There’s nickel in those hills.
At least according to Brian Butterworth of Cliffs Natural Resources, there is enough nickel in a deposit in the Trembleur Lake area to warrant further investigation.
For the past two years, a drilling program in the area, in what is called the Decar Nickel Project, has resulted in increased interest from Cliffs, a Cleveland, Ohio based company with mines operating in Michigan, Minnesota, Quebec, Australia and Brazil.
Within the last couple of years, the company has been making large investments in Canadian mining, purchasing a company in Quebec and two in Ontario to gain interest in a chromite deposit in the region.
Cliffs has also entered into an agreement with First Point Minerals, which has been doing exploration in the Fort St. James area for a number of years, and through Cliffs’ funding of a drilling program to further examine the nickel deposit near Trembleur Lake, has earned a 51 per cent stake in the project.
“We thought the project had some potential,” said Butterworth, who also said the drill program results so far are encouraging enough to continue moving forward and further drilling will be taking place to complete what is called a “scoping study” which is a preliminary economic assessment of the project, looking at the characteristics of the deposit and helps provide a picture of the capital cost requirements for mining the deposit.
From what has been found so far, the nickel deposit has some very positive aspects which make it more attractive for extraction.
For one thing, the mineral ore body is relatively close to the surface, which would make open pit extraction of the low-grade ore less costly. The mineral is also present in a form more environmentally friendly to extract.
A nickel-iron compound called aweurite present in the rock does not have the sulphur associated with many mineral deposits, and it is the sulphur which normally results in acid-rock drainage from the oxidation of the rook once it is exposed to the surface air.
With aweurite, however, the nickel-iron compound can be separated from the raw ore using the magnetic compounds of the mineral and gravity and the waste rock is inert. In many mining operations, chemical processes are used to separate the concentrate out from the waste rock and the waste rock must be contained because it causes acid-rock drainage and can impact any water in the area.
This would not be the case with the mineralization being looked at on this project.
Baseline environmental studies will also be taking place and monitoring of rivers and creeks in the area.
The scoping study, if completed by February of 2013, will then earn Cliffs a 60 per cent interest in the project.
“We’re well underway,” said Butterworth. “This is beyond exploration, it’s deposit definition.”
He and two consultants working with Cliffs, Laureen Whyte and Denise A. Lockett, visited the area to meet with business and community leaders last week to start building local relationships.
The scoping study drilling is all fully permitted and ready to go, and the company is working with Tl’azt’en Nation as well to develop an agreement or memorandum of understanding on the work the company is doing and Tl’azt’en’s role in it.
“If it went as smoothly as possible … we should be through a scoping study by the end of the year,” said Butterworth.
If the results of the scoping study are positive, a pre-feasability study would be the next step, followed by a feasibility study which is the final step necessary before obtaining financing for project development.
While still too soon to know whether or not the project would go ahead depending on commodity prices, development costs, etc., construction could then take place in five to six and a half years.
The group also has been meeting with College of New Caledonia administration to discuss training requirements for workers, with Ann McCormick at a recent council meeting with the group from Cliffs. McCormick said the college will be offering relevant programs starting this spring for driller’s helpers and professional cooks, both of which the project will be requiring this year.
The group also said should the results indicate they can move forward, they will also be looking at other community groups to work with as part of being “good corporate citizens.”