Drilling at Sabina’s Hackett River project
Since its formation under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) on April 1, 1999, Nunavut has experienced several development-related challenges and opportunities. The territory’s resources sector has seen its fair share of these.
At the time of Nunavut’s inception, there were three mines in different stages of production: the Nanisivik and Polaris lead-zinc mines in the High Arctic were nearing the end of production, while the Lupin gold mine near the Northwest Territories border was in care and maintenance.
Expanding exploration activity
Over the past five years, Nunavut has hosted 10 of the Natural Resources Canada-ranked 100 top-spending exploration projects. Distributed across Nunavut’s three regions (Kitikmeot, Kivalliq and Qikiqtani), these projects involve gold, iron, uranium, diamonds and base metals. While vast tracts of Nunavut have been explored, very large areas remain under-mapped and under-explored. Mineral tenure and ground acquisition statistics exhibit annual fluctuations that mimic commodity price trends and follow new discovery announcements.
Since 1999, more than $1.69 billion has been invested in Nunavut private sector exploration and deposit appraisals. This year, senior companies will, for the first time since 2002, spend more than the junior sector on exploration. The year saw junior companies in most jurisdictions struggling to acquire investment funding. Most Nunavut juniors, however, could maintain their land positions without active programs due to successful field programs in the previous three years.
Gold exploration, deposit delineation and mine development were the highlights of 2009. Agnico-Eagle worked to bring into production its Meadowbank gold mine, 100 kilometres north of Baker Lake in the Kivalliq region. Meadowbank deposits have probable gold reserves of 3.6 million ounces. Mine commissioning and first gold production from the Portage deposit is anticipated in early 2010. Over its expected nine-year life, the mine will produce an annual average of 350,000 ounces of gold.
In 2009, mine site exploration at Meadowbank focused on testing for near-surface extensions of the current open pit reserves at three deposits (Portage, Goose Island and Vault) and on defining additional regional targets. One containment dyke was completed and the future tailings management facility was de-watered. Other dykes, scheduled for completion in 2010, will extend the Portage pit and allow access to higher grade ore in Goose Island by 2011. The results will inform revised resource and reserve estimates, and will be incorporated into a study to test the feasibility of expanding Meadowbank’s daily production from 8,500 to 10,000 tonnes.
Along the Coronation Gulf (western Kitikmeot region), Newmont Mining controls the Hope Bay greenstone belt. It contains two small, high-grade (4.0 to 8.0 g/t cut-offs) lode deposits at Doris and Boston and the low-grade (average 4.0 g/t), high-tonnage Madrid deposit. These three deposits contain indicated and inferred resources of over 10 million ounces of gold. Newmont continues to re-evaluate the deposits and their environs with further mapping and drilling.
Early in 2009, Dundee Precious Metals, owner of the Back River project and the Wishbone gold and base metal properties in western Kitikmeot, was taken over by Sabina Silver Corporation.
Sabina Silver Corporation, owner of the silver-rich volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposit at Hackett River, now owns most of the Hackett River volcanic belt, which also includes the known Yava and Musk base metal deposits. The Hackett River advanced exploration project hosts at least eight known VMS deposits. The resource is expected to have a 13.6-year mine life (daily milling rate of 10,000 tonnes). Its 43.34 million-tonne indicated resource includes 200 million ounces of silver (144 g/t Ag), two million tonnes of zinc (4.65% Zn), 180,000 tonnes of copper (0.42% Cu), 279,000 tonnes of lead (0.64% Pb) and 419,000 ounces of gold (0.3 g/t Au).
Throughout 2009, Comaplex Minerals worked to advance the Meliadine gold project, 25 kilometres northeast of Rankin Inlet, towards a feasibility study. Comaplex completed an independent preliminary assessment (NI 43-101-compliant) on the Meliadine West and East properties. Meliadine West hosts two gold deposits, Tiriganiaq and F. A third deposit, Discovery, is located on Meliadine East. Based on open pit development, indicated gold resources at Tiriganiaq, F and Discovery are 2,036,700 ounces, 110,100 ounces and 259,200 ounces, respectively. Inferred resources in the three deposits are, respectively, 893,000 ounces, 113,560 ounces and 148,950 ounces. Comaplex will shortly submit a preliminary project description to Nunavut regulators.
Junior explorer Commander Resources signed a farm-in and joint venture agreement with AngloGold Ashanti Holdings, which will acquire a 51 per cent interest in Commander’s Baffin Island gold project, where an aggressive multi-target drill campaign is planned for the spring of 2010.
A new international entrant to Nunavut, China Minmetals Non-ferrous Co. Ltd., took ownership of OZ Minerals in 2009. Through its Canadian entity MMG Resources, Minmetals now owns all of OZ Minerals’ Kitikmeot assets, which include the rich Izok Lake deposit (copper-zinc-lead-silver); the Gondor and Hood base metal deposits; the former Lupin gold mine and a satellite gold deposit, Ulu; and the advanced exploration massive sulphide High Lake deposit (copper-zinc-gold-silver). High Lake contains known resources of 17.3 million tonnes of ore averaging 3.3% Zn and 2.2% Cu. Located south of High Lake, Izok Lake hosts a resource of 14.8 million tonnes with average grades of 2.6% Cu and 12.8% Zn.
Uranium exploration activities were limited to the Kivalliq district in 2009. AREVA Resources Canada Ltd. filed a project description with the Nunavut Impact Review Board in late 2008 for a combined open pit and underground mine operation and related infrastructure development at the advanced Kiggavik project. The company is awaiting a decision from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development on the next step in the regulatory process.
Uranium North Resources Corp. and Kivalliq Energy Corporation completed short drill programs on their Amer Lake and Lac Cinquante properties, respectively. Cameco Corporation was active on its three properties: Aberdeen, Turqavik, and Nueltin Lake.
At Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation’s Mary River iron ore project, 1,000 kilometres north of Iqaluit, work included continued environmental baseline studies, metallurgical testing, and delineation drilling of Deposit 1. Positive results were recently reported from the blast furnace tests of the large iron ore cargo samples shipped to European steel mills. The next step is for the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) to finalize environmental impact statement guidelines.
Large blocks of nickel-PGE prospective ground were acquired by Anglo American Exploration and Vale Inco in 2009 on Southampton Island, following the release of preliminary results from the Southampton Island Integrated Geoscience Project led by the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office (CNGO) and data from government airborne surveys. These acquisitions demonstrate the continued existence of new grassroots exploration opportunities.
There were fewer active diamond projects in 2009 than in past years. Small programs were carried out in the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq regions. The largest of these, a $9.2 million program, was carried out by Peregrine Diamonds at its Chidliak property in the Qikiqtani region, 150 kilometres northeast of Iqaluit.
In 2008, three diamond-bearing kimberlites were discovered at Chidliak. A gem-quality 2.01 carat stone was recovered from a kimberlite CH-1surface sample. With Peregrine as the operator, BHP Billiton acquired the right to acquire a 51 per cent interest in Chidliak and funded the entire 2009 program. Thirteen kimberlites were recently discovered, six through drill-testing of geophysical anomalies and seven from prospecting. Five occurrences of kimberlite float were also discovered with three of the five associated with geophysical targets. A mini-bulk sample (50 tonnes) was collected from CH-1 and additional till samples were collected on the property. Large diamonds (2.5-carat, +0.85-millimetre stones) were recently recovered from another kimberlite, CH-6. Planning is underway for an expanded 2010 program at Chidliak.
In eastern Kitikmeot, at the Amaruk diamond project owned and operated by Diamonds North Resources, 24 kimberlites have been discovered to date, 90 per cent of which contain diamonds. 2009 work included drilling 30 kimberlite targets and collecting a 10-tonne sample from the Beluga-3 kimberlite, which returned several significant diamonds during early sampling. Amaruk also holds potential for gold, with mineralization discovered in a three to five metre-wide zone that is exposed for approximately 50 metres.
With this activity, Nunavut will once again become a mineral producer in 2010 with the commissioning of the Meadowbank gold mine. Exploration and mining industries have had a significant presence during Nunavut’s first decade. New discoveries and the advancement of existing projects will continue over the next decade and beyond.
For more information, visit the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs’ website, www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/nunavut.