Solaris Resources (TSX: SLS: US-OTC: SLSSF) has made a new discovery within its Warintza copper project in southeastern Ecuador.
The Warintza project is adjacent to the national highway that runs north-south along a mineral belt that hosts Lundin Gold‘s (TSX: LUG) Fruta del Norte mine and a Chinese consortium’s Mirador mine, about 40 km to the south.
“All told, this belt is estimated to host tens of millions of tonnes of contained copper and millions of ounces of gold,” said Solaris CEO Daniel Earle.
During the first quarter, Solaris doubled its rig count from six to 12 as a major discovery at Warintza West and geophysics revealed a much more extensive porphyry system than previously understood.
“It’s a much larger, more extensive system than surface geochemistry and mapping implied,” Earle said at the time.
This week’s latest discovery is at Warintza East, marking the third major copper discovery on the Warintza property within a set of five main targets within a 7 km x 5 km cluster of porphyries defined on the property. Exploration drilling runs alongside resource expansion drilling at Warintza Central, where an updated resource estimate is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.
“With this discovery at Warintza East, the Central pit shell will be extended out to the east, and we may ultimately have one multi-kilometre ‘super-pit’ joining the two deposits,” Earle said.
The historic resource at Warinzta Central — 124 million inferred tonnes grading 0.7% copper equivalent — is based on very limited and shallow drilling from 20 years ago, and Solaris’ drill campaign this year is intended to define a larger and NI-43-101-compliant resource.
Earle said the drill campaign at Warintza Central was designed to extend drill holes to depths of 1,000 metres, compared to the average 200-metre depths of the historic drilling, and then expanding laterally 1 km along strike.
Recent drilling at Warintza Central intersected 1,029 metres of 0.73% copper-equivalent from surface and 1,000 metres of 0.60% copper-equivalent, including 786 metres of 0.67% copper-equivalent from surface, extending the Warinzta Central strike length to 1,250 metres.
“We’ve already demonstrated through recent drilling that we’ve gone well beyond the planned resource drilling parameters with holes extending to mineralized depths of 1,000 – 1,300 metres and the strike length being extended to 1,250 metres. The drilled strike length at Warintza Central has grown to the east and remains open towards Warintza East, where future drilling will focus on the open, undrilled area between Central and this new discovery at East.”
The first hole ever drilled at Warintza East, SLSE-01, was collared about 1,300 metres east of Warintza Central and was drilled to a total depth of 1,213 metres, with assays reported for the first 320 metres. SLSE-01 returned 320 metres of 0.46% copper-equivalent from surface, including 54 metres of 0.70% copper-equivalent, with the balance of the hole expected in the third quarter.
“We’re in good shape with respect to our strategy. Warintza East is by far the more significant discovery outside of Central,” Earle said. “Our priority, operationally, is to deliver a billion-plus tonne resource at Central, and make additional discoveries adjacent and around that — the whole area is highly prospective.
The footprint of Warintza East overlaps conceptual pit designs for Warintza Central, creating opportunity for one super-pit with the highest-grade mineralization occurring at or near surface lending itself to establishing a robust mine plan with elevated grades benefitting the early years of mine life.”
In April, Guillermo Lasso won Ecuador’s presidential election. The former banker has vowed to promote foreign investments in the mining and oil sectors, while cutting tariffs on agricultural and other heavy equipment.
Juan Carlos Bermeo Calderón, the newly-appointed Minister of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, said in a recent interview with LATam Investor that “2020 to 2030 will be the decade of mining in Ecuador.”
“We have the same geology as Peru and Chile and even the little exploration that has happened so far has found some massive deposits,” he noted. “When these are turned into mines they will be among the biggest in the world, which is why we want to attract the largest, most responsible mining companies.”
Along with a supply of abundant fresh water, Warintza has a grid supplied with clean, low-cost electric power and the ability to transport supplies via nearby highways connecting to Pacific ports and airports. All the infrastructure is in place — a primary driver of capital costs for large-scale projects.
The project resides on the Ancestral Lands of the Shuar Nations of Warints and Yawi, and through a community social relations program, central to the company’s overall ESG framework, Solaris was able to reach an agreement with the indigenous community.
Solaris and the Shuar Nations signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 and completed an Impacts and Benefits Agreement in 2020 which governs the relationship between a resource developer and the traditional owners of the lands.
“I want to acknowledge the efforts made by Solaris aimed at responsible management,” Juan León Pilco, the former governor, Morona Santiago, Ecuador, said in a public statement.
“Solaris has carried out all activities in a socially and environmentally responsible way, generating employment for citizens respectful of labour rights and regulations,” Pilco said.
Solaris plans to deliver a preliminary economic assessment in early 2022.