Belt of western Nunavut. The explorer said it drilled 25 holes in 2021, totaling 5,012 meters, to test 11 targets in six zones and collected 2,534 core samples for analysis.
Among results from the first two holes and a newly discovered vein system: 8.15 meters averaging 20.8 g/t gold over 750 meters northeast of the Flood Zone deposit; and 4.91 meters of 19.1 g/t gold, seven meters of 6.9 g/t gold, and 2.64 meters of 13 g/t gold from two Flood Zone holes.
The explorer also intersected Flood Zone-style mineralization in several nearby targets, including to a depth of 300 meters at the Central Zone and up to 2.5 meters wide in the Axis Zone.
With the recent acquisition of the Roma project, Blue Star now controls over 16,000 hectares (39,536 acres) in the High Lake Greenstone Belt, Nunavut. A significant high-grade gold resource exists at the Flood Zone deposit (Ulu lease).
"We successfully tested several prospective target areas during the drilling component of the current program," Blue Star Gold CEO Grant Ewing said in September. "The discovery of a new vein system about 750 meters northeast of the Flood Zone deposit was an early success, and based on visual observations of the drill core, we anticipate more favorable results as assays from the balance of the program are returned over the coming weeks."
Blue Star said its technical team would conduct a detailed assessment and evaluation of results from the program, which was to continue to year's end as assays returned.
Objectives of the 2021 program included gaining better understanding of the controls of higher-grade zones within the structures, evaluating additional structures on and adjacent to the Ulu fold hinge, and expanding and infilling previously known but poorly interpreted mineralized zones.
Work at early-stage projects
Fury Gold Mines Ltd. reported in September completing 2,587 meters across five holes in a summer drill program at its Committee Bay gold project that focused on the eight-kilometer (five miles) shear zone hosting the Raven prospect where alteration and veining consistent with gold mineralization have been intersected. Historical drill results from Raven include 31.1 g/t gold over 2.8 meters and 9.49 g/t gold over 7.57 meters.
Fury Gold also planned for its 2021 field season in Nunavut to target the extension of the Three Bluffs deposit as well as several early-stage prospects.
The Committee Bay project, which covers more than 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres), is located about 180 kilometers (112 miles) northeast of Agnico's Meadowbank Mine Complex and hosts one of the largest unexplored greenstone belts in North America.
The Three Bluffs deposit, located in the central part of the property, contains an NI 43‑101-compliant indicated mineral resource of 524,000 oz gold at 7.85 g/t gold and an inferred resource of 720,000 oz gold at 7.64 g/t gold. More than 40 other gold prospects are identified in the greenstone belt. Recent exploration targets include the Kaluliq‑Aiviq corridor, and the Anuri and Shamrock targets, as well as the Three Bluffs deposit itself.
Fury Gold said it also completed geochemical sampling across six regional target areas in the southwestern region of the project to advance the area's most robust gold anomalies to drill stage.
In 2020, the company undertook an extensive review of drill results based on geophysical survey data and said the work led to a better understanding of the project.
Fury Gold has identified two significant fold hinge‑based targets, one at Anuri and one at Amautik. The targets will be drill‑ready after an induced polarization geophysical survey on the two locations is complete.
Exploring near gold mines
Solstice Gold Ltd., created through a spinout by Dunnedin Ventures Inc. of more than 60 claims and 10 partial claims and certain other rights covering the district-scale Qaiqtuq gold project in east-central Nunavut, aims to continue exploring the property.
Solstice's land package covers 866 square kilometers (334 square miles) in what it describes as the emerging Meliadine gold district. The project is located about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Rankin Inlet and some 15 kilometers (eight miles) from Agnico's Meliadine gold mine. Solstice also has exclusive secondary rights on an adjacent 806 square kilometers (311 square miles). The explorer said it is seeking a Meliadine-type gold deposit on the properties, which have seen only 1,600 meters of drilling.
Western Atlas Resources Inc. won approval in September of an exploration permit amendment for its Meadowbank exploration project. The amended permits allow for the expansion of the company's exploration footprint, including completing up to 20,000 meters of diamond drilling per year and increasing a future camp capacity to 40 workers, if required.
Western Atlas' Meadowbank project is adjacent to Agnico's Meadowbank Complex, which includes the Meadowbank and the Amaruq satellite gold deposits.
Western Atlas' Meadowbank saw its first drill program in July and August 2020 when a 3,500‑meter, 13‑hole effort focused on banded iron formation‑hosted targets identified in previous field seasons. Analyses from drill core samples returned anomalous gold, silver, nickel, chromium, and zinc values.
Systematic exploration conducted on the property, so far, has defined numerous drill targets and has outlined precious and base metals mineralization. Several of these targets have yielded gold values from surface sampling of up to 13.3 g/t gold and 44.7 g/t silver.
The 2020 drill program intersected 4.3 meters of 1 g/t gold and broad near-surface polymetallic mineralization of up to 113.5 meters averaging 0.12% nickel, 0.009% cobalt, and 0.12% chromium from a depth of 62 meters. Past exploration includes more than 3,500 meters of diamond drilling.
Ongoing diamond hunt
North Arrow Minerals Inc. Aug. 19 reported completing field collection of a 2,000-metric-ton bulk sample at its Naujaat diamond project in northeastern Nunavut.
This C$5.6 million bulk sample program was funded by North Arrow's partner, Burgundy Diamond Mines, as part of a June 2020 option agreement for that junior to earn a 40% interest in the Naujaat project by funding the current bulk sampling.
Collected in 2,500 bags, the bulk sample was shipped to a processing lab in the annual Naujaat sealift in September. North Arrow and Burgundy hope to recover diamonds from the sample that confirm the size, distribution, and character of "an important population of potentially high-value, fancy yellow to orange-yellow diamonds" found in the Q1-4 deposit, according to North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong.
Eight kimberlite pipes have been identified on the Naujaat property, as well as several laterally extensive kimberlite dyke systems.
Silver Range Resources Ltd. completed metallic screen assays on panel samples collected from the Main and West zones of its Tree River Project in 2020. Samples returned 36.3 g/t gold for the Main Zone and 0.29 g/t gold for the West Zone.
Through the MERC (Mineral Exploration Research Centre at Laurentian University) programming, the University of Alberta sampled two 10-kilogram samples of the Tree River Conglomerate in 2018 and recovered three diamonds, confirming the presence of alluvial diamonds in these rocks. The results of this research were released in 2020.
Aside from annual maintenance work performed by a Nunavut contractor, De Beers Canada Ltd.'s Chidliak diamond project on Baffin Island saw no activity in 2021. In 2019, the diamond miner said it planned to build a mine at Chidliak using FutureSmart Mining methods and technologies. To date, 74 kimberlites have been identified on the property. De Beers completed a 14‑hole drill program at Chidliak during 2019, along with 31 mineral lease surveys and environmental baseline work, including the installation of weather stations and wildlife cameras.
Targeting base metals, other minerals
Aston Bay Holdings Ltd. Aug. 11 said its partner, American West Metals Ltd., began work on a three-week ground electromagnetic geophysical survey at Aston Bay's Storm Project on Somerset Island, Nunavut.
The Storm surveys are designed to test for extensions along strike and at depth of known mineralization and to follow up on previously identified gravity and other geophysical anomalies in anticipation of a proposed 2022 drilling campaign. Survey grids are planned for areas in both the Storm Copper prospect area and Seal zinc-silver deposit that are intended to refine existing targets and generate more quality targets for follow-up exploration in 2022.
The explorer also screened the Seal zinc-silver deposit for the first time with electromagnetics. Other geophysical techniques have, so far, been proven ineffective in detecting mineralization at Seal.
In an upsized private placement offering that closed in mid-November, ValOre Metals Corp. raised C$11 million in gross proceeds that the explorer said it intends to invest in exploration work on the Angilak uranium project in Nunavut.
Angilak hosts the Lac 50 Trend inferred resource of 2.83 million metric tons grading 0.69% U3O8 and totaling 43.3 million pounds U3O8. The district-scale project has drill-confirmed uranium mineralization established along 40 kilometers (25 miles) of prospective geological trend and multiple un-drilled targets property-wide.