With world-class mineral deposits, paved roads and commercial power, northern British Columbia is considered by many as a great place to achieve a mining explorer’s ultimate goal – find a mine.
“The geology has been great up there for 100 million years, but it has only been the last five that we have had run-of-river (hydro-electric) projects, dams – literally billions of dollars of new infrastructure,” said Colorado Resources Ltd. President and CEO Adam Travis.
The start of commercial production at Pretium Resources’ Brucejack Mine, a high-grade operation slated to produce more than 400,000 ounces of gold per year, bolsters the idea that northern B.C. is a great place to turn minerals-rich deposits into world-class mining operations.
From the discovery of high-grade gold at GT Gold Corp.’s Tatogga property to expanding the already massive deposits of copper and gold at Seabridge Gold Corp.’s KSM project, mining explorers in 2017 fed exciting new projects into pipelines of potential future northern B.C. mines and improved the quality of the ones already found there.
“This is mining country,” said IDM Mining Ltd. President Rob McLeod, a longtime northern B.C. resident.
Heart of Golden TrianglePretium’s Brucejack Mine, lies in the heart of the Golden Triangle, a particularly gold- and copper-rich section of northwestern B.C. that is now home to two operating mines and more than two dozen active gold, copper and silver exploration projects.
Shortly after plugging into B.C.’s power-grid in March, Pretium began ramping up production at Brucejack, and by July, the mill at the Canadian province’s newest hardrock gold mine reached commercial production.
The high-grade underground mine at Brucejack is expected to produce 7.27 million ounces of gold over an 18-year mine life, or roughly 404,000 oz of the precious metal annually, according to a feasibility study completed in 2014.
The ore to feed this operation comes from Valley of the Kings, which hosts 15.6 million metric tons of proven and probable reserves grading 16.1 grams per metric ton (8.1 million ounces) gold.
Though Pretium has graduated to producer with nearly two decades of high-grade gold in reserves, the company has not lost sight of its exploration roots.
In 2017, Pretium invested roughly C$5 million in a regional grassroots exploration program to discover additional deposits across the wider property.
Immediately northwest of Brucejack, Seabridge Gold Corp. continues to expand the enormous deposits of copper and gold on its KSM property.
Four zones at KSM – Kerr, Sulphurets, Mitchell and Iron Cap – host 2.2 billion metric tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 0.55 grams per metric ton (38.8 million ounces) gold, 0.21 percent (10.2 billion pounds) copper, 2.6 g/t (183 million oz) silver, and 42.6 parts-per-million (207 million lbs.) molybdenum.
These reserves support a 53-year mine that would average 540,000 oz gold, 156 million lbs. copper, 2.2 million oz silver, and 1.2 million lbs. molybdenum annually, according to a prefeasibility study published in 2016.
Despite the project’s world-class stature, Seabridge continues to find high-quality extensions to the porphyry copper-gold deposits found there.
This year, Seabridge is testing an expansion of Iron Cap with potential gold grades and size to change the entire KSM mine-plan.
“This is the 12th successive season we have drilled at KSM and, quite remarkably, we believe it could be one of our most productive,” Seabridge Chairman and CEO Rudi Fronk said at the launch of the 2017 program.
Assay results from the first five holes drilled at Iron Cap this year, which include intersections such as 422.5 meters1.04 g/t gold and 0.32 percent copper, show he may be right.
“As the geology of the Iron Cap deposit becomes clearer to us, we are increasingly confident that it will rival the plus-billion-tonne Kerr and Mitchell deposits in size,” said Fronk.
Just east of KSM and on the northern border of Brucejack, Millrock Resources Inc. and Sojourn Exploration Inc. are exploring Oweegee Dome.
Sojourn, which entered into an option agreement with Millrock to acquire Oweegee Dome, funded a reconnaissance exploration program that included sampling, mapping, and prospecting. The information from this program will be used to target a drill program planned for 2018.
Golden Iskut districtRoughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of KSM, Colorado Resources is exploring KSP, an expansive gold property the company acquired from Seabridge.
Colorado’s 2017 exploration plans got a boost in August, when Goldcorp Inc. bought C$4.4 million worth of a C$7.24 million Colorado share offering, giving the major 14.4 percent equity interest in the explorer.
With this cash boost, Colorado paid Seabridge C$1 million to complete its purchase of full ownership of KSP and to expand the junior’s drill program there.
“This is one of the most important milestones in Colorado’s eight-year history,” said Colorado Resources CEO Travis.
The 2017 drilling at KSP focused on expanding Inel, a target where 2016 drilling tapped high-grade gold zones, including 1 meter of 165.5 g/t gold, and broad zones of lower-grade mineralization, including 99 meters of 2.11 g/t gold.
In addition to continued expansion at KSM, Seabridge is investigating a porphyry copper-gold prospect at Iskut, a property on the western border of KSP known for high-grade gold.
Seabridge acquired Iskut and completed an initial drill program on the property in 2016.
The results from this drilling and the compilation of historical data from exploration and the high-grade gold mines on the property has the company convinced the big prize on the property may have yet to be discovered.
Seabridge started its 2017 program at Iskut with a surface sampling and geophysics to establish locations for a roughly 8,500-meter drill program focused on Quartz Rise, a target where the company believes a gold-rich cap could be hiding a large porphyry system underneath.
“In our view, Iskut hosts district-scale porphyry-style mineral systems similar to our nearby KSM project,” said Fronk. “These systems account for Iskut’s numerous gold and copper mineral occurrences. Our data suggests these systems could be largely intact from top to bottom, unlike KSM. We are concentrating our work on the upper parts of these systems, targeting the high-grade gold potential which historically has been the hallmark of the Iskut district.”
Exciting northern gold discoveryWhile there is plenty of action around Brucejack, perhaps the most exciting Golden Triangle discovery of 2017 was made a few miles west of Imperial Metals’ Red Chris copper-gold mine.
This high-grade gold discovery, known as Saddle, was made by GT Gold Corp., an upstart junior exploration company that completed its initial public offering in 2017.
As a private company, GT Gold began homing in on Saddle while carrying out soil sampling on it Tatogga property in 2013. It took four years and the endorsement of When Charles Greig, former senior geologist at Pretium Resources, however, to spark interest in the grassroots gold prospect.
In June, the now publically traded company launched the first drill program to test the Saddle South discovery, and the initial results were worth the wait.
Highlights from the first batch of reverse circulation holes drilled at Saddle included: 10.67 meters of 13.03 g/t gold; 9.14 meters of 17.41 g/t gold; and 8.8 meters of 15.33 g/t gold.
The results from the RC drill program ignited excitement in the investment community and GT Gold raised another C$5 million in August.
With the fresh funds, the company brought in a diamond drill rig to confirm and expand the high-grade gold discovery.
Highlights from the first eight holes of this core drilling include: 7 meters of 51.53 g/t gold (1.5 oz) and 117.38 g/t silver; 23.66 meters of 5.1 g/t gold; and 7 meters of 10.26 g/t gold and 46.07 g/t silver.
By mid-September, GT Gold had completed roughly 12,000 meters of drilling in 50 holes and the company plans to keep drills turning until winter forces it off the mountain.
The first visible gold in Saddle South core was observed in hole TTD031; assays from this hole were pending at the time of this report.
Two other large copper-gold projects situated in the northern margins of the Golden Triangle, Galore Creek and Schaft Creek, are idling at the permitting threshold.
A feasibility study completed in 2011 envisions a mine at Galore Creek producing 6.2 billion lbs. of copper, 4 million oz of gold and 65.8 million oz of silver over an 18-year span.
In recent years, joint venture partners Novagold Resources Inc. and Teck Resources Ltd. have been content to maintain the project and optimize a mine plan until copper demand rebounds.
Novagold has been seeking a buyer for its half of the copper-rich project.
“As a sizable, high-quality deposit that, when built, is expected to be one of the largest and lowest-cost copper mines in Canada, we have no doubt that Galore Creek is a company-making project all on its own,” Novagold President Greg Lang said.
The Schaft Creek Joint Venture – 75 percent Teck and 25 percent Copper Fox Metals Inc. – carried out a C$700,000 program at Schaft Creek, a copper-gold-silver-molybdenum project located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Galore Creek.
A feasibility study completed in 2012, detailed a mine for Schaft Creek that would churn out 4.88 billion lbs. of copper, 4.21 million oz. of gold, 214.9 million lbs. of molybdenum and 25.1 million oz. of silver over the course of 21 years.
Teck, which joined Schaft Creek shortly after the feasibility study, has since been funding work aimed at optimizing the project. The 2017 program, budgeted at C$900,000, focused primarily on updating the resource model, environmental baseline studies and permitting.
Stewart heats upExploration is heating up around Stewart, a mining town at the southern tip of the Golden Triangle that serves as a base of operations for many of the mining companies exploring this prolific region.
About 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of Stewart, Ascot Resources Ltd. carried out a roughly C$20-million exploration and development program at its Premier project, a large land package that blankets the historic Premier gold-silver mine.
Ascot believes the 2.1 million oz gold and 44.9 million oz silver produced from mining at Premier over the past century is only the tip of the iceberg and is focused on outlining a 10- to 20-million-oz gold resource on this property.
Toward this goal, the company completed roughly 120,000 meters of surface, resource expansion drilling in 2017 focused on areas around the old Premier Mine.
Ascot also carried out some 27,000 meters of underground drilling aimed at defining 600,000 to 750,000 ounces of gold in reserves that could be mined in the near term.
In support of Ascot’s near-term mining goals, the 2017 program also will include engineering, environmental, resource and reserve studies.
IDM Mining Ltd. is also working toward developing a gold-silver mine on the outskirts of Stewart.
In June, IDM published a feasibility study that outlines plans for a 1,000-metric-ton-per-day operation at its Red Mountain project that is expected to average roughly 78,000 oz of gold per year over a nearly six-year mine-life.
Following the feasibility study, the company expanded its 2017 Red Mountain drill program to 18,000 meters.
“The primary objective of our expanded drilling program is to add additional years to the potential mine life by targeting near-mine mineralization from underground, as well as diamond drilling from surface,” said IDM President and CEO McLeod.
In August, Millrock Resources carried out a Sojourn-funded prospecting program at Willoughby, a gold-silver property just east of Red Mountain. This work included prospecting along the margins of glaciers that have receded substantially since the last significant exploration was completed two decades ago.
Millrock’s Golden Triangle exploration is based out of an exploration facility in Stewart.
High-grade south of StewartRoughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of Stewart, Auryn Resource Inc. completed roughly 12,000 meters of drilling at Homestake Ridge, a high-grade gold project it acquired in 2016.
The three main deposits at Homestake Ridge – Homestake, Homestake Silver and South Reef –host 604,000 metric tons of indicated resource averaging 6.4 g/t (124,000 oz) gold; 48.3 g/t (939,000 oz) silver; and 0.18 percent (2.4 million lbs.) copper. These zones host another 6.77 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 4.2 g/t (911,000 oz) gold; 93.6 g/t (20.37 million oz) silver; and 0.11 percent (16.3 million lbs.) copper.
“This is an incredible project in the Golden Triangle,” said Auryn Executive Chairman Ivan Bebek.
This 2017 drill program focused on expanding the high-grade gold and silver zones. While the results from the drilling were pending at the time of this report, Auryn is excited about the mineralization it is seeing in the core.
“We are very excited about these holes, so we are losing a lot of sleep as they (assays) are due to start coming back,” said Bebek.
In addition to drilling, Auryn is completing metallurgical work aimed at improving the gold and silver recoveries from the high-grade zones at Homestake Ridge.
A preliminary economic assessment for this project just south of Stewart is slated for 2018.
Immediately southeast of Homestake Ridge, Dolly Varden Silver Corp. is expanding the zones of very high-grade silver on its namesake property.
In 2015, Dolly Varden published a maiden indicated resource of 3.07 million metric tons of averaging 321.6 g/t (31.8 million oz) silver in four zones associated with historic mining on the property – Dolly Varden, North Star, Torbrit and Wolf.
This year, the company completed some 12,000 meters of drilling aimed at expanding these high-grade zones.
Drilling along the southwestern edge of Torbit cut 9.89 meters averaging 514.3 g/t silver in the deposit’s Lower zone.
Drilling from the north side of the Dolly Varden deposit area cut even longer and higher grade silver intercepts as well as zones richer in base metals.
One such hole, DV17-048, cut three mineralized structures – the upper structure returned 12.26 meters of 701.8 g/t silver, 1.05 percent zinc and 0.36 percent lead; 19.6 meters of 107.1 g/t silver, 3.52 percent zinc and 1.3 percent lead in the middle zone; and 11.56 meters of 30.3 g/t silver and 1.6 percent zinc in the lower zone.
In addition to expanding the known deposits, reconnaissance drilling is encountering promising results, including a new style of gold-copper-silver mineralization similar to what Auryn is drilling at Homestake Ridge.
“Our understanding of the various styles of mineralization continues to advance on the Dolly Varden property as a high-grade, target-rich environment,” said Dolly Varden President and CEO Gary Cope.
Hecla, which owns a 12 percent equity interest in Dolly Varden, is exploring the nearby Kinskuch silver project.
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 percent zinc and 2.2 percent lead.
In April, Hecla and Dolly Varden Silver Corp. collaborated to carry out airborne geophysical surveys over Kinskuch and Dolly Varden’s neighboring Big Bulk copper-gold property.
Zinc-rich KechikaEast of the Golden Triangle, Canada Zinc Metals Corp. continues its exploration along a band of properties that covers 79,870 hectares (197,359 acres) of the zinc-rich Kechika Trough in north-central B.C
The company has divided this land package into two projects – Akie, which hosts the Cardiac Creek deposit, and the Kechika regional properties, a series of property blocks that extend roughly 140 kilometers (85 miles) northwest of Akie.
Cardiac Creek hosts an indicated resource of 19.6 million metric tons grading 8.2 percent (3.54 billion lbs.) zinc, 1.6 percent (685 million lbs.) lead and 13.6 g/t (8.6 million oz.) silver; and an inferred resource of 8.1 million metric tons grading 6.8 percent (1.21 billion lbs.) zinc, 1.2 percent (207 million lbs.) lead and 11.2 g/t (2.9 million oz.) silver.
This year, Canada Zinc Metals completed roughly 4,700 meters of drilling in eight holes focused on expanding Cardiac Creek.
The first hole of the program cut 28.7 meters averaging 8.84 percent zinc, 1.54 percent lead and 14.2 g/t zinc.
In 2013, Teck Resources and Korea Zinc Co. Ltd. entered into an agreement to option three of Canada Zinc’s regional properties that stretch northwest from Akie – Pie, Cirque East and Yuen. Under this agreement the Teck-Korea Zinc joint venture can earn up to 70 percent interest in these contiguous claim blocks by investing C$8.5 million in them by the end of 2020.
Going into 2017, the partners had invested C$3 million towards the earn-in and must spend C$500,000 to earn an initial 51 percent interest in the Kechika Regional zinc project.
With zinc prices topping US$1.40 per lb, Canada Zinc hopes the zinc-rich deposits on its extensive holding will help supply the growing global shortage of the galvanizing metal.