Not a banner year for foreign exploration

Sobs clearly outnumbered shouts of “Eureka!” by a wide margin in 1997, a year in which some fine foreign exploration results were overshadowed by salted samples and depressed metal prices.

The most disheartening exploration news of the year — or perhaps the century — came on March 26, when Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold (FCX-N) made its historic announcement of “insignificant results” from drilling on the Southeast zone of the Busang gold “deposit” in Kalimantan, stomping ground of the infamous, and delisted, Bre-X Minerals. Freeport’s report, which was later corroborated by Strathcona Mineral Services, sent shock waves careening through the mining community and severely hampered the exploration efforts of many Canadian juniors.

Especially hard hit were those companies already entrenched in Indonesia.

While some juniors such as Atapa Minerals (ATAP-C) and Antares Mining and Exploration (ANZ-T) remain quite active in the country, others, such as Indochina Goldfields (ING-T) and Yamana Resources (YRI-T) have shifted their exploration priorities elsewhere. Indomin Resources (IRL-V), meanwhile, has joint ventured its Indonesian properties to Normandy Mining (NDY-X) and Luxembourg-based Minorco.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty faced by junior companies after the Bre-X affair was the raising of capital through share offerings. As a result, many resorted to private placements. Gitennes Exploration (GIT-A), for instance, raised $10 million to continue exploring its Virgen gold property in north-central Peru.

Vancouver-based Gitennes had the misfortune to release some fine drill results at the height of Bre-X scandal hysteria in March. The first five holes drilled by the company at Virgen intersected several long, near-surface, gold-bearing intervals in the Rio Suro oxide zone. Follow-up drilling returned similarly encouraging results, and, more recently, Gitennes confirmed the existence of a new zone, dubbed Alumbre, 900 metres southeast of Rio Suro. As well, re-assaying of seven holes previously drilled at Rio Suro gave rise to the outlining of a new

north-northeast-striking zone of sulphide mineralization branching off from the main oxide zone.

Good news also came from juniors Mar-West Resources (MSR-V) and Curion Ventures (CUV-V), which jointly own, on an 80-20 basis, respectively, the San Martin concession in Honduras. During the summer months, the partners outlined a 20-million tonne resource grading 1.27 grams gold per tonne in the Sinter hot springs zone. The resource quickly surpassed the 20-million tonne mark and drilling is ongoing.

Base-metal deposits also counted among the year’s new finds. In January, major Rio Algom (ROM-T) announced the discovery of the Spence deposit in Chile. Definition drilling on the 350-million tonne resource, which grades 1% copper and has minor silver and molybdenum values, was completed in the third quarter. Production is projected for 2001 and is expected to help the company reach annual production of 900 million lbs. copper in the following year.

In November, Tenke Mining (TNK-T) announced a new discovery on its 55%-owned Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt project in Democratic Republic of Congo. The new deposit, hosting 197 million tonnes grading 4.37% copper and 0.22% cobalt, is situated between the Tenke and Fungurume deposits where combined resources stand at 222 million tonnes grading 4.42% copper and 0.33% cobalt.

Feasibility studies on the latter deposits continue.

While new deposits were being found, advanced projects were being expanded.

Latin-American explorer Greenstone Resources (GRE-T), for example, started the year by intersecting the widest zone of mineralization yet encountered on its La Libertad gold property in Nicaragua. The intersection set the tone for the remainder of the year and, by the fourth quarter, definition drilling was underway in an attempt to outline a super-pit to incorporate six nearby mineralized structures into the designed pit of the producing Cerro Mojon deposit.

Sutton Resources (STT-V) continued to make headway at its 85%-owned Bulyanhulu gold project in Tanzania, increasing resources by 11% to 13.4 million tonnes grading 13.01 grams gold.

Another attention grabber of 1997 was the Cerro Casale gold-copper deposit, situated on the Chilean Aldebaran property owned 51% by Arizona Star Resource (AZS-V) and 49% by Bema Gold (BGO-T). An independent prefeasibility study in mid-October gave the multi-million-ounce gold-copper deposit a “thumbs-up,” and within two weeks, major Placer Dome (PDG-T) had struck a deal to earn a 51%-interest in the project. Placer will carry out a feasibility study over the next two years.


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