Billion tonne question: PolarX is about to find out how big its Alaskan copper and gold mine really is
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2019 is shaping up as an important year for copper and gold play PolarX (ASX:PXX).
The company is ramping up exploration efforts at its Alaska Range Project with a focus on three core prospects.
The deposit is situated about a 6-hour drive from the Alaskan city of Anchorage, “effectively a Kalgoorlie trip”.
Speaking with Stockhead at the 2019 Resources Rising Stars event in Sydney, PolarX managing director Frazer Tabeart outlined the company’s 2019 strategy.
PolarX’s deposit is on a 12km strip of Alaskan terrain wedged between a “world class” gold deposit to the north, and a huge untapped copper reserve to the south.
Within that land area the company has flagged three prospects — named Zackly, Mars and Saturn — which have commercialisation potential.
The company plans to commence drilling at the Zackly site in May or June.
It’s the smallest of the three, with a maximum potential size of around 10 million tonnes. But Mr Tabeart and PolarX chairman Mark Bojanjac think Zackly could be the “smoking gun” for the huge Mars and Saturn deposits located on either side.
At the Saturn deposit to the right of Zackly, early magnetic testing indicates there could be significant porphyry copper deposits.
Some brief science: Porphyry deposits are created when fluids burst up from the Earth’s core and puncture the rock above, leaving copper and gold to form in the “veins” the intrusion creates.
The thing is, PolarX think the Saturn deposit could be huge — as much as two to four billion tonnes. But it doesn’t know yet, because the deposit is covered under 15-20 metres of solid rock.
To find out, the company is planning to carry out an “Induced Polarisation” testing procedure in May.
“It’s a two to three week program, then it takes about a month to get the data back. So we could be drilling in Saturn as soon as July,” Mr Tabeart said.
Drilling at the Mars deposit could commence at around the same time. The minerals are closer to the surface at Mars but the site is a lot harder to get to, so PolarX will have to hire some choppers to assist with the transport.
“It’s a pretty expensive taxi,” Mr Bojanjac noted.
“By July we’ll know how Zackly’s shaping up, and by August/September we’ll know how Mars and Saturn are shaping up,” Mr Tabeart said.
Early indications suggest both Mars and Zackly are comprised of an approximate 50/50 split between copper and gold, while Saturn remains the great unknown.
Mr Tabeart said the geo-physical data obtained so far at the Mars and Saturn sites has caught the attention of some big players.
“We’ve just signed our seventh confidentiality agreement with a major mining company, with a view to them investing in PolarX,” Mr Tabeart said.
“That’s given us the self confidence that we’re onto something because guys that have a track record of porphyry exploration, discovery and mining are looking at our data and saying — wow, we really like that.”
The company is supported by some big players on its share register, including JP Morgan and hedge fund Ruffer LLC. From a business standpoint, how the company proceeds is all dependent on what it discovers.
“Zackly as a standalone isn’t big enough for the big guys, it’s about 10 million tonnes. So if we only did that, we’d do it ourselves,” Mr Tabeart said.
“But if we find one billion tonnes at one per cent copper equivalent — that’s what we’d like to find — then we’d need somebody with deep pockets even just to do the feasibility study.”
“You’re talking something then that’s tens of millions of dollars, and three to five years.”
At this stage, the company is keeping its options open.
“That’s why we don’t want to give away project-level interest, because it takes away that optionality,” Mr Tabeart said.
“And we can do it while we’ve got strong shareholders. Between our major shareholders plus management interests, the combined investment is around 50 per cent of the company.”
Mr Tabeart promised Stockhead his company wasn’t going to “lose the project through a lack of funding”.
“JP Morgan and Ruffer will not let us go belly up,” he said.
“What we all want is one more cornerstone investor — a mining company — because that brings that validation.”
“If we could bring in a globally recognised mid-tier or major, that gives the markets confidence because the investor has effectively done the due diligence for everyone else.”
“Technical validation and your funding going forwards will be looked after as well. The guys we’re talking to aren’t interested in 10-million tonne Zackly. They’re looking at a billion tonne Mars or Saturn.”