Barry Fitzgerald chats with Tim Mason, chief executive officer of Eagle Mountain, about how the Oracle Ridge copper project is growing to meet US demand.

ASX-listed Eagle Mountain Mining (ASX:EM2) is preparing its Oracle Ridge project in Arizona to provide the United States with what it needs – more environmentally sensitive domestic copper supplies for its low emissions future.

Since acquiring the historical Oracle Ridge in 2019 Eagle Mountain has been busy growing the resource to 240,000t of copper (16.5Mt grading 1.45%), along with gold and silver credits.

Exploration upside remains but the company is now pivoting towards a technical phase in which metallurgical testwork and the evaluation of mining options is underway, all leveraged off the project’s existing infrastructure base.

Not the least of the existing infrastructure base is 18km of underground mine development with a likely replacement cost of more than $100 million.

Eagle Mountain chief executive Tim Mason believes it is a key advantage in advancing Oracle Ridge, located a 1.5 hour drive from the regional centre of Tucson, and 30kms from BHP’s former San Manuel copper mine and smelter.

“Because this has been a previous mine (it was discovered in 1893 and was last mined between 1991-1996) it ticks a lot of boxes for being a successful project in the future,’’ Mason said.

“Since acquiring the project we have been building the resource so we could get some economies of scale and help the economics fly.’’

“In the last couple of years we’ve been drilling and expanding the resource base, and we have refurbished the existing underground mine.’’

“And there is a lot more copper to be found as well.’’


Growing value and resource base

An $8 million IPO in 2018, Eagle Mountain now has a market cap of about $30 million, with Mason suggesting the market is yet to fully appreciate the value of the existing underground development, and the growing resource base.

He said the completion of the underground refurbishment meant the company “can get into the orebody, we can touch it.’’

“It has proved really insightful for us in understanding how and where the mineralisation sits. It is so much better than just looking at drill hole results.’’

“All that means another resource update will be coming out shortly (expected in the December quarter),’’ Mason said.

“We are expecting a reasonable increase in both the size and the grade, largely based off recent drilling we have done, but also from being able to understand how the mineralisation has been deposited.’’

Mason said the improved understanding of the mineralisation meant there was a lot of optionality in how Oracle Ridge’s development can proceed.

“There’s a really nice high-grade core to the resource but there is also a lot of lower grade mineralisation – effectively a halo around the current resource.’’

“So that gives us optionality for whether this is more of a higher grade project, or do we bulk it out and have bigger tonnes at a slightly lower grade. We need to complete our evaluation work, particularly from a metallurgy perspective, on finding the sweet spot to maximise value,’’ Mason said.

“That is what we are doing now. We have got a range of metallurgical testwork programs underway, as well as initial mining plan evaluations.’’

“We should have some good indications by the end of the year on where those evaluations are landing,” he said.

Mason emphasised that unlike many of the copper projects held by ASX-listed companies, Oracle Ridge was not a “greenfields’’ project.

“Far from it. Apart from the existing underground mine development we’ve got access roads, we know where the water was, and there is an existing tailings dam that we will need to reopen.’’


Oracle Ridge in seasoned hands

Originally a Melbourne boy, the Perth-based Mason is a geotechnical mining engineer from RMIT who went on to complete an MBA “just to round things off.’’

He joined Eagle Mountain in late 2019 and has more than 20 years’ experience, including time at Newmont’s The Granites gold mine in the Northern Territory, and Panoramic’s Savannah nickel-copper-cobalt mine in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.

“I have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to the full gamut in mining from the corporate side, and technical side as well.’’

Mason said he was the left field member of his family by choosing to get into mining.

“There is no family connection with mining at all. Mum and Dad are both school teachers and I’ve got a couple of brothers, one is a vet, and one is an electronics engineer.’’

“I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and engineering was a bit of a passion as I quite like designing and building things, watching them come to fruition.’’

The environment is another passion of Mason’s.

“I was actually looking at environmental engineering there at one point and I quite like making sure mining companies operate in an environmentally respectful and ethical way.’’

It is something Mason plans for Oracle Ridge.

“It has got the potential to be a world leader in low emission mining, and being underground, it has also got very low disturbance.’’

“So I think it will be a really exciting story to be producing copper for decarbonisation and producing it in the US where they are screaming out for the metal, but doing it in a really sustainable manner.’’

And Mason’s view of the copper price?

“In the short to medium I can see stock levels continuing to drop so I think we are going to see a good increase in the price by the back half of this year. And I think that when it moves, it is going to move quite quickly.’’


This article was developed in collaboration with Eagle Mountain Mining, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.