Miner set to explore Surigao nickel site

CANADIAN MINDORO Resources, Ltd. will start exploring its gold, copper and nickel mine in northern Mindanao in the third quarter, a company official said in a report to officials of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) late last week.

The miner will spend $300,000-$500,000 up to next year for the exploration program, which is focused on the American Tunnels area of the Agata project in Surigao del Norte, said Edsel M. Abrasaldo, vice-president of MRL Gold Phils., Inc., the local unit of Mindoro Resources.

"We hope that this will lead us to deeper, richer copper porphyry area," Mr. Abrasaldo said.

Early this month, MRL Gold said sampling at the American Tunnels yielded 1.94 grams of gold per metric ton at varying levels.

"We are trying to partner with small-scale miners with the main purpose of rationalizing their activities like environmental compliance," Mr. Abrasaldo said.

The Agata project is also estimated to contain 22 million-25 million dry metric tons of nickel ore with 1.1% grade of nickel equivalent to 547 million pounds (lbs.) of contained nickel and 34 million lbs. of contained cobalt.

MRL Gold expects to extract 7,000-10,000 metric tons of nickel per year for at least 25 years.

In February, MRL Gold raised exploration funds through the Toronto Stock Exchange.

"Our plan for this project is hopefully build a processing plant rather than direct ore shipping," Mr. Abrasaldo said.

MRL Gold is looking for a Chinese partner to put up the nickel processing plant, which will allow the miners to extract as much as 75% of the nickel’s value, instead of getting only 10%-15% of the nickel value with direct ore shipping.

"Basically [China] is the number one consumer of nickel. They drive the market of nickel, copper and other metals and they have the technology as far as processing is concerned," Mr. Abrasaldo told reporters.

"We will probably be in the range of 5,000-10,000 metric tons of nickel [per year]. Our initial studies indicate that it is amenable to high pressure acid leaching," he said.

Mr. Abrasaldo said the miner has yet to estimate the cost for the nickel processing plant.

"We have contacts but there are no advanced stage talks yet," he added.

The 45,000-metric-ton-per-year nickel processing plant of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. in Palawan cost $3 billion.

Meanwhile, MRL Gold is waiting for partner Australian Gold Fields Ltd. to start exploring its gold and copper properties in Batangas.

Last month, MRL Gold signed an agreement with Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest gold producers, for the latter to acquire a 75% stake in each of the former’s El Paso, Lobo and Talahib porphyry copper-gold projects in Batangas by funding exploration program and feasibility studies.

Under the deal, Gold Fields will spend $2 million each to explore the Talahib, Lobo and El Paso properties in one to two years. In the second phase, the Australian miner will invest $12 million for the feasibility study of the Talahib project and $8 million each for the Lobo and El Paso area. The 1,163-hectare Lobo area has estimated resources of 66,900 ounces of gold.

Meanwhile, British Avocet Mining PLC is conducting technical due diligence until end-August to determine if it will proceed with MRL Gold’s 1,011-hectare Kay Tanda gold project in Batangas. The London-listed Avocet has gold mines in Indonesia and Malaysia.

"If their technical due diligence is a success, then a formal agreement will be finalized," Mr. Abrasaldo said.

The Kay Tanda area has initial estimated resources of 357,000 ounces of gold.

"Their areas are green-field or new mining areas so the development takes time," said Edwin G. Domingo, assistant director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

MRL Gold, which has been identifying nickel, iron, gold and copper mineral deposits in the country since 1996, is listed in the Frankfurt and Toronto stock exchanges. — Neil Jerome C. Morales, Business World

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