If you’re a prospector contemplating the logistics of building a mine, the area northwest of Fort St. James is an attractive place to start.
Blessed with an abundance of mineral deposits, the area has a long history of productive mining projects and three of those mines – Mount Milligan, Endako and Silver Project - are still active.
NorthWest Copper of Vancouver would love to join that party and has spent the summer drilling core samples from its three mining claims – Kwanika/Stardust, Lorraine and East Niv - roughly 280 kilometres northwest of Prince George.
This year, starting in late March, NorthWest drilled 55 holes in the area and received test results from 15 of them, all from the Kwanika North site. The results have so far confirmed earlier findings which revealed high-grade copper and gold mineralization, with much of it close to the surface. One of the Kwanika samples showed .86 per cent copper in a sample of rock 87 metres thick, considered high-grade quality.
NorthWest Copper president and CEP Peter Bell is hopeful that the best is yet to come. He’s still awaiting sample testing from the Lorraine Project, 40 kilometres from Kwanika, and East Niv, further to the northwest, in the Skeena natural resource region.
“These Kwanika results, particularly K-22-234, once again display the high-grade that we have been delivering at Kwanika since last season,” said Bell. “The northern holes show that the Kwanika system continues in that direction, with long intervals of copper and gold mineralization. We have completed a tremendous amount of drilling this year and are just beginning to get our assay results to the market. Results are still to come from holes at Kwanika (including testing of the high-grade zones and Kwanika South), Stardust, East Niv and Lorraine.”
“We’ve got a lot of exploratory work that we’ve done but we’ve only received a tiny bit of it back. That’s one of the unfortunate things about B.C. being very active right now for exploration. There are a lot of companies trying to get results back from the labs that test the samples on our behalf and that taken a lot longer than we want it to and that’s frustrating.”
NorthWest is still awaiting test results from Kwanika/Stardust South, first discovered by Serengeti Resources in 2006, and the Lorraine Project, 40 km north of Kwanika. The 56,000-hectare Lorraine site was most recently explored by Teck Resources in 2009 and historic drilling samples date from 1949. Similar to test results from Kwanika/Stardust, mineralization in the Lorraine sample results obtained in late June contained roughly two-thirds copper and one-third gold, in deposits close to the surface.
“Kwanika has some very high grades for B.C. and we continue to drill more of them,” said Bell. “We think of Lorraine in terms of potentially combining it with Kwanika and Stardust and because of that we can actually make something of a deposit that might have been too small for Teck as a standalone project. They did a bunch of (exploratory) work on it but they were really focused on trying to hit home runs. We can do well by hitting some singles and doubles on it and adding it into our other two projects.”
If quantities are sufficient, NorthWest would then have to attract enough investment to start mining and build a single grinding mill to extract the two metals. Unlike northwestern B.C., which has much more rugged terrain and is more isolated, the area NorthWest is targeting is already well-served with infrastructure, close to the CN Rail line, with logging road access and BC Hydro lines nearby. There’s also a well-trained workforce in the area, including journeymen tradespeople with experience working on mine sites. Having one mine to serve the three projects would also limit the environmental footprint and increase the mine’s sustainability.
The company also owns the rights to East Niv, a new copper-gold discovery in 2021. It lies in the same corridor, northwest of Lorraine, near the Kemess Underground Project being developed by Centerra Gold. NorthWest has drilled 18 holes at East Niv. Early samples were not as promising as the company’s other two sites.
Spot prices for copper prices are hovering around $3.45 US per pound, after peaking at $4.90 US on March 4. The prices have rebounded since the start of the pandemic on March 30, 2019, when the copper dropped to $2.19 US per pound.
“The spot price is lower than it was a year ago and that’s partly due to the strength of the U.S. dollar and fears about slowdowns in China,” said Bell. “The long-term four- or five-year price, though, is actually higher than it was a year ago, which I think really reflects people’s more long-term belief in the need for copper as we try to build a transportation network that’s more electrical and less fossil fuel.”
Before the end of the year, NorthWest plans to release an economic study that’s focused on Kwanika/Stardust. The Lorraine test results will be added later to that report.
“We want to keep exploring and all our projects we think are prospective, but the place we’re most excited about is Lorraine," said Bell. "So we’ll put more emphasis on Loraine in 2023 than we did in 2022. Some of the area we can access by road and some of it will be by helicopter later in the season.”