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The Drift: Sudbury nickel, copper explorers making strides to turn projects into mines

Magna Mining, SPC Nickel bring new ideas in finding new mineral zones around old mines

The Drift is an ongoing editorial series by Northern Ontario Business about the people, companies, technologies, and innovation that encompass the mining industry in northeastern Ontario.

Two Sudbury junior miners are laying the groundwork for the next generation of nickel, copper and platinum group metal mines in the basin.

Magna Mining is tapping the width and depth of a mineralized zone near the surface of its Crean Hill Project that could speed a former mine back into production.

The hometown junior miner sees open-ended potential in a footwall zone at the former Crean Hill Mine. The zone was originally discovered 15 years ago but never mined by a previous operator. 

Magna is drilling into the 109 Footwall Zone to better understanding of it. The company believes the footwall zones at Crean Hill could be mined in the short to medium term. 

In the last few months, Magna has been metering out assay results from a short hole drilling program where it’s been seeing high-grade intercepts of nickel, copper and platinum group metals near the surface at its Crean Hill property, located on the southwest end of the Sudbury basin.

Crean Hill Mine, an ex-Inco underground operation near Whitefish, was closed in 2002 after 80 years in operation. Magna acquired the property from Lonmin Canada late last year and started some drilling programs in locations around the mine thought to contain unmined resources.

A  drill rig was brought this spring to better define this footwall and determine if mineralization comes to surface and figure out where high grade veins run in this area. The company plans to take a surface bulk sample later this year.

“We are expecting to complete this bulk sample before the end of this year in advance of a possible underground advanced exploration program in early 2024,” said Magna CEO Jason Jessup in a statement.

Despite the challenges experienced by many junior mining outfits in raising exploration dollars, Magna said the $18 million raised earlier this year should last them for the balance of this year “and beyond.”

Magna has a second property, Shakespeare, 45 kilometres west of Sudbury where the company would like to restart an open-pit nickel mine that briefly operated between 2010 and 2012.

Just to the east of Crean Hill, SPC Nickel president-CEO Grant Mourre is proclaiming a recent drilling program at its West Graham Project a “resounding success.” 

Last January, his company signed an option agreement with Vale in January to pick up the Crean Hill 3 property and join it with neighbouring West Graham to get a better geological picture of the whole area. They want to prove out a thesis that there is one contiguous near-surface deposit running across the property line. 

Mourre said 5,000 metres of drilling has confirmed that a mineralized zone does extend across the boundary onto the Crean Hill 3 property. They’ve discovered wide zones of nickel and copper mineralization at grades equal to or better than the grade that they're finding out their West Graham property.

The two side-by-side properties sit 20 kilometres west of the city, between the Totten and Creighton mines. The two projects are part of SPC's Lockerby East Project, which includes the former Lockerby nickel mine, shuttered in 2015.

Both West Graham and Crean Hill 3 have historic mineral estimates with millions of tonnes of nickel and copper.

SPC said the program did its job of confirming the presence of mineralization but they also outlined new footwall-style areas with “higher-than-expected” grades.

The company expects to turn out a mineral resource estimate by year’s end as they move on to the next round of drilling.

“We are excited to start our Phase 2 drill program where we will be completing wide-spaced drilling to further define and confirm the extents of the mineralized zone," said Mourre, “while remaining focused on working towards delivering a combined mineral resource estimate at the West Graham Project by the end of 2023.”

SPC Nickel is out to raise $3 million through a common share and flow-through share offering to advance exploration at West Graham and its Muskox nickel-copper-platinum group metals project in Nunavut.

About 100 kilometres east of Sudbury, field activity has dropped off at New Age Metals’ River Valley Palladium Project, long claimed to be one of North America’s largest undeveloped platinum group metals projects.

The current focus of New Age Metals seems to be on chasing lithium and expanding its claims footprint in southeastern Manitoba. New Age recently pocketed a $300,000 grant from the Manitoba Mineral Development Fund to help with its exploration expenses.

At River Valley, the company said it’s been combing through drill core from 2021 in running a geochemistry study to look for rhodium and determine if it’s of sufficient quantity to become a payable metal at some point.

Rhodium was mentioned in the last mineral resource estimate for River Valley that was in 2021.

It's the rarest and most valuable metal in the platinum group metals family. It’s used mainly in catalytic converters which clean vehicle emissions. The majority of rhodium found in the world is in South Africa where it's a byproduct of platinum mining. 

Recent spot prices for rhodium, the company said, ran as high as US$7,950 per once, five times higher than palladium, seven times higher than platinum.

The core samples are also being assayed for gold, iridium, palladium, platinum and ruthenium.

Four years ago, New Age posted a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) of River Valley outlining a district-scale series of open-pit mines and processing complex with a 14-year mine life.

They’ve since reassessed the project, taking into account inflation and various other uncertainties, and aren’t proceeding immediately to a next-stage prefeasiblity study.

Instead, they’ll issue a new PEA sometime this summer with a reworked mine plan, timetable and processing method. The operation, the company said, will be smaller with a reduced environmental footprint.

On the precious metal side, a low-key exploration player in the Sudbury camp has picked up a historic gold mine in Falconbridge Township in the city’s northeast corner.

Burlington-based CBLT Inc. announced June 5 that it has purchased the Falcon Gold property, which is next to its Copper Prince property. They're out to explore for gold, copper and cobalt this summer on this larger land package.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed in a news release.

The property contains the former Falcon Gold Mine that comes with a historic gold resource estimate. 

The company said the property sits within the Huronian Gold Belt, a zone of past gold mines that extends from northeast of the Sudbury Basin south to Espanola, a distance of 120 kilometres.

In touching on the property’s history, CBLT said exploration at Falcon has been carried out intermittently since gold was found by prospectors in 1900. Over the years, about 28,000 feet of diamond drilling was done at Falcon, but CBLT said some exploration went unrecorded. They also could not find any production records from the Falcon gold mine.

Falconbridge reportedly ran a 15,000-metre drill program at Falcon in 1988 and outlined a deposit of 59,400 tons, grading 0.226 ounces of gold per ton, traced down to a depth of 600 feet.

CBLT said it will run a summer work program at Falcon and Copper Prince of mapping and sampling. Down the road, they intend to prove up a larger gold resource.

"There are many overlooked wonderful properties like Falcon in safe jurisdictions," said CLBT CEO Peter Clausi in a news release. "We are grateful to have the opportunity to marry Copper Prince with Falcon along the Garson Fault for future exploration."