Golden future for the Pilbara

Greatland Gold's Havieron project in the Pilbara.

Western Australia’s Pilbara is one of Australia’s top mining regions, with numerous Tier 1 iron ore operations based in the area. Now companies like Greatland Gold, Kalamazoo Resources and Thor Mining are hoping to build a golden future in the region.

Hosting Australia’s three largest iron ore producers, BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group, the Pilbara region is one that has already enjoyed the rewards of a successful mining boom on its doorstep.

Western Australia was voted as the world’s top mining jurisdiction in the Fraser Institute annual survey of mining company rankings in 2020, a ranking that has not gone unnoticed by exploration companies.

While the Pilbara has long been associated with iron ore, the region is also home to the Pilbara Goldfield, which could be the location of Australia’s next gold rush.

With the success of Newcrest Mining’s Telfer mine in the Great Sandy Desert within the East Pilbara, gold explorers are flocking to the area in an attempt to discover the next Telfer, due to the region’s prospective geographical features for gold and copper mineralisation.

Greatland Gold is one of these companies and it has the advantage of being teamed up with Newcrest in a farm-in joint venture to explore and develop the Havieron gold-copper project.

As chief executive officer Gervaise Heddle explains, the partnership with Newcrest, along with the prior success of mining within the Pilbara region sets Greatland Gold up well to take advantage of a Pilbara gold rush.

“The great advantage for Greatland Gold is we have our partnership with Newcrest and Newcrest has the most significant piece of infrastructure in the underexplored East Pilbara with the Telfer mine airport and accommodation,” Heddle tells Australian Mining.

The Telfer plant is located just 45 kilometres from Greatland Gold’s Havieron project, meaning ore can easily be transported and processed at Telfer.

“The benefit of that is we don’t need to build a new plant in that remote region, which is very expensive,” Heddle explains.

Newcrest brings more to the partnership than established infrastructure, with Greatland Gold able to use Newcrest’s expertise as a guide as it progresses Havieron.

“Newcrest brings a lot of other strengths to the table, including their expertise as one of the world’s leaders in bulk underground mining, sub-level caving,” Heddle says.

“Havieron will be an underground mine so this expertise will be very valuable for Greatland Gold.”

In addition to Havieron, Greatland Gold’s Paterson province comprises two more granted mining licences, Black Hills and Paterson Range East, where the company is completing further exploration with the hope of hitting the jackpot.

“For earlier stage explorers it still remains a bit of a challenge out in the Pilbara in terms of remoteness but it’s certainly not holding people back,” Heddle says.

“The gold price certainly provides a supportive backdrop but the exploration boom in the Pilbara and Paterson Province has been more results-driven than commodity price driven.”

Heddle notes Rio Tinto’s recent Winu copper-gold discovery as the kick-starter to a gold exploration boom throughout the Pilbara region, including the Paterson Province.

“Explorers are looking for the next Tier 1 copper or gold discovery and Australia, particularly Western Australia is a great jurisdiction for mining and the idea of these significant mineralisation systems is very exciting for the industry.

“Pair this with the gold price that helps to justify making investment in exploration.”

With a dozen high priority drilling targets set to be tested in coming months, Greatland Gold is progressing its Pilbara gold assets well to set up for a successful year ahead.

“We have had 11 consecutive sets of excellent drilling results over the past year, our mine lease application has been granted and the mining proposal submitted for early works,” Heddle says.

“We are on schedule for a maiden resource estimate to be delivered before the end of this year and Newcrest and Greatland Gold anticipate early works will commence late this year or early next year.

“It’s very rare to get such consistently strong results and it demonstrates the geological promise of Havieron and we hope it translates to economic results for our shareholders.”

The Kalamazoo Resources exploration team in the Pilbara.

Another company that holds high hopes for a Pilbara Goldfield boom is Kalamazoo Resources, which may be named after a small village in the United States but its history is at home in the Pilbara.

Brothers Luke and Matt Reinehr teamed up with Pilbara prospector Dennis O’Meara, who is best known as the founder of fellow Pilbara-focussed company De Grey Mining to form Kalamazoo.

Named for tiny Michigan village Kalamazoo, which also has connections to mining, the company began exploring for gold around Marble Bar and Port Hedland when it was formed more than 10 years ago.

Kalamazoo now has a project, The Sisters, which is along the same strike as De Grey’s major Hemi gold discovery as well as the 1.65 million-ounce Ashburton gold project, which it acquired from Northern Star Resources in June.

With this promising project next door, chief executive officer and chairman Luke Reinehr is confident in the region’s future in gold and his company’s place in this golden future.

“Ashburton is a transformational project,” Reinehr says. “We have the potential to significantly expand the resource and the infrastructure in the Pilbara is second to none.”

Approximately 45 kilometres south of mining town Paraburdoo, Kalamazoo’s Ashburton project is conveniently located closely to an airport with daily flights to and from Perth, engineering and support service companies and sealed roads that are just an hour and a half’s journey to Port Hedland.

“Having an experienced workforce in Paraburdoo to update exploration camps, electronics and other infrastructure of that nature just 40 kilometres up the road makes operations much easier,” Reinehr explains.

“Because of the amount of iron ore and gold activity in the Pilbara there are lots of drilling and service companies and being a one and a half hour drive on sealed roads from Port Hedland makes exploration easier.

“Kalamazoo is very fortunate that the infrastructure put in throughout the Pilbara over the last 30 to 40 years is available for the gold industry.”

Reinehr also notes Kalamazoo’s history and experience in the region as a distinct advantage as it sets out to push Ashburton to further development.

“Having spent time up there and understanding not just the logistics, things such as the weather as well gives us knowledge of the region,” he says.

“It’s a pretty tough climate at times, it gets very warm and of course over the wet season activities can become very difficult, that’s important knowledge to have when planning exploration projects.”

Before the end of 2020, Kalamazoo intends to complete further drilling at Ashburton and The Sisters, with hopes to expand Ashburton’s mineral resource to outward of 2 million ounces.

This would open opportunities for Kalamazoo to potentially construct its own processing plant and become one of the next Pilbara gold producers.

“Regions do come in and out of fashion for a reason, the best place to find gold is where it has already been found and it goes in cycles,” Reinehr says.

“Having started in the region, it could be back to the future for Kalamazoo in the Pilbara.”

Exploration and development company Thor Mining is also digging for gold in the Pilbara in the Ragged Range project, having returned highly anomalously gold along a 13-kilometre target zone.

Similarly with other companies in the region, what Thor Mining finds most promising about its exploration results is the clusters of mineralisation, according to executive chairman Mick Billing.

“Gold has been acknowledged to have been in the Pilbara for a long, long time, but it has been sporadic,” Billing says.

“It has been emerging in the past two to three years as a gold province of a lot more substance than people previously thought it might have been.”

With consistent results over the 13 kilometre Ragged Range strike, Billing believes the drilling has either uncovered a gold deposit part of the 13 kilometre long strike or a group of gold deposits over the strike zone.

The Ragged Range mineralisation style is the result of erosion washed down through rivers over millions of years of geological evolution.

Thor Mining’s tactic is to continue following the zone upstream to identify the source rocks that host the primary gold.

“Last year we got some encouragement when we went upstream so we are hoping to get further demonstration of continuity further along,” Billing says.

“We will continue doing aeromagnetic surveys and geophysics in the area to identify the structurally controlled gold.

“As we learn more about the style of mineralisation we can define exploration techniques and use a technology better suited to the geology of the area.”

In addition to gold, Thor Mining has also uncovered evidence of elevated nickel and chrome in the ultramafic rocks within the Ragged Range tenements, returning 49 rock chip samples that were anomalous for nickel.

Chrome is often an indicator metal with nickel discoveries, which gives Billing hope of a nickel deposit of some substance within its Pilbara prospects.

With the snowball effect of successful gold discoveries across the region for major and junior companies alike, the future of the Pilbara region is golden.

“Early days for new projects are always exciting,” Billing concludes. “Sometimes they wither and die but other times you get the discovery of substance you hope for.

“We think we’ve got some ingredients for a discovery of substance and we will keep working at it until it is beyond doubt.”

This feature will also appear in the November edition of Australian Mining.

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