Top 10 US-based mid-tiers to juniors, excluding non-coal and precious metals

Uranium Energy’s Palangana ISR uranium mine, which is on care and maintenance, in south Texas. Credit: Uranium Energy.Uranium Energy’s Palangana ISR uranium mine in south Texas. Credit: Uranium Energy.

The Northern Miner presents its top-10 list of U.S.-based mid-tier to junior companies, excluding coal and precious metals, according to market cap.

1. Intrepid Potash

Market cap: US$432 million

Intrepid Potash (NYSE: IPI) is a diversified minerals company based in Denver, Colo., that delivers potassium, magnesium, sulphur, salt and water products for the agricultural and oil and gas industries. It is the largest producer of potassium chloride — also known as muriate of potash — in the U.S., and owns three potash mines: Carlsbad in New Mexico, and Moab and Wendover in Utah. All three are solar evaporation mines. The company also operates an underground mine in New Mexico that extracts langbeninite, a naturally occurring mineral the company sells as Intrepid Trio.

During the second quarter the company generated net income of US$5.6 million, or US4¢ per diluted share, due to higher realized prices and increased sales of by-products. Its potash segment generated US$8.2 million in gross margin during the quarter, for a US$2-million improvement year-on-year.

In May 2019, the company completed its acquisition of the Dinwiddie Jal Ranch in the Northern Delaware basin. The acquisition brings 242.8 sq. km of owned and leased land in one of the most productive oil and gas basins in the world. It has also expanded its oilfield footprint on Intrepid South, teaming up with NGL Energy Partners in a joint marketing agreement of its water, and jointly acquiring land in Texas for the development of produced water-disposal facilities. Intrepid will be responsible for the development, transportation and sale of water from the Intrepid South property and NGL’s neighbouring Beckham and McCloy Ranches. The ranches service 20 oil and gas operators in the Northern Delaware basin.

2. Uranium Energy

Market cap: US$178 million

Uranium Energy (NYSE-AM: UEC) is a U.S.-based uranium mining and exploration company. In South Texas, the company’s operations are anchored by the fully licensed Hobson Processing Facility, which is central to the Palangana, Burke Hollow and Goliad in-situ recovery (ISR) projects. In Wyoming, the company controls the Reno Creek project — the largest permitted, pre-construction ISR uranium project in the United States. Uranium Energy also controls a pipeline of uranium projects in Arizona, New Mexico and Paraguay, a uranium-vanadium project in Colorado, and one of the highest-grade and largest undeveloped ferrotitanium deposits in the world, in Paraguay.

In February 2019, the company received the Radioactive Material License for its Burke Hollow project from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. This licence is the last of four major permits the company needed to extract uranium. In addition to the Radioactive Material License, Burke Hollow now has a 44.5 sq. km mine area permit, approved in December 2016, two disposal well permits, issued in July 2015, and the aquifer exemption, issued in March 2017.

3. NioCorp Developments

Market cap: US$95 million

Drill rigs at NioCorp Developments' Elk Creek niobium project in southeastern Nebraska. Credit: NioCorp Developments.

Drill rigs at NioCorp Developments’ Elk Creek niobium project in southeastern Nebraska in 2015. Credit: NioCorp Developments.

NioCorp Developments (TSX: NB; US-OTC: NIOBF) is a U.S.-based company focused on developing its Elk Creek project in southeastern Nebraska — the only niobium-scandium-titanium project in North America. When in operation, the project is expected to be the sole producer of scandium oxide and a commercial version of niobium — known as ferroniobium — in the U.S., and one of only a handful of producers in the world of these critical and strategic materials.

The company released an updated final feasibility study on the project in April 2019. The study outlined a 36-year mine life and average annual production of 7,200 tonnes ferroniobium, 95 tonnes scandium trioxide and 11,642 tonnes titanium dioxide. Total upfront capex for the project was pegged at US$1.14 billion, with an after-tax, 2.9-year payback period. The project yields a 25.8% after-tax, internal rate of return, and US$2.1-billion net present value.

4. Ur-Energy

Market Cap: US$88.8 million

Equipment at Ur-Energy’s Lost Creek uranium mine in Wyoming. Credit: Ur-Energy.

Equipment at Ur-Energy’s Lost Creek uranium mine in Wyoming. Credit: Ur-Energy.

Ur-Energy (TSX: URE; NYSE-AM: URG) is a junior uranium mining company operating the Lost Creek in-situ recovery uranium facility in south-central Wyoming. The Lost Creek processing facility has a nameplate capacity of 2 million lb. uranium oxide (U3O8) per year. The Littleton, Colo.-based company sold its first yellowcake from Lost Creek in December 2013, and since then has produced more than 2.46 million lb. of the material.

In August the company confirmed that it had lowered its production estimates for Lost Creek in 2019 to between 50,000 and 75,000 lb. U3O8, and said it has reduced staff levels accordingly, Through June 30, it sold 362,500 lb. U3O8 at an average price of US$48.86, and for the year expects to deliver a total of 665,000 lb. U3O8 related to term contracts, at an average price of US$48 per pound.

In addition to Lost Creek, Ur-Energy owns the Shirley Basin and Lucky Mc historic mine sites in the Shirley Basin and Gas Hills mining districts of Wyoming. Previous owners of the Shirley Basin project suspended mine operations in the 1990s due to low uranium prices. At the end of July, the company had unrestricted cash of US$6.1 million.

5 . Scandium International Mining 

Market Cap: US$30.1 million

Drillers at Scandium International Mining’s Nyngan scandium project in Australia. Credit: Scandium International Mining.

Drillers at Scandium International Mining’s Nyngan scandium project in Australia. Credit: Scandium International Mining.

Scandium International Mining (TSX: SCY; US-OTC: SCYYF) owns a 100% interest in the Nyngan scandium project, in New South Wales, Australia, 500 km northwest of Sydney, and hopes to become the first company to achieve production from a primary scandium mine.

Scandium International completed a definitive feasibility study for the project in May 2016. The study concluded that the project could produce an average 37,690 kilograms of scandium oxide (or “scandia”) per year, at grades of 98% to 99.9%, generating an after-tax cumulative cash flow over a 20 -year mine life of US$629 million, with a US$177.5-million net present value at a 10% discount rate, and 33.1% after-tax internal rate of return. The average process plant feed grade over the mine life is an expected 409 parts per million scandium. Capex of US$87.1 million could be paid back in 3.3 years. The mine would use a conventional flow sheet, with high-pressure acid leach and solvent-extraction techniques.

The company also owns 100% of the Honeybugle scandium property, next to the Nyngan project.

6. Azarga Uranium

Market Cap: US$23.60 million

An American flag atop a drill rig at Azarga Uranium’s flagship Dewey Burdock uranium project in South Dakota. Credit: Azarga Uranium.

An American flag atop a drill rig at Azarga Uranium’s flagship Dewey Burdock uranium project in South Dakota. Credit: Azarga Uranium.

Azarga Uranium (TSX: AZZ; US-OTC: AZZUF) is a uranium exploration and development company that has 11 uranium projects in the U.S. (South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado) and in the Kyrgyz Republic. Its focus is advancing its Dewey Burdock project, an in-situ recovery uranium project in South Dakota, where it is working through the permitting process.

The project has already received its Nuclear Regulatory Commission License and draft Class III and Class V Underground Injection Control (UIC) permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the company is in the midst of completing other major regulatory permit approvals needed for construction, including the final Class III and Class V UIC permits.

Azarga’s other assets include the Gas Hills and Juniper Ridge projects in Wyoming, the Centennial project in Colorado, the Aladdin deposit in Wyoming, four exploration projects in the U.S. and a 70% stake in the Kyzyl Ompul project in the Kyrgyz Republic.

7.  General Moly

Market Cap: US$27.5 million

 General Moly's Liberty moly-copper project near Tonopah, Nevada. Credit: General Moly

General Moly’s Liberty moly-copper project near Tonopah, Nevada. Credit: General Moly.

General Moly (TSX: GMO; NYSE-AM: GMO) has two world-class projects in Nevada: its flagship Mt. Hope molybdenum project, and its wholly owned Liberty molybdenum-copper project. The company describes Mt. Hope, 34 km north of Eureka, as one of the largest and highest-grade primary molybdenum deposits in the world. General Moly owns 80% of the project and POS-Minerals, a subsidiary of South Korean steel company POSCO, owns the other 20%.

The company reported at the end of July that it had received all the necessary water permits for the project from the Nevada State Engineer. On Aug. 1, the company’s CEO and chief financial officer, Bruce Hansen, and its chief operating officer Robert Pennington, announced they are investing in General Moly through a private placement purchase of US$400,000 to provide interim incremental liquidity to the company. The investment follows a combined US$900,000 investment in a private placement earlier this year, which provided the company with working capital. The company said in a press release that it seeks US$10 million in financing options to carry the company to receipt of a record of decision, “and to allow for sufficient time to evaluate various potential strategic alternatives.”

8.  Solitario Zinc

Market Cap: $18.7 million

Solitario Zinc's Florida Canyon zinc project in Peru. Credit: Solitario Zinc.

Solitario Zinc’s Florida Canyon zinc project in Peru. Credit: Solitario Zinc.

Solitario Zinc (TSX: SLR; NYSE-AM: XPL) owns 39% of the Florida Canyon zinc project in northern Peru, a joint venture with Nexa Resources (TSX: NEXA; NYSE: NEXA), which, with 61% ownership, is the world’s fourth-largest zinc miner. After it earns 70%, Nexa has agreed to finance Solitario’s 30% participating interest for construction through a project loan.

The companies launched a drill program in May 2019. The 15,000-metre drill program will consist of 35 core holes. Initial results — released on Aug. 1 — included a 49-metre intercept grading 6.19% zinc-equivalent, including 18 metres of 13.7% zinc-equivalent; 1 metre of 56.9% zinc-equivalent; and 4 metres of 18.3% zinc-equivalent. In addition to funding 70% of this year’s exploration program, Nexa is funding a significant road-building program that will upgrade 31 km of previously built road, and add 10 km that will complete access to the mineralized areas.

Solitario also owns 50% of the high-grade and open-pittable Lik zinc deposit in northwestern Alaska. Its joint-venture partner at Lik is Teck American Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Teck Resources, the world’s third-largest zinc miner. In addition, Solitario holds a 7.6% equity stake in Vendetta Mining.

9.  Texas Mineral Resources

Market Cap: US$18.2 million

Texas Mineral Resources (US-OTC: TMRC) is advancing its Round Top heavy rare earth and industrial minerals project in Texas, 137 km southeast of El Paso. It is also developing alternative sources of strategic minerals through the processing of coal waste and other materials.
The company announced in April 2019 that a consortium it has assembled could produce high-purity and separated rare earth minerals from Pennsylvania coal-mining waste material. The company reported it had brought scandium, dysprosium, neodymium, cerium and lanthanum to a 99% purity level. Texas Mineral Resources’ goal is to install a self-contained, modular and portable continuous ion exchange/continuous ion chromatography pilot plant in Pennsylvania to determine the economic viability of deriving rare earth minerals and industrial mineral by-products from waste material produced  fromanthracite coal.

The company is also working on an updated and expanded preliminary economic assessment (PEA) for its Round Top rare earth project, which contains both heavy and light rare earth elements. The expanded PEA will include an updated resource estimate adding lithium, hafnium, beryllium, scandium and gallium oxides, as well as industrial minerals, such as the sulphates of aluminium, iron, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Eight of these additional minerals are on the U.S. government’s critical minerals list.

Navajo Transitional Energy Co. (NTEC) acquired a 20% stake in the company in August. NTEC owns the Navajo mine, a large coal operation in New Mexico.

10. Crystal Peak Minerals

Market Cap: US$28.41 million

Crystal Peak Minerals (TSXV: CPM; US-OTC: CPMMF) is advancing its Sevier Playa brine project in southwestern Utah, 225 km from Salt Lake City. Using a brine extraction and solar evaporation process, the company plans to produce potassium sulphate, magnesium chloride, and sodium chloride from the project.

A feasibility study completed in January 2018 forecast average annual production of 298,000 tonnes sulphate of potash over a 30-year mine life, which would generate an estimated US$730-million after-tax net present value at an 8% discount rate, and a 21% after-tax internal rate of return. Total capital costs were estimated at US$412 million. In July, the company announced the Federal Register published a notice availability for the project’s final environmental impact statement.

The Sevier Playa is an endorheic — or terminal — basin. The dry lake is 42 km long and 13 km wide, and covers 526.1 square kilometres. Because there is no drainage, minerals eroded from the surrounding soils have concentrated over time to create a mineral-rich brine known to contain potassium, sulphate and other minerals.

Crystal Peak controls the project via leases on more than 501.8 sq. km on the Sevier Playa, which it acquired by competitive bid from the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration, and from the U.S. Department of the Interior.


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