ECUADOR Vancouver's CORRIENTE RESOURCES expects to complete a bankable feasibility study for its Mirador copper-gold project in southeastern Ecuador in July, said company senior VP Dan Carriere.
"We are pleased with how feasibility is going and we don't expect any hiccups," said Carriere.
Construction of an open pit mine could begin by the end of the year following the closure of off-take, or forward selling, followed by deals with smelting companies and financing agreements with banks in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. The 20,000-tonnes/day operation is expected to take a maximum of two years to build with production start-up in the cards at the end of 2006. The company is "confident" that estimated capital costs of US$140 million are accurate, Carriere said.
Corriente plans to start off with a modest, low-capital mine at Mirador and gradually expand using cash flow into a large-scale operation that involves developing the so-called Corriente copper belt, including the company's San Carlos and Panantza deposits.
Recent infill drilling on a resource area of 97 million tonnes grading 0.76% Cu and 0.22 g/t Au identified a high-grade starter pit to kick off the first two or three years of the operation, according to Carriere. In year three, the company envisages adding more crushers to increase capacity to 40,000 tonnes/day. In year five or six, San Carlos and Panantza, about 35 km north of Mirador, could be brought into production, requiring the construction of a second plant. The area contains six other porphyry copper targets and could eventually support a 100,000-tonnes/day operation, according to Carriere.
"One thing is for sure. There is no end to the growth potential of this district," he said. The Corriente copper belt has a current geological resource of 560 million tonnes at a grade of 0.81% Cu plus gold and molybdenum credits, based on exploration at Mirador, San Carlos and Panantza.
A 27-hole feasibility drill program has recently been completed, and the mining engineering firm AMEC is expected to finish a new resource calculation for Mirador in June.
A drill rig will continue step-out exploration this year, first at Mirador Norte where a couple of holes last year intersected more than 1% Cu in a supergene chalcocite blanket, and then move to new targets in the Panantza-San Carlos area, Carriere said.
Metallurgical studies completed in the first quarter point toward a simple two-stage grinding circuit followed by standard copper flotation with total copper recovery of 90%. Concentrates are predicted to average 30% Cu.
Work on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) is continuing with fieldwork and meetings between Corriente and Ecuadorian regulators, including community consultation meetings, social impact assessments and an archeological study of the area.
If our readers cannot take time to visit Ecuador this week, they should enjoy the excellent picture gallery at www.corriente.com.