Higher metals prices made exploration much more lucrative this year. Drill rigs could be heard throbbing from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.
Mexico was especially busy, with a horde of juniors staking claims and carrying out exploration, while some of the more established projects such as MINEFINDERS’ Dolores and GAMMON LAKE’s Ocampo, both gold-silver plays, made real progress towards becoming operating mines. The Dolores feasibility study is evaluating open pit mining using standard heap-leach and flotation recovery processes, with throughput of 15,000 to 18,000 t/d over a 12- to 15-year mine life. The measured and indicated resources stand at 101 million tonnes grading 1.34 g/t Au-equivalent, containing 2.65 million oz of gold and 128 million oz of silver. The inferred resource is put at 28 million tonnes (all at a 0.3-g/t cut-off), containing 670,000 oz of gold and 24.5 million oz of silver.
After years of drilling, Gammon Lake published a bankable feasibility study for Ocampo in November. The study estimates proven and probable open pitable reserves of 1.43 million oz of gold-equivalent, plus 833,000 oz of gold-equivalent in the underground area. Average annual production is predicted at 270,000 oz of gold-equivalent at a cash cost of US$152/oz. Mine production is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2006.
Explorers also dug up a few nuggets down in Argentina.
In December, Vancouver-based IMA EXPLORATION reported a 29% increase in indicated resources at Navidad in southern Argentina. Navidad’s total resource now stands at 80.8 million tonnes of 103 g/t Ag and 1.45% Pb, for 268.5 million oz of silver and 1.18 million tonnes of lead in the indicated category and 15.7 million tonnes of 78 g/t Ag and 0.45% Pb, for 39.3 million oz of silver and 70,500 tonnes of lead in the inferred category. There are also traces of copper and zinc. Navidad encompasses the Navidad Hill and Galena Hill deposits.
In October, Toronto-based AQUILINE RESOURCES released a scoping study for Calcatreu, also in southern Argentina. Mining would be carried out as a series of open pits at a rate of 2,000 t/d for capital costs of US$43.5 million. The project has an estimated mine life of seven years, with production of 97,000 oz/year of gold and 580,000 oz/year of silver at average cash costs of US$191/oz Au over the first four years.
Peru remained a favourite hunting ground for explorers. Progress was made on several projects this year, such as Caariaco, where Canadian junior CANDENTE RESOURCE drilled seven holes, which averaged 0.7% copper over a 151-metre width, all bottoming in mineralization. Twelve more holes were drilled in follow-up work, and an independent resource estimate is expected in January.
Also in Peru, London-based MONTERRICO METALS advanced with its Ro Blanco copper project. The property has an indicated and inferred resource of 177 million tonnes grading 0.99% Cu, but a new estimate is due early in 2005. More drilling is also underway.
(Next week in Part Three, New Projects)