The Noront Resources (NOT-V, NOSOF-O) base metal discovery has spawned a staking rush in the swampy lowlands of northeastern Ontario, just southwest of James Bay. As of mid-February, juniors had staked roughly 3,630 sq.km of claims near Mc- Fauld’s Lake.
The number of companies exploring the region continues to grow as new claims arestaked on an ongoing basis, says Brian Atkinson, resident geologist for the Timmins region. “It is shaping up to be a huge exploration play,” he says.
At least five airborne surveys and numerous ground surveys are under way or recently completed, drills are turning and several geophysical targets await drill testing.
The area of staking doesn’t follow a pattern of blanket staking, or “closeology” employed by juniors trying to secure ground as close as possible to the discovery, but is forming a distinct ring around a central basin.
Dubbed the “Ring of Fire,” the semi-circular land grab is based on geophysical surveys that outline an arc-shaped greenstone belt encompassing McFauld’s Lake that has yielded clusters of mineralization, including the Noront discovery and several volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) occurrences.
However, as some geologists have pointed out, the Eagle One magmatic massive sulphide discovery may not be related to the Sachigo greenstone belt at all, but may be part of a system of ultramafic intrusions that punched their way up through the felsic volcanics of the older arc structure.
If that is true, juniors might have equal or better luck turning their attention south, where Northern Shield Resources (NRNV, NSHRF-O) is exploring the Highbank Lake layered intrusive with Impala Platinum Holdings (IPLAL). Northern Shield discovered the previously unknown layered intrusion, one of the largest in the world, in 2004.
Though platinum group element (PGE) grades have so far proved disappointing at Highbank, Northern Shield — with a model in hand and a better understanding of regional magnetics and structure — has recently staked at least 700 sq. km in the vicinity of the instrusion.
Northern Shield says the magnetic bands of the new target, called Eastbank, appear to merge with the layered intrusion at Highbank Lake. Both targets are located along a major terrain boundary that forms the southern limit of the Oxford-Stull geological terrain, which hosts several mafic-ultramafic intrusions rich in PGEs, including Big Trout Lake, Lansdowne House and Eagle One.
Until the Ontario Geological Survey published the results of aeromagnetic surveys a few years ago, next to nothing was known about the Precambrian geology lying beneath a thick later of Paleozoic cover rocks in the James Bay lowland area that encompasses both the Noront and Northern Shield properties. The area is swampy and remote and, as a result, minimally prospected.
De Beers, whose Victor diamond mine lies 170 km to the east, was interested in the area’s diamond potential, though. In 2002, while drilling geophysical anomalies near McFauld’s Lake, De Beers hit an 8-metre section grading 1.61% copper and 0.34% zinc with associated gold-silver values. Juniors KWG Resources (KWG-V, KWGBF-O) and Spider Resources (SPQ-V, SDERF-O) followed up the discovery with further drilling, eventually finding about a dozen small copper occurrences in the area.
When ground became available in the area last year, Noront — on the advice of consultant John Harvey — picked up a block of claims and drilled an electromagnetic conductor associated with a magnetic high. That small-scale drilling campaign led to the discovery of 117.4 metres grading 4.1% nickel and 2.2% copper plus platinum and palladium in the fifth hole. The discovery, called Eagle One, compares favourably with one of the best intersections from the Voisey’s Bay find, including 3.9% nickel and 2.8% copper with no precious metal credits over a 104-metre length.
Noront has since completed 36 holes on the property and has consistently intersected encouraging results that indicate the potential for an economic magmatic sulphide deposit. The company’s immediate goal is to complete infill drilling in order to prepare a National Instrument 43-101-compliant resource estimate within the next couple of months and test at least eight high-priority drill targets within 5 km of the Eagle One discovery.
Recognizing the potential to duplicate the success at Eagle One along the minimally explored Sachigo greenstone belt, Noront has staked close to 700 sq. km and is optioning off equal interest in this ground to other juniors in exchange for cash and exploration spending.
The typical Noront price for a piece of the Ring includes an upfront cash or share payment, about $1-1.5 million in exploration spending per year depending on the size of landholding, and annual cash payouts as exploration progresses, in exchange for an option to acquire a 50% interest in the claims.
Companies that have cut deals with Noront include Hawk Uranium (HUI-V, HWKPF-O) with 10 claims (26 sq. km), privately owned Intrinsic Minerals, with 26 claims (67.6 sq. km) under two separate agreements, Lund Gold (LGD-V, LGDOF-O) with 13 claims (33.8 sq. km), Seafield Resources (SFF-V, SRLTF-O) with 6 claims (15.6 sq. km), Southampton Ventures (SV-V, SPVNF-O) with 12 claims (31.2 sq. km) and WSR Gold (WSR-V, WSROF-O) with 15 claims (39 sq. km). Most of these companies are completing or planning to complete airborne geophysical exploration to identify anomalies for drilling.
Securing financing for exploration has been relatively easy. IBK Capital alone has raised about $50 million for the exploration companies currently active along the Ring of Fire and continues to announce new deals.
As the area is bombarded by airborne geophysics designed to outline signatures similar to Eagle One, the satellite explorers that have captured the most attention so far are Temex Resources (TME-V, TMXRF-O), MacDonald Mines Exploration (BMK-V, MCDMF-O) and Probe Mines (PRB-V, PROBF-O).
These companies either have strategic land positions close to Eagle One and/or are launching or completing drill programs on their properties. Robert McEwen, who made his fortune with major gold producer Goldcorp (G-T, GG-N), has purchased a 14.4% stake in MacDonald.
Temex, with close to 1,200 sq. km, is probably the largest landholder in the region and, in partnership with MacDonald has mobilized a diamond drill to begin testing several high-priority geophysical targets on properties in the area of, and immediately adjacent to, the Eagle One discovery.
Macdonald, also a significant landholder and the first to mobilize staking crews to the area, has already completed a 5-hole drill program at its 100%-owned Mc- Nugget property, another 5-hole program at the joint-venture property it shares with Hawk Uranium, and a two-hole program at the Hornby property it shares with
Hawk and Temex. The program targeted EM conductors with coincident magnetic responses and intersected massive sulphides in some cases. Assays were pending at presstime.
Probe Mines is taking a different approach, using geochemistry to enhance its geophysical exploration. Shares of the company soared in February after it announced results from a soil-sampling program on its 100%-owned project adjacent to the Noront discovery. The results indicated significant anomalies of nickel, copper, cobalt and silver coincident with one of two magnetic anomalies on the property, about 1 km northwest of Eagle One.
Probe is planning a ground geophysical program to follow up on the geochemical results and on geophysical anomalies identified by airborne geophysical surveys. Drilling will follow.
Partners KWG Resources and Spider Resources, who have been activelyexploring for VMS deposits in the area for years and have discovered eight occurrences to date, have teamed up with Freewest Resources Canada (FWR-V, FWERF-O) to investigate a Freewest property 3.6 km northeast of Eagle One. Previous drilling in 20
06 intersected a layered chromitite-bearing, nickel-enriched peridotite with associated PGEs, yielding 4.05% chrome and 0.17% nickel over a core length of about 17 metres.
There are several other companies active within the Ring of Fire as follows:
• Baltic Resources (BLR-V, BALRF-O), in partnership with Temex and MacDonald, has acquired three separate parcels of land comprising 136 sq. km that will be shared
on a 50/25/25 basis among Baltic, MacDonald and Temex.
• Canstar Resources (ROX-V) has completed a high-resolution airborne geophysical survey over its McFaulds 1 (5.1 sq. km) and McFaulds 3 (6 sq. km) properties. The results will be used to further define existing targets for a winter drilling program scheduled to begin soon.
• Fancamp Exploration (FNC-V, FNCJF-O) has received partial results from a helicopter-borne geophysical (AeroTEM II) survey that confirms a linkage between the conductive magnetic high of the Eagle One deposit with a large, conductive magnetic anomaly on the Fancamp property, some 300 metres south. The final airborne report, together with results of a ground geophysical survey, will provide the basis for drill targets.
• Goldeye Explorations (GGY-V, GEYEF-O) and Tribute Minerals (TBM-V, TBMIF-O) have staked a total of 97sq.kmandcontinuestaking on a structure on the western end of the Ring of Fire. The properties acquired are in the vicinity of, or contiguous with, MacDonald’s Mc- Nugget property.
• Mill City Gold (MC-V, MCYGF-O)
has an option to acquire a 50% interest in 64 mining claims from Temex Resources totalling 164 sq. km in two separate areas of the Sachigo Greenstone Belt. Mill City has appointed Temex as operator during the earn-in period. Airborne magnetic and electromagnetic surveys of the claims are under way and preliminary results are expected in March.
•Nickel Bay Resources, a subsidiary of Diamondex Resources (DSP-V, DMDXF-O), is planning to fly a 5,000- line-km geophysical (VTEM) survey over its 1,600-sq.-km land package south of Eagle One by the end of March.
• UC Resources (UC-V, UCRLF-O) is beginning line-cutting and ground geophysics at the McFauld’s East project. The company has identified several airborne anomalies for follow-up. UC has an option to earn up to 55% in the property from Spider and KWG.
• WSR Gold has signed a letter of intent with Metalex Ventures (MTX-V, MLXVF-O) and Arctic Star Diamond (ADD-V, ASDZF-O) for an option to acquire a 50% interest in certain claims along the Ring of Fire covering 36 sq. km. Geophysical work completed by Metalex and Arctic identified 33 VMS drill-ready targets and follow-up surveying on 100-metre spacings over the targets and other claim blocks will begin shortly. WSR has also agreed to acquire a 75% interest in the Big Mac property, an 112-sq.- km landholding, from MacDonald.
The McFauld’s Lake area is reaching maturity with respect to staking, is in the midst of extensive airborne geophysical surveying to identify drill targets, and will fully enter the crucial drill-testing phase within the next couple of months. Time will tell if the area play resembles more the Voisey’s Bay nickel play in Labrador, where a similar staking rush and subsequent exploration failed to find economic deposits outside of Inco’s ground, or the Raglan nickel play in northern Quebec, where several new deposits have been discovered along the Cape Smith belt since mining began a decade ago. –The author is a freelance writer specializing in mining issues, and principal of Toronto-based GeoPen Communications