Over the course of mining the Athabasca oil sands for 35 years, Suncor has accumulated large amounts of tailings. But are the tails worthless? Birch Mountain Resources thinks not. The two companies have signed an agreement giving Birch Mountain the right to recover precious metals from froth treatment tailings.
Birch Mountain has five years, at its expense, to develop a process by which the precious metals can be recovered. The Alberta Chamber of Resources noted the presence of minute gold, platinum and palladium particles in Cretaceous age sandstone from Athabasca, in a 1996 study. Birch Mountain has developed and applied for patents on a process to extract and recover metal nanoparticles from such material. The best possible outcome would be the creation of a commercial precious metals plant using oil sands tailings as feed. If such a plant goes into commercial production, Birch Mountain will receive 85% of the net production revenue (NPR) until it recovers its capital costs; then the NPR would be shared equally by the two companies.
Suncor and Birch Mountain have signed a second agreement covering limestone reserves owned by Birch Mountain. Suncor will pay $250,000 for up to 500,000 tonnes annually excavated from Birch Mountain's leases within the area of Suncor's Steepbank and Millennium mines. Certain operational constraints will be applied. Birch Mountain is preparing an environmental impact assessment for the proposed quarry.
Birch Mountain trades on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol BMD. More information on nanoparticles can be found at www.birchmountain.com