Sept/Oct 2012

Industry at a glance

Impact of Argentina’s glacier law uncertain

The Supreme Court of Argentina imposed glacier protection legislation in July that effectively bans mining activity on or around glaciers or peri-glacial areas. The court decision overturned temp­­orary injunctions from Barrick that had prevented the law from being applied since it was first passed in 2010.

But until an inventory of glaciers required under the National Glacier Act is complete, it remains unclear how the new law will affect Barrick’s Pascua Lama gold-silver project and other projects under exploration and development in the Argentine Andes.

According to Barrick, the Supreme Court must still rule on the constitutionality of the act, and even if the law is ruled constitutional, construction at Pascua-Lama will not be affected. “We believe we are legally entitled to continue our current activities on the basis of existing approvals,” the company said in a statement. “The EIA for Pascua-Lama [...] determined that the project would not have any adverse impacts on glaciers.”

Armed robbers pillage Dynasty facility

Thieves made off with dore bars containing 1,300 ounces of gold and 4,000 ounces of silver from the processing plant at Dynasty Metals and Mining Inc.’s Zaruma project in southwestern Ecuador. The theft happened in the early morning of July 23, and though there were some injuries, none were fatal. The gold storage facility was damaged but is repairable. Dynasty has three operations in the region, but Zaruma is the only one currently in production. The company has insurance to cover the loss and a claim is pending.

Canada to export uranium to China

An agreement signed in late July by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Liu Tienan, head of China’s National Energy Administration, will allow Canadian uranium miners to export their products to China. The deal expands on the existing Sino-Canadian nuclear cooperation agreement, in place since 1994. The expansion is good news for Cameco, which already has long-term supply deals with two Chinese energy companies for 52 million pounds of uranium concentrate through 2025. So far, that uranium has come from Cameco’s operations in other countries, although about 89 per cent of the company’s production originates in Canada. Even as Germany moves to phase out nuclear-generated power, Chinese growth makes no question of the demand for uranium; there are more than 25 nuclear reactors under construction in the Asian state.

Antofagasta Minerals welcomes new CEO

Diego Hernandez, the former head of Codelco, joined Antofagasta Minerals as chief executive in August. Shares of the London-based copper miner rose 1.8 per cent following the announcement. Hernandez, a former BHP Billiton executive who resigned from his position at Codelco in May because of differences he had with the board of di­rectors, will lead a number of projects currently being developed by Antofagasa, starting with the Antucova copper oxide deposit. “We are delighted that Diego has accepted our invitation to lead the mining division business as its CEO,” said Antofagasta chairman Jean-Paul Luksic, who was CEO in the interim. In another development, Nelson Pizarro was appointed as an independent, non-executive director at the company. “This is a big score for Antofagasta Minerals,” said Prof. Gustavo Lagos from the Mining Center at Chile’s Universidad Catolica. “They now have the two most reputed professionals in Chilean mining.” 

U.S. Silver combines with RX Gold & Silver

Hecla Mining Company terminated its unsolicited $110 million takeover bid for U.S. Silver Corporation after U.S. Silver shareholders voted to ap­prove a merger with RX Gold & Silver in early August. The merger was set in motion in June, and Hecla had offered to buy U.S. Silver only if the merger deal did not go through. U.S. Silver shareholders will control 70 per cent of the new company, to be called U.S. Silver & Gold Inc. “The Hecla offer is simply not compelling enough for us to abandon our strategic plan going forward,” said Gordon Pridham, interim CEO of U.S. Silver. Hecla president and CEO Phillips Baker had said his company’s offer was better than the U.S. Silver Corp-RX Gold deal.

US$4 billion expansion at Cerro Verde to commence in 2013

U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Cop­­per & Gold Inc. (FCX) announced plans to start the expansion of concentrator facilities at its Cerro Verde copper operation in Peru’s Arequipa region. Once complete, the expansion will increase daily throughput capacity from 120,000 tonnes to 360,000 tonnes, and annual production to 600 million pounds of copper and 15 million pounds of molybdenum. According to Richard Adkerson, FCX CEO, an environmental impact study for the project was filed in Q4 2011 and is progressing well; permitting is being advanced and engineering and procurement of long-lead items are in progress. The US$4 billion project is slated to start in 2013 and to be completed by 2016. Adkerson said the expanded operation will be one of the world’s largest concentrator and mil­ling operations. FCX owns 53.7 per cent of Cerro Verde. The remainder is held by SMM Cerro Verde Netherlands (21 per cent), local precious metals miner Buenaventura (19.3 per cent) and various stakeholders.  

Teck’s Lindsay remains tight-fisted

Despite an apparent buyer’s market for mining stocks and delays in some of its key development projects, Teck Resources CEO Don Lindsay said the company remains cautious about bo­osting production by acquiring existing mines. “From a market value point of view, the landscape is tilted towards buy versus build,” said Lindsay during the company’s second-quarter earnings conference call.  He added, however, that there are risks that the markets have not accounted for that operators must consider. According to Lindsay, re­source nationalism, environmental liabilities, as well as labour laws and health and safety conditions are only some of the elements that are taking the shine off potential acquisition targets. “Those who are trading in the market don’t have to deal with those issues, […] but we have to live with them for a long, long time.” 

Recently, Teck saw the timelines extended for both its Quebrada Blanca copper expansion project in Chile and the reopening of its Quintette mine in British Columbia due to additional requirements from regulators. 

Teck also reported a record total copper production of 90,000 tonnes for the quarter, due in part to expanded capacity at Antamina, as well as im­proved throughput at Highland Valley and Andacollo. For metallurgical coal, the company aims to expand output from its six mines to 28 million tonnes per year, and add another three million tonnes with the re-opening of the Quintette mine near Tumbler Ridge, BC in 2014.

New Certificate in Mining Management at Ryerson

The Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University is expanding for the coming year with a six-course post-graduate Certificate in Mining Management. The new certificate is motivated by the mining industry’s urgent need for employees who have practical as well as theoretical skills, and who understand and have been exposed to real-world cases and simulations. According to Philip Walsh, academic coordinator for the program, courses will be taught by professors along with executives from the mining industry. The courses are designed to create links between science and business as well as community development and business. The three required cours­es are: CSR, Sustainability and Mining; Resource Valuation, Financing, and Investor Relations; and Corporate Strategy in the Mining Sector. Students can choose elective courses covering exploration and development operations, risk management, managerial stra­­­tegies in the mining sector, and mining in the global environment. In order to help students juggle their studies, work and family, Walsh says, they can take up to six years to complete the ­certificate.

Vancouver Island project looking for mineral potential

The Northern Vancouver Island Exploration Geoscience project is off to a flying start with a total project budget of $930,000. It will generate new geoscience data for northern Vancouver Island, near the communities of Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Alert Bay, Port Alice and Zeballos. The first data set is scheduled to be released in early 2013. Geoscience BC contributed $530,000 to the project with the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) providing the other $400,000. Stakeholder engagement in the development phase will be supported by the BC Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and In­novation. The project includes an airborne magnetic survey, conducted by Geo Data Solutions GDS Inc. this past August, and a stream sediment geotechnical sampling and ana­lysis program as well as community awareness sessions on geoscience, mineral exploration and mining. The aim of the project is to help attract mineral ex­­­­­­plo­ration interest and investment, increase the understanding of the mineral potential in the region, and provide local First Nations and com­­munities with more information on the local geology.

CN heads study for proposed Labrador Trough rail line

CN, with funding support from Cliffs Natural Resources, Labrador Iron Mines, New Millennium Iron, Cap-Ex Ventures and Alderon Iron Ore, will lead a feasibility study into the construction of a rail line and a handling facility that would provide a continuous connection between the iron ore operations in the Labrador Trough and the Port of Sept-Îles in Quebec. 

The pension fund investor Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec is also financing the study that will examine the cost and engineering demands of the project, as well as the best route. CN is now coordinating the environmental permitting requirements need­ed to set the study in motion.

Currently, the Iron Ore Company of Canada operates the southern majority of the rail line between the port and Emeril Junction near its operations around Labrador City, and it acts as a common carrier for other mining operations including Cliffs’ Bloom Lake and Wabush mines and Labrador Iron Mines’ James mine near Schefferville. The final 212 kilometres to Schefferville is serviced by the aboriginal-owned Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc.
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