Skip to content

Junior miner sets sights on ore production

By IAN ROSS An open pit nickel and copper deposit near Sudbury could be brought into production by year’s end.


An open pit nickel and copper deposit near Sudbury could be brought into production by year’s end.

Management at Ursa Major Minerals is talking this winter with the new owners of Falconbridge and Xstrata Nickel in pursuing a two-track plan to bring their Shakespeare nickel-copper project to fruition.

After much digging, URSA Major Minerals is talking with Xstrata on shipping its Shakespeare ore to Sudbury for processing.
Shakespeare is Ursa’s lead project among their stable of exploration properties to the west and north of the Sudbury Basin. The property is situated 70 kilometres west of the city on the shores of Agnew Lake and north of Espanola.

When the 250-metre-deep two-pit operation becomes a reality, it will be a huge economic boost for the hard-hit forestry communities along Lake Huron’s North Shore in creating approximately 150 jobs and more than double that number in spinoff employment.

Since their discovery hole was first drilled in 2002, it’s been full steam ahead for the Toronto junior miner despite last summer’s departure of joint venture partner, North American Palladium, which bowed out of an option agreement.
Fortunately, another plan emerged from the ashes of last year’s failed Inco-Falconbridge merger, says Richard Sutcliffe, company president and CEO.

Because of Xstrata Nickel’s  “heightened appetite” for other feed sources for its Strathcona processing mill near Sudbury, Shakespeare suddenly fits into the mining giant’s strategy.

In early December, Sutcliffe was finalizing plans to ship a 50,000 tonne bulk sample to Strathcona. The Onaping facility processes nickel-copper concentrate for their Sudbury smelter.
The mineralized rock will be put through a rigorous mining and milling process to test the sample’s metallurgical characteristics on a production scale level.

A feasibility study indicates Shakespeare has a seven-year mine life based on a probable reserve of 11.2 million tonnes grading 0.33 per cent nickel, 0.35 per cent copper with platinum group elements and gold. The reserve is based on an indicated resource of 12.4 million tonnes within the proposed pit shell.

Sutcliffe says long-term smelter contracts with Xstrata “are on the table” and depending on the outcome of talks, Shakespeare could be fast-tracked into commercial production by year’s end or possibly delayed until 2008.

As a fall-back option, Ursa has plans to build their own 4,500-tonne per day concentrator at the Shakespeare site which would push back production and boost the project’s price tag from $20 million to $118 million.

Now in the permitting stage, Sutcliffe says after meeting with all the regulatory agencies, he wasn’t anticipating any significant issues  to arise and expects approvals to be in place by March or April.

It would be a landmark step toward a mid-year construction start.

On the logistics side, the company is mulling over their options of whether to haul ore to the Strathcona mill by either truck or train.

The latter would likely involve building a rail link to connect with the Huron Central Railway, a short line carrier running between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

The contractor selection process will begin this winter with the hiring of the workforce beginning after the permitting stage is cleared. Sutcliffe says his company has gone to great lengths to minimize the environmental impact. The pit operation is set back a kilometre from Agnew Lake and a co-disposal waste management plant for waste rock and mill tailings is in the works.

Ursa is doing other exploration work on another nearby property. Sutcliffe says they are looking for a partner to develop their Agnew Lake Uranium property.

The former Kerr Addison mine site operated between 1977 and early 1983 and produced 855,000 kilograms of uranium from 2.8 million tonnes of ore. 

After drilling into the uranium-bearing sedimentary rocks, Ursa intersected two major mineralized zones with significant rare earth minerals.

Further north on their Shining Tree property, 110 kilometres from Sudbury, Ursa was awaiting assay results from an advanced diamond drilling program of a high grade nickel-copper-zinc deposit.

With the project now undergoing a scoping study to provide a preliminary technical analysis, Sutcliffe says there are future plans to develop an open pit there.

Closer to the Sudbury mining camp, Ursa picked up an option on a nickel-copper exploration property known as the Worthington Offset Dike. Located on the western edge of the Sudbury Basin, Ursa’s option covers a 1.2-kilometre portion of strike length along the 12-kilometre dike extending out from the Sudbury Igneous Complex.

Sutcliffe likes Worthington’s potential especially with several nickel-copper mines and deposits nearby, including CVRD-Inco’s Totten Extension deposit about six kilometres away.

CVRD-Inco has big plans to put the former mine back into production by 2010. Sutcliffe calls Worthington an “ideal project” with the opportunity for a “very rich and valuable discovery.” Under the agreement, the company is required to complete a $500,000 exploration within two years.