VANCOUVER — Prospect generator Aurion Resources (TSXV: AU) has uncovered gold-rich subcrop within a 700 by 1,100 metre (1.1 km) wide area at its Risti project in northern Finland’s Central Lapland Greenstone Belt (CLGB), a region that is geologically similar to the gold-prolific belts of Ontario and Quebec.
Out of the 133 rock samples collected from quartz-tourmaline blocks at surface, 36 assayed greater than 31 grams gold per tonne. Many of the blocks reported were larger than 1 metre, locally reaching up to 3.5 metre by 3 metre by 1 metre.
“There’s spectacular visible gold though the whole trend, and that’s what makes it so exciting. The abundance, size and coarse angularity gives us a pretty good confidence there’s a substantial system laying underneath, we just have to prove it with drilling,” Mike Basha, Aurion’s president and CEO, tells The Northern Miner by phone from his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The zone, known as Aurora, lies within a broader mineralized zone measuring 2.3 by 3 km, from which 525 rock-grab samples — including those from Aurora — averaged 21 grams gold.
The Feb. 1 announcement triggered shares of the company to triple to $1.74 at press time.
“The response from the market was strong, but there are reasons for it,” Basha says. “It speaks to what we’ve been doing on the corporate finance side — we’ve been placing our stock in good hands and in those who believe in the story. But it also reflects the market’s desire for something new. In this business there are few discoveries, and the market is starving for something else other than the usual recycling and repackaging of old projects.”
Finland isn’t the first region explorers would think of to hunt for orogenic gold deposits, but the CLGB is one of the largest Paleoproterozoic-age belts in the world, and home to Europe’s biggest gold-only mine: Agnico Eagle Mines’ (TSX: AEM; NYSE: AEM) Kittila. The 4,000-tonne-per-day operation produced 177,000 oz. gold in 2015, at average costs of US$709 per oz. gold.
The belt, which extends into northern Norway, Sweden and Russian Karelia, is known for its magmatic nickel-copper-platinum group metals and volcanogenic massive sulphide polymetallic deposits, but has seen limited to no gold exploration, Basha says.
“If you go back to the early 1990s, all the exploration was being driven by the state and the Geological Survey of Finland,” he says. “Up until Finland joined the European Union in 1995, foreigners weren’t allowed to own mineral rights, but they turned it around and allowed companies to come in. It was a slow process. They changed the mining law in 2011 right in the middle of the boom, and they were still slogging through the application process. By the time the government finally got all their ducks in a row, the markets had turned sideways and a lot of companies gave up on the country.”
Aurion acquired the tenement package from Australian-based Dragon Mining (ASX: DRA) in mid-2014, and have since accumulated a 3,500 sq. km land package that’s divided into three project areas: Sila, Ahvenjarvi and Kutuvuoma.
International gold miner B2Gold (TSX: BTO; NYSE-MKT: BTG) struck a deal with Aurion in August 2015 on a 250 sq. km portion of its Kutuvuoma and Ahvenjarvi properties, 35 km southeast and 30 km southwest of Kittila. Under the deal, B2Gold can earn 75% with $15 million in exploration, finishing a positive feasibility study and issuing 550,000 shares.
Exploration at Ahvenjarvi last year outlined quartz-tourmaline boulders in outcrop and subcrop over 1.2 km, with 54 samples grading from nil to 33 grams gold, whereas six samples assayed greater than 10 grams gold.
At Kutuvuoma, B2Gold chased extensions of a small historic gold resource that falls within a 6.5 km long zone of prospective geology and mineralized structures. The best results came from the resource area itself, where drilling returned 11.4 grams gold over 13.3 metres.
Basha says that B2Gold plans to spend $3.5 million on exploration this year.
“B2Gold is a great partner — they’re aggressive. By year-end they may have spent enough money to earn their 51% interest in the project, in half the scheduled time. That speaks volumes about the prospectivity of the properties.
“When we first acquired the ground we couldn’t raise any money because the markets weren’t there. I don’t want to say the deal with B2Gold saved us, but it certainly pulled us out of the mud,” Basha says. “Last year everything turned around. We raised money and began our own prospector-driven exploration program [late in the year], and that’s when we discovered Risti.”
The 140 sq. km Risti property lies contiguous to Kutuvuoma, and covers 30 km of what Aurion interprets as unconformities, similar to those seen next to major gold projects in the Timmins and Kirkland Lake gold camps of northern Ontario’s Abitibi greenstone belt.
The unconformities are prospective because they suggest deep-rooted structures belonging to the Sirkka shear zone — a regional deformation corridor that controlled much of the gold mineralization in the CLGB.
“This is a glaciated terrane, but in the southern part of the CLGB it hasn’t been scoured and it’s more like a glacial outwash, or a mass wasting. All the more resistive material, like quartz, is left poking out of the ground,” he says. “There’s enough exposure to get a sense of the geology, and we have a fantastic database from the government survey.”
In recent years, Finland has repeatedly ranked within the world’s top-10 most attractive jurisdictions in the world for mining investment by the Fraser Institute, but Basha says there can be some challenges to permitting if exploration occurs within a Natura 2000 biodiversity site, a core breeding and resting site for rare and threatened species.
Over 14% of Finland is covered in Natura 2000 biodiversity sites, whereas in the north, the protected land packages cover 30%.
“If you’re in a Natura area, which are basically swamps, then you’ll likely run into permitting challenges. So we’ve made it a company policy to stay out of those areas. Permitting everywhere else is fairly straightforward.”
Aurion is closing an $8.7-million, non-brokered private placement, which would issue 4 million shares at $1.50 per share. Part of the proceeds will be used for exploration at Risti, which Basha says should begin in May.
“We’ve definitely attracted the attention of all the majors, but we want to pursue Risti ourselves at this stage. We’ll do geophysics, ground magnetics and induced-polarization surveys, and go right to drilling,” he says. “As a prospect generator, we try to keep a tight share structure by farming out our projects until an opportunity like Risti comes along that’s good enough to drill a few holes, and see what we can make of it.”
Aurion has traded within a 52-week range of 10¢ to $1.93 per share, and closed at $1.74 at press time. The company has 55.3 million shares outstanding for a $94-million market capitalization.