CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – Following the release of the maiden mineral resource for Orion Minerals’ Prieska zinc/copper project, in the Northern Cape, the company will target the completion of a bankable feasibility study (BFS) on the project by October.
Speaking to Mining Weekly Online on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, on Tuesday, CEO Errol Smart said Orion would continue regional exploration with the objective of finding and identifying satellite deposits that may come into the picture in the longer term as satellite operations.
“We know the hen is there and that it is a big fat hen and she is healthy and she laid eggs,” he quipped, noting that Orion would re-evaluate the deposits that have already been discovered.
The Prieska zinc/copper deposit, in the Northern Cape, is considered to be one of the world’s top 30 volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits and has now been classified as a giant deposit.
Smart added that Orion had determined several additional targets not picked up before, that could rank extremely high on the basis of the technology the company has.
Smart reiterated that the maiden mineral resource of 24.2-million tonnes, containing 873 655 t of zinc and 297 129 t of copper, also demonstrates the value of modern exploration techniques and methodology applied to high-quality, underexplored deposits.
“As we intensify our regional exploration, having recently completed a regional airborne electromagnetic survey, we are confident of success in making further major discoveries in the Areachap belt,” he said.
“Orion will, therefore, continue to drill out the resource and hopes, within the next two to three months, to bring out another resource upgrade,” Smart said, noting that the Joint Ore Reserves Committee- (Jorc-) compliant resource will be upgraded in late March or early April and will be converted to a reserves statement in the months following that.
Five rigs will continue to drill on the property, while Orion is awaiting the assay results of several intersections being analysed in the laboratories.
Meanwhile, Orion will lodge the mining right application for the Prieska project under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act within the next month.
The project is likely to be split into an openpit and an underground operation, with the openpit to produce ore while the underground operations are dewatered and re-established.
First production at Prieska is expected in 2020, with underground mining envisaged to start in 2022.
The baseline project envisages the mine producing about 100 000 t/m. This rate of production would translate into 35 000 t/y to 45 000 t/y of copper concentrate and 80 000 t/y to 110 000 t/y of zinc concentrate.
In parallel, Orion is actively working on its Jacomynspan nickel project, also located in Areachap belt near Putsonderwater in the Northern Cape. The company’s objective is to publish a Jorc-compliant resource to state the resource at higher cutoff grades to demonstrate the interesting grades from an economic perspective and to highlight that these grades warrant further attention, Smart said.
However, Orion’s focus would remain on volcanogenics, which Smart said remain in a league of their own by global standards.
“We have proven the success of using the technology at Prieska [and] there is a whole new context of these deposits,” Smart said, noting that technology, such as high-powered and downhole electromagnetics, as well as high-resolution magnetics can be deployed for regional exploration.
Orion will start to use high-resolution gravity mapping, while for the next two weeks, the world’s leading VMS and intrusive nickel cobalt specialist will analyse and rank Orion’s targets.
Orion currently has about nine high-priority nickel/copper/cobalt/platinum targets and 19 high-priority VMS targets.
While Orion is pursuing its regional exploration strategies, there is also increasing investment, particularly in exploration by institutional investors and major mining houses in the Northern Cape.
With the changing political climate in South Africa, Smart said there was now hope that greenfield and brownfield projects can be advanced.
“There is no exploration in South Africa whereas elsewhere in the world a belt, such as the Areachap belt would typically have 10 or 11 companies intensely exploring and working, each spending $10-million a year,” he pointed out.
Further, a regulatory environment that is positive, certain and not destructive in value would be required and from that one would see an explosion of exploration in South Africa, he noted.
He lamented that the uncertainty surrounding the latest iteration of the Mining Charter was value destructive for South Africa.
“At a time when, in the rest of the world exploration and growth in the minerals industry has exploded, South Africa has imploded to the point that there is none.
“Companies only drill on existing and surrounding orebodies; [they] don’t go out to discover new bodies. There are really good opportunities to discover new orebodies and Namaqualand and the Northern Cape is full of opportunity,” Smart stressed.