North of 60 Mining News 2023 Top 10
Manh Choh gold mine, nickel exploration at Nikolai, history of helicopters, and powerful message by Newmont CEO grace list North of 60 Mining News – January 5, 2024
Last updated 1/17/2024 at 11:44am
From breaking ground at Alaska's next gold mine to the advancement of North of 60 projects focused on delivering the metals needed for the transition of low-carbon energy, and an impressive safety milestone at Alaska's only coal mine to a history of the helicopters that make mineral exploration across the North possible, here is a countdown of the 10 most popular North of 60 Mining News articles in 2023:
Contango Ore Inc., a unique junior exploration company that has defied convention since its founding in 2010, is poised to be Alaska's next gold producer.
CORE got its start when a petroleum engineer searching for natural gas recognized the hard mineral potential on lands owned by the Alaska Native Village of Tetlin. Over the ensuing decade, the Alaska-based company outlined 3.9 million metric tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 7.88 grams per metric ton (998,000 oz) gold and 13.6 g/t (1.7 million oz) silver at the project now known as Manh Choh.
In August, CORE announced the official start of mining operations at Manh Choh, which is being developed under a joint venture between CORE (30%) and Kinross Gold Corp. (70%).
"We are indeed excited to report that mining operations have commenced at Manh Choh, and that the construction phase has been achieved on budget and on schedule," said Contango ORE President and CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse.
With Kinross as the operator at Manh Choh, CORE is focusing its efforts on building high-grade gold resources at the historic Lucky Shot project about 112 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska.
According to an early 2023 calculation, Lucky Shot hosts 226,963 metric tons of indicated resource averaging 14.5 g/t (105,620 oz) gold and 82,058 metric tons of inferred resource averaging 9.5 g/t (25,110 oz) gold.
Moving into 2024, CORE is focused on carrying out the drilling needed for a 400,000 to 500,000 oz gold resource that it can develop a mine plan around.
Thanks in large part to substantial backing and support from the U.S. Department of Defense and Bering Straits Native Corp., Graphite One Inc. completed a 57-hole drill campaign at the Graphite Creek project in western Alaska during 2023 that focused on accelerating the development of an advanced graphite material supply chain in the United States.
"Our team's impressive effort put us well on the way to completing the feasibility study as expeditiously as possible," Graphite One President and CEO Anthony Huston said in October.
To help fund this expeditious effort, DOD awarded Graphite One $37.5 million to accelerate the completion of a feasibility study for a graphite supply chain that includes links at the Graphite Creek project about 35 miles north of Nome, Alaska, and a processing and recycling plant in Washington.
The Pentagon funding was followed by an initial US$2 million investment and an option to invest an additional US$8.4 million in Graphite One by Bering Straits Native Corp., the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) regional corporation for far western Alaska.
"The impressive work of the Graphite One team, which includes local BSNC shareholders, reinforces our decision to support the project," said Bering Straits Native Corp. Director of External Affairs and Public Relations Marleanna Hall.
Considering that China is restricting the exports of graphite for the lithium-ion batteries needed for the energy transition, a mine at Graphite Creek is becoming increasingly critical to the U.S.
Over the course of two short years, Vital Metals Ltd. has fallen from a visionary mining company pioneering a first rare earth supply chain in Canada to a delisted Australian firm struggling to reclaim some of its former glory at the Nechalacho rare earths mine in Northwest Territories.
Vital reached a pinnacle when it began mining high-grade ore at Nechalacho during the summer of 2021, forging the first link in a rare earth supply chain that was envisioned to include a Vital-owned processing plant in Saskatchewan that would have shipped mixed rare earths products to third parties for separation into the individual elements needed for clean energy, high-tech, and other commercial applications.
While the mining of high-grade ore at Nechalacho was a success, technical and financial difficulties at Vital's Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, processing facility, along with competing visions by the company's board and management, contributed to the undoing of the company.
Two years after being hailed as a champion of Canada's burgeoning rare earths sector, the Australian company's Canadian subsidiary operating the facility, Vital Metals Canada Ltd., entered bankruptcy.
Vital believes shedding the rare earths processing facility is the best move to protect the significant value of the Nechalacho project and offers the best possible chance of successfully advancing its vision of a mine at Tardiff, a deposit on the property that is much larger but lower grade than the North T deposit mined so far.
"Whilst we are disappointed with the situation at Saskatoon, Vital remains focused on creating significant value for shareholders by advancing the Tardiff project, a recognized globally significant rare earths deposits in a very favorable jurisdiction," said Vital Metals Chairman Richard Crookes.
In December, Vital sold 10% of its shares to Shenghe Resources Holding Co. and has cut a deal to sell the stockpiles of high-grade rare earths ore mined at Nechalacho to the China-based company.
In September, Usibelli Coal Mine celebrated 1,000 consecutive days without a lost time accident. The fact that this milestone is not a record for Alaska's longest operating mine is a testament to Usibelli's unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of the more than 100 workers.
"We are proud to celebrate 1,000 days without a lost time accident," said Usibelli Coal Mine President Joe Usibelli Jr. "This achievement reflects our commitment to safety as a core value and the foundation of our company culture. Every team member is accountable for their safety and the safety of their fellow coal miners."
As an industry that uses explosives, heavy equipment, and industrial crushing and sorting, as well as transporting equipment across a natural-to-industrial landscape wrought with various hazards, mining is an inherently dangerous business. Minus 40-degree temperatures that are an annual occurrence, along with the snow and ice that come with Interior Alaska's dark winters, add to the hazards the Usibelli Coal Mine workers must be aware of.
Toward its pursuit of safety excellence, Usibelli is one of 11 operations in the U.S. to have received CORESafety certification from the National Mining Association in 2020.
By implementing CORESafety, alongside the coal mine's own "Everyday Safety – At Work. At Home. At Play." campaign, employees are empowered to be safety leaders, fostering a collaborative approach to identifying and mitigating potential hazards.
"I also want to thank the families of our employees who support and encourage a commitment to Everyday Safety and for supporting their loved ones to maintain a safety-first mindset," added Joe, Jr.
A mine at the Pebble project in Southwest Alaska could provide a secure domestic supply of 6.4 billion pounds of copper needed for the clean energy future, 300 million lb molybdenum for infrastructure, 200,000 kilograms of rhenium for aerospace, 37 million oz of silver for solar panels, and 7.4 million oz of gold for the economy over 20 years, according to an independent preliminary economic assessment completed for Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. in September.
In addition to supplying metals critical to America's clean energy future and prosperity, the mine would offer significant economic benefits at the local, state, and federal levels.
"The proposed mine for the Pebble Project would provide good-paying, year-round employment for thousands of Alaskans, something desperately needed in Southwest Alaska," said Northern Dynasty Minerals President and CEO Ron Thiessen. "The mine would mean substantial tax revenues for Alaska, including contributions to the Alaska Permanent Fund, which will be important for the future economic sustainability of the region.'
A 2021 study estimated the Pebble Mine would pay US$1.7 billion in fees, royalties, and taxes to the state of Alaska; US$490 million in taxes to the Lake & Peninsula Borough; and US$1.4 billion in federal taxes.
Realizing the economic and other benefits Pebble has to offer, however, will require successful appeals of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to exercise its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to prohibit mining at Pebble and the United States Army Corps of Engineers' denial to approve permits for the proposed mine.
In August, North of 60 Mining News reporters visited the Nikolai project where Alaska Energy Metals Corp. President and CEO Greg Beischer has returned to finish what he started when he first landed in Alaska as a young geologist in 1995 – outline a world-class nickel deposit at Nikolai, a project that lies on the northern margins of an energy metals enriched geological terrane that arcs across the 49th State.
"Alaska Energy Metals is positioning itself to supply domestic markets with a source of critical and strategic metals," Beischer said when AEM made its 2023 debut. "Located in the USA, we intend to help North America transition to electrical power for vehicles and other rechargeable battery powered products."
A lot has changed since Beischer broke the first nickel-rich massive sulfide sample off an outcrop at Nikolai, including the fact that nickel and its associated energy metals found at Nikolai have become exponentially more critical due to the rocketing demands of a world transitioning to clean energy.
"The demand for nickel and cobalt for electric vehicle battery manufacture has been growing rapidly and is projected to increase significantly," said Beischer.
What has not changed is Nikolai lies at the heart of the Wrangellia Terrane, which happens to be one of the best places in the world to look for nickel deposits enriched with copper, cobalt, and platinum group metals. This is why an AI-powered global search for energy transition metals led KoBold Metals to this same region of Alaska.
The Northwest Territories capital city of Yellowknife has emerged as a highly prospective northern link in North America's EV supply chain. Home to Nechalacho, which has risen and fallen as Canada's only rare earths mine, the area around this northern mining town happens to be enriched with the lithium, cobalt, and numerous other minerals critical to both Canada and the United States.
This includes a region extending 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Yellowknife to Vital Metals' Nechalacho rare earths project that is riddled with hardrock lithium sources known as pegmatites.
Though this Yellowknife Pegmatite Province was first identified roughly 80 years ago, the market for lithium found there was minuscule until the rise of lithium-ion batteries.
With demand rising, a group of battery metals-focused junior mining companies are investing millions of dollars this year to explore the distinctive white pegmatites that can be seen when flying over this district east of Yellowknife.
As Yellowknife's lithium attracts new interest, Fortune Minerals Ltd. is petitioning the U.S. and Canadian governments for funds to help advance its near development staged Nico bismuth-cobalt-copper-gold mine project about 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of NWT capital city.
Together, the rare earths, lithium, and cobalt projects surrounding Yellowknife could provide North American manufacturers with an alternative to China for many of the minerals critical to EVs, green energy, high-tech, military hardware, and consumer goods.
And, with the northern end of North America's rail system extending to the community of Hay River on the south shores of Great Slave Lake, very little infrastructure is needed to connect the critical mineral projects around Yellowknife to North America's supply chains.
Like the No. 10 article on North of 60 Mining News' most popular articles of 2023, the No. 3 article covered the groundbreaking ceremony at Manh Choh, only this time focusing on the potential economic benefits the gold mine could bring to Tok, Tetlin Village, and other communities in eastern Alaska.
As the first real sign of civilization in nearly 300 miles for northbound Alaska Highway travelers, and the last full-service Alaska town for visitors heading south to Canada and the Lower 48 states, the crossroads town of Tok, about 15 miles southeast of Manh Choh, is practically a required stop along the 1,382-mile northern highway known locally as the Alcan.
The stream of travelers heading both directions provides Tok residents and businesses a steady, though seasonally fluctuating, stream of traffic and business for gas stations, stores, restaurants, RV parks, hotels, and other businesses.
With the Manh Choh joint venture setting up camp at the site of a shuttered and slowly deteriorating hotel in the center of town, Tok businesses are now enjoying an increase in their baseload clientele from the workers that have arrived to build and operate the gold mine on nearby Alaska Native land.
While Alcan travelers are transient by their very nature and thin out during the winter months, the Manh Choh mine offers year-round business, along with healthy paychecks, to some of the 1,600 or so residents of Tok and the surrounding area.
"Historically, Tok has been a pass-through community – a service town for tourism and government projects," Bronk Jorgensen, a Tok resident and businessman, told North of 60 Mining News. "It (Manh Choh) will provide a continued economic benefit through the wintertime when a lot of businesses in this town aren't generating enough money to pay the power or heat bill."
With a world now connected by commercial aircraft, defended by sound-breaking jets, and explored by the bizarre rotors of a helicopter, aviation is a concept often taken for granted but nonetheless is a gift that should be admired as it has allowed an evolution no less impactful than today's internet.
While many may think the advent of aviation came solely from the wild imaginings of the Wright Brothers at the turn of the 20th century, the dream of flight has been speckled throughout recorded history.
From the allegorical story of Icarus flying too close to the sun to the apocryphal of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite that sparked the discovery of electricity, flight has been a romance and fascination for millennia.
Yet it was not so long ago that Man was earthbound.
With combustion engines taking humans away from the power of a horse we had shared for thousands of years, so too did flight give access to the entirety of the planet.
With modern aviation, in less than a day, a person can travel from New York City to Singapore, considered the longest flight available commercially, at over 9,500 miles.
So, while leaps and bounds in transportation technology have enabled freedom, the likes of which have never been seen before, its accessibility has blunted the memory of the logistics and risks journeying used to take before, and reflection in small doses can be grounding (pun intended).
For the mining sector, helicopters play a large role in transporting equipment and parts to mineral exploration projects often located in remote or densely wooded areas. They also bring supervisors, inspectors, and crew into the site when necessary to keep exploration or production running smoothly. When machines break down, helicopters pick up the slack.
Newmont President and CEO Tom Palmer did not waste his keynote address at the Minerals Week 2023 gathering in Australia to tout the many achievements of the world's largest gold mining company he leads. Instead, he delivered a powerful and sometimes foreboding message to the mining leaders in the room and around the world about the industry's responsibilities in a world being driven by three megatrends – societal transformation, turbulent geopolitics, and advanced technologies.
"The intensity and velocity of these global megatrends are so universal and disruptive that if, as an industry, we are not agile enough to adapt, align and lead, we will risk losing control of our businesses," he warned during a thoughtful and powerful speech.
Palmer delivered this warning to a mining industry that is coming under greater scrutiny both for its past sins and the world's unprecedented need for this sector to deliver the copper, cobalt, graphite, lithium, nickel, zinc, and other mined materials needed to build the clean energy future.
While best known for its gold, Newmont produces a sizeable quantity of copper, which is increasing significantly with the buyout of Newcrest Mining Ltd.
The global demand for the copper the expanded Newmont will produce is skyrocketing in a world transitioning to EVs charged with low-carbon energy.
According to S&P analysis, the demand for copper will need to double by 2035 in order to achieve net-zero targets by 2050.
Palmer says bringing enough copper mines online to meet the surging demand seems unlikely, given how long it takes to garner regulatory approvals and social licenses.
"To even come close to achieving this pace, we are going to need to bank as much goodwill and trust as possible by demonstrating that we are responsible actors guided by strong values," he told the audience in Australia.