If there's one piece of advice Tom Morris can give to mineral exploration companies, it's let nature tell the story.
After more than 35 years in prospecting, exploration and mining, the president of Northern Superior Resources brought a message to the Sudbury Prospectors and Developers Association. Pay close attention to the findings, even if they aren't what they are looking for, to determine what kind of resources are really in the ground.
Morris spoke on Jan. 20 about what he learned from two properties: TPK in the Far North, near the Ring Fire, and Croteau Est in Quebec. Very different locations, infrastructure needs, and histories. Both are showing great promise as potential gold mines.
“Our techniques are unique,” he said. “As quaternary geologist, I'm the guy that deals with the overburden, or dirt. We explore from that level down to the rock. With dirt being a product of the weathering of rock, I study the properties and how it ties into rock in the area that has the potential for mineralization.”
In a general description, he said what they do is take overburden samples and look for signatures and samples of everything, from minerals to precious metals to base metals. The goal is to track the source of where those indicators are, whether they be geochemical, or a heavy mineral source.
He said the country is fortunate to have generated some very detailed surveys and information to build databases.
Both the company's properties have similar mineral signatures, but due to several circumstances, like distance and the markets, they were explored differently.
Originally the TPK area was explored for diamonds when the company was Northern Superior Diamonds. But the findings in overburden samples showed high indications of gold.
When Morris took over the company, he remembered those findings.
The company was lucky enough to raise a “significant” amount of money in the spring of 2017 and spend around $900,000 of it in exploration, setting the stage for targets he hopes to drill off later this year.
Because of the remote location, they had to build a lot of infrastructure, including a winter road, and set up a year-round camp to lower costs.
All of this was expensive. But Morris said what they are finding in the samples is making it worth the risk.
“I'm not promoting, I let the geology do the talking. To have stumbled across something like this is to me is what exploration is all about. The excitement of discovery.”
TPK is only 50 kilometres west of the Ring of Fire. Even though it is not a chromite project, Northern Superior will benefit from the infrastructure associated with its development. The property is also 150 kilometres east of Goldcorp's Musselwhite Mine, where there are processing opportunities.
There is also a road connecting them to Pickle Lake.
On the display at the event were core samples from Croteau Est, showing significant gold deposits and veins.
One of its unique aspects, he said, is that it's free gold, meaning it's not locked up in sulfides, thus making it easier to smelt.
The northern half of Ontario and Quebec, Morris said, still contains an abundance of mineral wealth.
“A lot of that wealth is buried in dirt, if you know how to look for that stuff, you can make some great discoveries through it,” he said.
Croteau Est sits in one of the most active exploration and mining camps in the world, comprising Val-d'Or, Timmins and Rouyn-Noranda.
The area is serviced by a hydro grid, railroad, and an airport, as well as permanent roads and three communities with services. It also has a permitted mill that is idled, but Morris said it might come back into operation soon under new ownership.
"It's a great place to work. The First Nations are easy to work with, largely because they've had 30 years (working) with Quebec Hydro. It took me one lunch in Montreal, and half a day with their lawyers in the community, that was it,” he said.
“Ontario is $200,000, eight months of negotiation, and I have to go back every three years to talk to them.”
In his decades in the exploration industry, Morris explained he's learned to let the environment tell them what resources are, and where they can be found in the greatest concentrations.
“As nature dictates, we have to apply the appropriate techniques,” he said. “We always start in the overburden and how we get to the mineralization varies from environment to environment.”
The company gained notoriety in 2013 when they sued the Ontario government for failing to protect its interests in a gold exploration play in northwestern Ontario.
Northern Superior was forced to abandon its claims after a series of disputes with Sachigo Lake First Nation. The First Nation evicted them from the area.
A hearing on the $25-million lawsuit is in late February. Morris said they'll see where it goes.
Morris explained the company had a good working relationship with the community up until the First Nation demanded a 24 per cent, or $2.4 million, of their $10-million exploration budget as an "administration fee."
The company claims the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult and engage the First Nation.
The company lost the first round in an Ontario Superior Court in 2016. No new evidence will be entered when the case goes before a three-judge panel.
Despite all this, Morris isn't blaming the First Nation. They have a steep learning curve during negotiations of knowing the difference between exploration and mining activities.
"I like to use the analogy of mining being like the stoic man sitting comfortably in his chair, having a glass with his dinner, dealing with a known commodity. Exploration is like a herd of squirrels on crack cocaine being set loose in a peanut butter factory,” he said.
“We are all over the place dealing with First Nation issues, raising money, keeping shareholders happy, dealing with rules and regulations. There is zero certainty and high risk.”