When we were at Yukon’s Destruction Bay last year the weather was bad enough that we never saw the beauty of Kluane Lake or the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Entirely spectacular and well worth the visit if you are driving the Alaska Highway.
Because it was the end of June the sun pretty much did not set. Which made the party at the local BBQ pit all the more fun. Brilliant slow cooked beef and all the trimmings plus unique Yukon entertainment with “Sternwheeler”, aka Gary Atkins.
We were recovering from the Yukon Investment Banquet in Dawson City so it was a relatively sedate affair and a good chance to speak informally with Heather White, Nickel Creek’s (T.NCP) Chief Operating Officer. We were going to Nickel Creek’s Nickel Shäw project site (formerly known as the Wellgreen Project) the next day but it is not often that you get to have a beer and dinner with one of Canada’s leading mining engineers and one of Canada’s leading experts on nickel.
Poor Graeme Jennings, Nickel Creek’s VP Corporate Development, told me it is hard to get White to talk about her accomplishments. But here is one which will give a sense of just how good she is: White was Chief Mine Engineer and subsequently Mine Manager for Voisey’s Bay where she was responsible for the development of the Feasibility Study through to mine operations. This was and remains a huge operation. From Voisey’s Bay owner Vale’s website: “Operations at Vale’s open-pit mine and concentrator at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador began in 2005. This 6,000 tonnes-per-day facility produces two types of concentrate: nickel-cobalt-copper concentrate and copper concentrate.”
Heather White built that.
White came to Nickel Creek via Electrum Group LLC, an internationally recognized mining investment group.
“Right now,” said White, “We’re really pleased with the results of our work separating our concentrate into a saleable nickel concentrate and a saleable copper concentrate. We’ll have a detailed press release out in the next couple of weeks. (The release, which is very detailed indeed, came out July 10 and can be read here.)
The challenge Nickel Shäw has posed to mining companies over the years is that its mineral deposit is genuinely polymetallic. Nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum and marketable amounts of gold are all locked up throughout the large body of sulphide mineralization. Before the question of building a mine can be answered, the metallurgy had to be completed and Nickel Creek had to be satisfied that it could make concentrates the world’s smelters would want to buy.
In the July 10 press release, Diane Garrett, President and CEO of Nickel Creek stated, “Producing two concentrates, nickel and copper, not only provides the Company with additional flexibility for selling its concentrates into the market but is also expected to yield enhanced payable terms based on recent discussions with smelters.”
It was no small feat. Last year Nickel Creek bulk sampled 4000 tons of rock. That rock was shipped to XPS Expert Process Solutions in Sudbury Ontario and XPS built a Mini-Pilot Plant and processed the bulk sample. This mini test meant that the processing flow sheets for the Nickel Shäw Project could be fine-tuned and the feasibility of producing two, separate, marketable concentrates could be tested.
The next day I was lucky enough – OK, I just barged in – to drive up to the proposed mine site with James Barry, Nickel Creek’s chief geologist. James has the gift of making relatively complex geology make sense to the rest of us. He’d been working at the project for a couple of years and was looking forward to exploring the Nickel Shäw land package. He pointed out that the “resource area” was a mere 2.2-kilometre strike length along an 18-kilometre trend. As we drove along the surprisingly good road up to the resource site, Barry pointed to exposed ultramafic rock which has been mapped but never drilled. This summer Barry and his team will be running an extensive geophysics program to identify drill targets in these under-explored areas. Nickel Creek already has a significant resource, the question Barry is trying to answer is whether that resource is part of a larger, district scale, system.
At the base of the mountain which hosts the majority of the deposit I was reminded of something my friend David Erfle said last summer, “Steep and deep.” He was referring to the pitch of the mountainside and the assumption that the deposit would be mined as a primarily underground operation. The mountain is still steep but the mining plan has evolved into an open pit concept.
White outlined a mine plan which would, essentially, take the side of the mountain off in stages. There is really no room for a processing facility in the valley but that didn’t seem to worry White. “We’re looking at running a conveyor system,” she said casually as if building and running a kilometre plus conveyor system which can withstand Yukon winter temperatures was just another box to check.
In an earlier conversation, White had said that the metallurgy and the dual concentrate approach were important because “Now we know what sort of mine we’ll be when we grow up.”
Making that decision and really understanding the metallurgy, geology and mine plan will all come together in a new Preliminary Economic Assessment for the Nickel Shäw project which is expected in Fall 2018.
(Motherlodetv.net would like to thank the Yukon Mining Alliance and the Government of the Yukon for making this trip possible. And thank you Lorne for the fabulous beef – plus weiners and beans as a side. A culinary treat unique to Destruction Bay.)