NorthWest Copper is exploring two additional mining operations in the area near Takla Landing
Demand for copper continues to grow as the world tries to wean itself off its dependence on fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources of electricity.
This global outflow of copper supplies and a sharp rise in market prices peaked the interest of a Vancouver mining company exploring the Central Interior region, where core samples revealed rich deposits of copper and gold.
A mineral resource estimate update released this week for the 56,000-hectare Lorraine project, 280 kilometers northwest of Prince George, is encouraging news for NorthWest Copper Corp., which has identified two additional areas or copper-gold deposits in the same area.
Based on historical drill samples obtained between 1949-2009, the Lorraine project revealed significant mineralization in shallow surface deposits 50 km northeast of Takla Landing. NorthWest plans to expand its drilling operations this summer to see if it is possible to combine Lorraine with its other operations, 40 km to the south, to build a permanent mine.
“It’s a project that’s been around for a long time, but it’s very close to our Kwanika-Stardust project, so the proximity of all these things together makes them more interesting,” said company president and CEO Peter Bell.
“When you build a mine, you need a combination of wealth, the amount of metal is in each ton of rock, and the more you make per ton, the more profitable the operation. But it has to be a certain size to pay to build it, you need that combination.
“In this case, because we have these other projects in our portfolio, we have enough scale to make it viable. And since the rock is very rich, once you get the operation going, it’s likely to be profitable.”
If it leads to a mining project, its development costs would be in the range of $500-600 million. The construction and operating costs of the mine would create hundreds of jobs in the region for many years. As a job creator, Bell said it would be similar in scale to Mount Milligan. As with any mining operation, the company would first have to have First Nations and provincial approval and then raise money to develop it, which he said would take years.
The Lorraine mineral deposit is roughly two-thirds copper and one-third gold. As the deposits are close to the surface, mining costs would be minimized and this increases development potential. The area is also close to the CN rail line and provides access to BC Hydro lines.
Another plus is that existing mines in the vicinity, such as Mount Milligan, already employ a skilled workforce, which could help speed up the development of the project. NorthWest Copper already has nearly 100 drillers, surveyors and geologists who started drilling at Kwanice on March 25.
The company is in the development stage of another exploration project – East Niv – a new copper and gold discovery in 2021 in the same corridor further to the northwest. East Niv is located near the Kemess underground project, which is being developed by Centerra Gold.
The global need for copper continues to grow as consumers switch to renewable sources such as electric vehicles, and green energy development depends on mining to create the materials needed to generate, transmit and store electricity.
The policy scenario of the UN forecast predicts a substantial increase in electricity generation from renewable sources – hydro, wind and solar – which will also increase demand for copper. Renewables are expected to become the largest global source of energy, providing 73 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, up from 25 percent in 2020.
“This is a special time in the mining industry and copper is kind of at the heart of the electrification of the entire energy economy in the world,” Bell said. “If we’re going to plug in all these electric cars and all these things to reduce our use of fossil fuels, we need a lot of copper to do that, and BC is a great place to develop the project.”
“We’re in Canada, we’re in our own backyard. There’s a lot of good infrastructure and mining history and we’ve got a lot of hydropower, which is a great way to drive traffic.”
Chile and Peru are the two largest copper producers, but political unrest in both countries is putting pressure on miners. BC produces 54 percent of Canada’s copper and has more than 80 percent of the country’s copper reserves.
Copper market prices rose from $2.80 per pound in 2020 to $3.42 today, while the price of gold is about $2,218 per ounce.
Drilling at the Lorraine project will begin later this summer after the company upgrades a deactivated forest service road and creates a worker camp. NorthWest plans to spend $20 million this year to further explore the region.
The company, formerly known as Serengeti Resources Inc., merged with Sun Metals Corp. in March 2021. and became NorthWest Copper. Serengeti has been exploring the region since 2004. The merger combined Kwanika and Stardust into one project.
“The new value of NorthWest is that we’re bringing a lot of projects together and achieving more scale than we had when things were all in separate hands,” Bell said.
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