During his 30 years as a field geologist, Kenneth Lapierre worked on grassroots exploration projects across North and South America and as an underground production geologist in precious and base-metal mines in Canada. His work over those decades convinced him that the best way to find orebodies was to look for them in world-class mining camps, or in what he describes as “areas of de-risked opportunities.”
The mining district he felt was the most prolific was the Flin Flon–Snow Lake greenstone belt, where over the last 80 years prospectors and geologists have found 89 deposits and mining companies have built 29 mines. “I was aware of its incredible copper endowment and was looking for a way to work there,” he says.
In 2005, Lapierre created Rockcliff Resources (TSXV: RCR; US-OTC: RKLFF), which went public in 2006, and got its first big break in 2007, when Hudbay Minerals (TSX: HBM; NYSE: HBM) optioned two properties to the junior called Rail and Freebeth.
Rockcliff went on later that year to stake the Squall and Tramping properties, 6 km from Hudbay’s Lalor mine, and in 2008 staked the Lon property. Since then it has acquired the Tower project (commonly referred to as T1), which it is advancing with joint-venture partner Pure Nickel (TSX: NIC; US-OTC: PNCKF). Rockcliff completed its 100% earn-in on Hudbay’s Rail property in 2011 and defined a National Instrument 43-101 compliant resource that is open in all directions, with 822,000 indicated tonnes of 3.04% copper, 0.9% zinc, 9.25 grams silver per tonne and 0.66 gram gold per tonne.
Earlier this month Rockcliff signed another option agreement with Hudbay to earn a 51% interest in the high-grade Talbot deposit, 35 km west of its T1 deposit. Hudbay identified the Talbot deposit in 2003, and according to Lapierre has spent $6 million since then to delineate a non-compliant or historic resource of 1.43 million tonnes grading 3.4% copper, 2.9% zinc, 54.4 grams silver and 1.9 grams gold.
The acquisitions have added up to a resource that combines compliant and historic, since Lapierre first set his sights on the Flin Flon–Snow Lake camp nine years ago.
“If you take all our deposits in the camp — T1, Talbot, Rail and Lon — the combined tonnage in all categories would be 4.84 million tonnes grading 3.03% copper for more than 320 million lb. copper, 1 gram gold per tonne for more than 170,000 oz. gold, 1.8% zinc for more than 190 million lb. zinc and 26.2 grams silver per tonne for more than 4.9 million oz. silver,” he says. “Not bad for a company that started out life in 2006 with a dream of becoming a mine finder in a world-class volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) belt.”
Lapierre is most excited about the agreement Rockcliff signed on April 23 with Hudbay for the Talbot deposit. “I actually approached Hudbay about Talbot four years ago, but they said no,” Lapierre recalls. “It made good sense for us because it’s just 35 km from our T1 deposit, and both copper deposits are high grade.”
Rockcliff’s T1 deposit has a compliant indicated resource of 1.08 million tonnes grading 3.7% copper, 1.1% zinc, 17.3 grams silver and 0.6 gram gold, and inferred resources of 1.25 million tonnes grading 2% copper, 1% zinc, 9.8 grams silver and 0.3 gram gold.
Talbot and T1 are close to infrastructure. The T1 deposit is 100 metres west of Highway 6, which leads to Thompson, a couple hundred kilometres north. Both properties are 150 km from Snow Lake. Talbot is accessed by Highway 10 and a series of logging roads from Flin Flon. The logging roads can also be taken southeast from Talbot to within 15 km of the T1 deposit. And active power lines run 100 metres east of the highway near T1.
“These two deposits really do have the potential to become game changers for us,” Lapierre says. “For us to have Talbot so close to T1 really gives us critical mass in that neck of the woods . . . and generally VMS deposits like to form in clusters — where you have one you may have another one nearby — so this is a great chance to make some discoveries.”
Rockcliff can earn 51% of Talbot by spending $6.1 million on exploration over the next six years, $200,000 of which must be spent in the first year and $400,000 in the second year. After that, its payments are scheduled to escalate.
Under the option agreement, once Rockcliff earns its 51% stake in the project, the two companies would form a joint venture where Rockcliff acts as operator. As long as Hudbay pays its 49% share of expenditures, it will have two years to buy another 2% of the project. If it does, Hudbay will become the project’s operator. Whichever company ends up as operator can raise its ownership stake to 65% as soon as a feasibility study is finished and development gets underway.
Lapierre is pleased that Rockcliff has a good relationship with the pre-eminent miner in the camp. “It’s definitely a bonus when you have a mining company like Hudbay that provides you with opportunities like this,” he says. “The reality is that it’s difficult to find mines. It’s just not easy.”
Lapierre points out that since Talbot picked up the property, it’s been de-risked. “The discovery has already been made, and because it is open in all directions, there is an opportunity for it to grow,” he says. “There are other anomalies on this property that also need to be followed up on, and it’s a good sign that it has a high-grade copper deposit on it already.”
He says that “the money we spend on Talbot will advance and expand the deposit and potentially discover new targets, so it’s a win-win for both sides. I’d much rather do a deal with a company like Hudbay. At the end of the day if they buy back into it, we’ll still be left with a significant part of the property.”
The Talbot property spans 44.9 sq. km and has a geological environment that’s similar to present and past-producing base-metal mines associated with bimodal volcanic rocks in the Flin Flon–Snow Lake greenstone belt, Lapierre says.
Talbot has three lenses that are open in all directions, and the mineralization reaches a 150-metre vertical depth. Copper mineralization has been identified across 800 metres of strike and an 875-metre depth. The mineralization has coarse-grained disseminated to massive sulphides of pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite and pyrrhotite in a quartzofeldspathic gneiss.
Lapierre says that the hard work should lead to success.
“You have to act on your opportunities when they arise, no matter what the market conditions. And Talbot was an opportunity four years in the making,” he says. “In this business you need thick skin and a never-quit attitude, and sometimes if luck is on your side, it will eventually pay off.”
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