TMR: You’ve warned that with regard to nickel and copper the world is running out of low-hanging fruit. Will this lead to shortages, higher prices or both?
Rick Mills: One billion people will enter the global consuming class by 2025. That’s 83 million (83M) people per year. Demand for nickel and copper is not going to go down. China will have to increase its average urban per-capita copper stock by seven or eight times just to achieve the same level of services we in the West enjoy.
While this is happening, copper mining has become an especially capital-intensive industry. In 2000, the average cost was between $4,000 and $5,000 to build the capacity to produce a tonne of copper. Today, this figure is north of $10,000 per tonne on average and has been reported as high as $18,000 for one particular project.
TMR: Why are costs escalating so rapidly?
RM: Two reasons. First, declining copper-ore grades mean much larger scales are required for mining and milling operations. Second, a growing proportion of mining projects are in remote areas of developing economies where there’s little to no existing infrastructure.
TMR: Do we see the same higher demand/higher costs scenario with nickel?
RM: Yes, it’s the exact same trend except a few degrees worse. Capital intensity for new nickel mining has gone through the roof. And the discrepancy between the initial per-pound capital cost of nickel projects and the ultimate construction costs is over 50%. And larger-scale projects have not demonstrated lower per-unit capital costs. Sometimes large projects have even higher capital intensity.
In the future, global nickel supply will come increasingly from laterite nickel deposits, which require high-pressure acid leach (H-Pal) plants. We are now looking at north of $35 per pound ($35/lb) capital intensity as we move into these multibillion-dollar ferronickel and H-Pal projects.
TMR: Your search for cost-effective new sources for industrial metals has led you to Greenland, the world’s largest island. What advantages does this Danish colony have over northern Canada?
RM: Approximately 80% of Greenland is covered by ice with the exposed area forming a fringe around the edge. Geologically, these ice-free coasts are an extension of the Canadian Shield. Both Canada and Greenland are stable politically. The balance starts to tip in Greenland’s favor when we talk about regulation. All permitting in Greenland is done through one agency, the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum. This is pretty much one-stop shopping—very efficient compared to the regulatory duplication common in Canada.
TMR: How about infrastructure?
RM: Greenland’s easy access to seaborne freight gives it a tremendous cost advantage over northern Canada. If you are in the interior of the Canadian north, you need to truck your product, usually across vast distances, to get it to a railhead or port, sometimes utilizing both a railway and ocean freighter to get it to a smelter. In Greenland, transport distances from project site to open water are usually only tens of kilometers, versus hundreds of kilometers in Canada’s north.
Access to the sea puts the world’s smelters, end users, middlemen, etc., at your fingertips. It lowers your upfront development costs and capital expenditures/operating expenditures when it comes time to build and run your mine. The southwest coastal region of Greenland has a relatively mild climate with deep-sea shipping possible year round. And climate change leading to the disappearance of sea ice seems to be making the Northwest Passage a viable route.
TMR: Canada’s native peoples are often highly suspicious of—and sometimes outright hostile to—mining activity. This is not the case in Greenland?
RM: No, they seem to welcome the increased capital. Mining brings an awful lot of money into the local and national economies. It provides jobs and taxes. Greenland is dependent on Denmark for much of its funding but wants to become self sufficient. Greenlanders are very protective of their environment. They’ve got rules in place, but they’re not onerous. You can get your work done.
TMR: What specific Greenland nickel-copper play do you like?
RM: North American Nickel Inc. (NAN.V). The company has the Maniitsoq nickel, copper, cobalt and PGM project in southwest Greenland. This project contains the 70-km Greenland Norite Belt (GNB).
TMR: This is not a laterite deposit, right?
RM: Correct. It is a nickel-sulphide deposit. Something to understand about nickel sulphides is that although they can occur as individual bodies, groups of deposits may occur in belts up to hundreds of kilometers long. Such deposits are known as districts. Two giant nickel-copper districts stand out above all the rest in the world: Sudbury, Ontario and Noril’sk-Talnakh, Russia.
What I want to get across to our readers is that Maniitsoq is thought to be a meteor-impact event like Sudbury. Unlike Sudbury, however, Maniitsoq’s outcrop exposures of nickel-copper sulphide mineralization and its massive sulphide drill intercepts are at surface or very close to surface. Sudbury had glacial movement, whereas this isn’t so in Greenland. I ask myself, what would Sudbury look like if you scraped away the top few hundred meters. It might look like Maniitsoq.
TMR: What is the exploration situation at Maniitsoq?
RM: The company has, so far, over 100 targets. In 2012, 1,550 meters (1,550m) were drilled in nine holes targeting geophysical anomalies. In November 2012, the company announced significant assay results for nickel, copper and cobalt in near solid to solid sulphide mineralization within the GNB from its Imiak Hill target. In December 2012, it announced the discovery of a second zone of significant nickel, copper, platinum, palladium and gold mineralization from drilling at Spotty Hill, which is 1.5 kilometers (1.5km) from Imiak.
In September of this year, North American Nickel announced a second discovery and a third zone of mineralization. Drill hole MQ-13-026 intersected 18.6m of sulphide mineralization averaging an amazing 40–45% total sulphides, with numerous sections containing 65–85%. This third discovery, at Imiak North, is in close proximity to Imiak Hill and Spotty Hill. The company is starting to get some significant intersections and is building tonnage. And the mineralized zones discovered to date are all open at depth.
But with only 27 holes in the ground and over 5,106 square kilometers of area to cover, I think it’s safe to say that North American Nickel is just getting started.
TMR: Could you comment on its cash position and management?
RM: The management is very, very good. It’s the same group as VMS Ventures Inc. (VMS.V). They are fully backed by the Sentient Group, a very large resource fund, and they raised $7.5M earlier this year, so the company is fully funded. VMS owns 27% of North American Nickel.
Source: The Au Report