Dec '09/Jan '10


Beyond the oil sands

By D. R. Eccles

BE-02 kimberlite; northern Alberta’s newest diamondiferous kimberlite discovery

While Alberta deserves all the renown it enjoys as the oil sands capital of the world, there is more to the province’s resources industry than heavy oil. Mineral exploration in Alberta is as diversified as it is extensive. To the end of August 2009, 11.2 million hectares were staked for industrial and metallic minerals exploration in Alberta. Approximately 2.1 million hectares of new staking occurred over the last year. Exploration expenditures were largely focused on industrial minerals and diamonds, with continued and/or new exploration interest in magnetite, iron, uranium, potash and lithium.

Industrial minerals

During 2008, Parsons Creek Resources and Graymont Western Canada Inc. commenced an Alberta Environmental Impact Assessment to produce limestone at the Parsons Creek Quarry, which is located north of Fort McMurray. The high-quality limestone will be used for construction, industrial and environmental applications, including the removal of sulphur dioxide from flu-gas streams associated with oil sands operations.

Athabasca Minerals Inc.’s Susan Lake aggregate operation, which is located 85 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, supplied approximately 11.8 million tonnes of aggregate for the year ending November 30, 2008 and was ranked number one by the Aggregates & Roadbuilding magazine in its annual ranking of sand and gravel suppliers (June, 2009). Athabasca Minerals Inc. holds more than 800,000 hectares of land to the south, northwest and east of Fort McMurray. In addition to aggregates, Athabasca Minerals Inc. and Parallax Resources Ltd. are evaluating this ground for salt within the Devonian Prairie Evaporite Formation, industrial grade silica sand within the Cretaceous Pelican Formation and potential diamondiferous kimberlite intrusions.


The Buffalo Head Hills kimberlite field, which is located about 380 kilometres north of Edmonton, is the third-largest known district of significant diamond-bearing kimberlites in Canada after Lac De Gras in the Northwest Territories and Fort à la Corne in Saskatchewan. New 2008 kimberlite discoveries bring the total number of known occurrences in the Buffalo Head Hills field to 41, 28 of which are diamondiferous.

During 2008, two separate Grizzly Diamonds Ltd. drill programs completed 12 drill holes totalling 2,270 metres in the northwestern part of the Buffalo Head Hills kimberlite field. The drilling discovered three new kimberlite bodies (BE-01, BE-02 and BE-03). Positive diamond recovery results from the 2008 winter drill program yielded 54 diamonds greater than 0.075 millimetres and 26 diamonds greater than 0.106 millimetres from a 56.6-kilogram sample of BE-02. This finding encouraged a larger campaign by Grizzly Diamonds, and a fall 2008 drill program collected an additional 563 kilograms of kimberlite material from BE-02 and 365 kilograms from a third kimberlite discovery, BE-03, which yielded 316 diamonds (five diamonds exceeding 0.5 millimetres in one dimension) and 218 diamonds (five diamonds exceeding 0.5 millimetres), respectively.

During 2008, Diamondex Resources Ltd. and Shore Gold Inc. drill tested the K14, K252 and K6 kimberlite bodies with 41 drill holes totalling 6,818 metres to allow for the identification of different kimberlite phases and micro diamond content. Six distinctive eruptive phases were identified within the K14 complex. In addition to this drill program, an aggregate sample of 369 tonnes of kimberlite was recovered from surface trenches at K14 and K6. One hundred and thirty-nine stones were recovered from three separate trench samples from K14 yielding estimated diamond grades of between 7.4 and 8.8 carats per hundred tonnes (cpht). A single trench at K6 returned 85 diamonds and an estimated diamond grade of 7.0 cpht. The largest was a 1.07 carat stone recovered from K6. The results of the bulk sample program need to be viewed in context of new geological modelling because the trench samples represent the near-surface phase of a complex multi-phased kimberlite.

To the west of the Buffalo Head Hills kimberlite field, United Uranium Corp. and Star Uranium Corp. completed a six-hole drill program. While none of the drillholes penetrated kimberlite, till and shale core samples yielded high numbers of kimberlitic-indicator minerals (over 100 grains of pyrope, olivine and chromite). In addition, caustic fusion analyses of a basal till unit resulted in the recovery of one diamond within the 0.15-0.212 sieve.


In southwestern Alberta, Micrex Development Corp. continues to move towards mine permitting for the Burmis magnetite deposit. At full production, Micrex hopes to mine between 20,000 and 40,000 tonnes of finished magnetite product per year. The mine life is anticipated to be between 10 to 12 years. Following public consultation, Micrex has revised their proposed production system to use no water, process 100 per cent of the raw ore, eliminate tailings issues and extend the life of the proposed mine.

Ferrous minerals

During, 2008 Ironstone Resources Ltd. drilled and recovered 385 metres of unoxidized iron ore from 47 out of 51 drillholes that tested the Clear Hills ooidal ironstone deposits in northwestern Alberta. Ironstone is currently conducting research to determine the most efficient procedures for beneficiating the Clear Hills ore.


During 2008, Fission Energy Corp. and Tribune Uranium Corp. completed a high-resolution magnetic and electromagnetic (VTEM) survey and drilled seven drillholes totalling 1,260 metres that outlined a northeast-trending hydrothermal system on their property located on the northwest margin of the Athabasca Basin. In August 2008, Tribune terminated its option agreement and Fission Energy Corp. consolidated its North Shore and South Shore Properties into one land package, which will now be known as the North Shore Property. Also on the west side of the Athabasca basin, CanAlaska Uranium Ltd. have identified potential targets in the Lapworth and Fidler Points areas, which were examined by surface gravity, DC resistivity/induced polarization, audiomagnetotelluric and six short multichannel seismic lines.


Positive market outlooks for potash and lithium have caused minor staking rushes in Alberta. Several companies, including APEX Geoscience Ltd., Cloudbreak Resources Ltd., Dahrouge Geological Consulting, Grizzly Diamonds Ltd., Landis Energy Corporation, Rich Resource Investments Ltd., Shear Minerals Ltd., Solitaire Minerals Corp., Utah Uranium Corp. and several numbered Alberta Ltd. companies have staked metallic and industrial mineral permits on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border south of latitude 55 degrees. The play has developed in large part because of the vast potash resources in the Prairie Evaporite Formation of neighbouring Saskatchewan. The same formation is present in much of eastern Alberta, but has yet to be evaluated for potash potential. Some historical drillholes such as Vermilion Consolidate Oils #15, which was spudded in 1944, have yielded potash minerals.


Several companies, including Dahrouge Geological Consulting Ltd., Habanero Resources Inc., Headwater Mineral Exploration and Development Ltd., Ivey Canadian Exploration Ltd., MGK Consulting Inc., Ultra Lithium Inc. and WestStar Resources Corp., have expressed interest in lithium from formation waters in the Swan Hills area of northwestern Alberta. The interest is due to mid-1990s government reports that have shown lithium concentrations in formation waters of up to 140 milligrams per litre. The lithium appears to be associated with carbonate build-ups of the Leduc Formation in the Woodbend Group and the Swan Hills Formation of the Beaverhill Lake Group.

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