Morgan Poliquin of Almaden Minerals (TSX: AMM) Provides an Update on the Ixtaca Project: Feasibility Study and Exploration Drilling
Gerardo Del Real: This is Gerardo Del Real with Resource Stock Digest. Joining me today is President and CEO of Almaden Minerals (TSX: AMM)(NYSE: AAU), Dr. Morgan Poliquin. Morgan, how are you?
Morgan Poliquin: I'm excellent, thank you very much. And you?
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent as well. Thank you for asking. You've been plenty busy. I understand that you just recently closed that $17.2 million bought deal that I know Sprott had a lot to do with. There was a conference recently you participated in, and you had some blockbuster results just a few days ago. So I'd like to talk about all those things.
Let's start with the financing. You obviously are very well cashed up now to advance a project that I think is unique in the sense that it's one of the few polymetallic deposits with a robust resource in a jurisdiction that I think is very, very favorable for development. How are things coming along at Ixtaca, Morgan?
Morgan Poliquin: Well, things are going along very well. We have a very clear plan for the next 12 months, which is to permit the mine plan as laid out in our recent pre-feasibility study. We're also completing a feasibility study, which will be a bankable feasibility study so that we can pursue at the point of production decision, production financing. So it's a very clear path forward in terms of the development of the deposit as we know it, on the one hand. We have a very high level pre-feasibility study, in many respects a feasibility study, technically. So it's not a significant work program, but to turn it bankable is more about the detailed engineering drawings and a lot of desktop and costing working that is already well underway. So that's what we're doing with the deposit.
On the other hand, we feel that there are two stories here. One is what I just laid out, a plus two million ounce gold equivalent reserve that we are permitting. However, we have a significant exploration potential on the property that is untested. It's seven years since the discovery we made in 2010, but most of that time, we've been burdened by a horrific market and we've focused our efforts on detailed infill drilling around the discovery hole, and defining the resource and de-risking the resource, as well as a voluminous amount of engineering drilling and on-site work.
So, we haven't had a chance to see if this can be a lot bigger. I think the cash, you mentioned the financing, not only gives a great deal of breathing room with respect to the program I laid out, the development and permitting program, but it allows us to get back to our knitting, which is seeing if this thing can be part of a much larger system, which we think there is great potential for.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent, now speaking to that potential, on the 18th of July, just a few days ago, you had a news release where you hit 8.4 meters of a 1,035 grams per tonne silver, and 8.5 meters of 1.05 grams per tonne gold, and 511.4 grams per tonne silver. Now the veining was inside and outside of the 2017 pre-feasibility study pit, north of the main Ixtaca zone. Can we talk a bit about that, because there's obviously significant exploration upside still at the property?
Morgan Poliquin: Delighted to. We think that's precisely the case. We feel that the discovery we made, again, was just before, kind of at the apex of a very brief mania in the gold sector. It was good for our shareholders we made the discovery at that time, but it proved to be a pretty difficult time the last seven years, as all, I'm sure, your listeners would well know.
Again, our efforts had to be focused on developing and de-risking the resource. Here we are looking, about a year ago, during the course of pre-feasibility study, I looked at our drilling results. It was clear to me there was potential immediately adjacent to the deposit that we know. Let alone, what I would call the blue sky potential, where this large alteration zone remains untested for most of it.
So, our first step was to start drilling immediately adjacent to the deposits, see what some of these sniffs, holes that ended in mineralization or had just kind of grabbed the tail of something, the toe of something. That's what this drill program represents. It's following up those very preliminary expiration results, and flushing them out into what could contribute to the deposit, ultimately. Of course, the tenor and the grade of these intercepts is really significant.
What I would say, this is not a mature camp. This isn't what people call brownfields. There's no historic mining here. This is a brand new discovery, and really it should be considered as such, even though we're seven years in.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. Now where are we, as far as drilling at Ixtaca? Is drilling ongoing as we speak?
Morgan Poliquin: Drilling is ongoing as we speak. We have two drills operating. Currently, we're starting to drill some of the more remote targets, while one drill also continues following up these sorts of intercepts, immediately in the general resource area or adjacent to it.
So, that work will continue. There will be brief hiatuses. We do a little bit of additional engineering drilling, but we anticipate, over the course of the next 12 months, this exploration drilling to continue.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. Do you have a preset amount of meters that you're drilling? Or will the drill bit kind of dictate that? I know you own your own drills, you can obviously drill a whole lot cheaper than most outfits. Is there a plan to do X amount of meters? Or is literally the drill bit just going to dictate how much you actually drill, depending on results?
Morgan Poliquin: I think the way you put it is really well, really succinct. We feel that the results will dictate how we proceed. We have some real wildcat holes to drill in targets that, quite frankly, look very similar to what is the Ixtaca deposit in terms of alteration, and geophysics, and geochemistry.
So, they're one shot holes, initially. Such as was the drill program to test Ixtaca is a one hole program. So, I will see where they vector us, but it is our hope that the program will expand based on success with the drill bit, as you put it. So there isn't a set number of meters, but it'll be two drills operating continuously.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. Now switching gears a bit but still related to Ixtaca, you are now in talks, I believe, for the dismantlement of the Rock Creek Mill, which is in an area that is near and dear to my wife and her family's heart in Gnome, Alaska, where her family comes from. Can we talk a bit about the process there? I know there's a payment coming up that you're obviously very well-funded to make now. I understand that you're beginning the process to dismantle that and get it moved over.
Morgan Poliquin: That's right. We just made a $2 million dollar payment in June of this year, and the final payment will be June of 2018. As you well know, the ocean freezes over there and the mill was brought in during the period where the ocean isn't frozen from June to October. That will be the window that we need to use to get the mill out again.
So our work program is ongoing right now. We are currently dismantling equipment on site in preparation for the 2018 anticipated mill move. So everything's going ahead quite smoothly in that regard.
Gerardo Del Real: Wonderful. Another interesting tidbit in the news release that I think probably went unnoticed by a lot of people is that some of the waste rock is non-mineralized limestone, and you're actually looking at options to see if it's suitable for use as an aggregate. Can we talk about that a bit, and kind of what the thinking is on that?
Morgan Poliquin: Well, it was something that came out of the pre-feasibility study. It was something we had not been unaware of. Our host rock is limestone, which is very pure. So, two things happen. The mineralized portion of the limestone goes to the mill. Then the gold and the silver and the sulfides associated with them are removed through a process called flotation, which just simply separates what you want from what you don't want. What you don't want gets left behind and becomes what we call tailings in the mining industry. It's simply ground-up rock that doesn't have mineral in it. That ground-up rock, which is limestone, is incredibly pure and totally benign, and has had a huge amount of energy expended on it to make it fine. So, there are potential uses for tailings that we'll be exploring.
But the rock that doesn't even go to the mill, what we call waste rock, which by the way, just as a digression to your listeners if they’re interested, we call it waste because we have to mine it to get at the good stuff, but that doesn't mean it's toxic. Waste has bad connotations, and the anti-mining people use that word against the mining industry. In our case, in particular, it's limestone. It's very high-quality limestone in an area where there's a huge amount of development.
We're 20 kilometers from an industrial park where Kimberly-Clark has just built an enormous facility. Puebla is a booming development state and there's a need for aggregate material as feed for concrete and many uses. So yeah, I think because you're so close to infrastructure, I think it more than anything speaks to the location of Ixtaca that we can contemplate this. It's a unique situation, in some respects, to have a limestone host and have high-quality limestone as essentially a by-product of your mining. So if there are opportunities, I can assure you we'll explore them. We're doing that right now.
Gerardo Del Real: That's interesting, Morgan. So there's actually the potential to turn waste into dollars before you get to the stuff that really turns into bigger dollars. Is that a simplified way of putting it?
Morgan Poliquin: Well, even if you don't make a profit out of it, if somebody wants it and will take it away, it costs a lot of money to mine waste. Every mine has a strip ratio in an open pit, meaning they have to mine some material that is unmineralized to get at what they want. If somebody will just simply take that away for you at cost, even that would be saving a huge amount of money.
So, it's worth contemplating and what makes it worth contemplating, again, speaks to some of the core virtues of our deposit is our incredible infrastructure. We're an hour and a half drive away from the largest Volkswagen plant outside of Germany. So this is no remote wilderness area, this is on Main Street. Mining of rock, such as our waste rock here, there's a huge amount of energy that you're already expending. You're blasting and digging it up, so if it's useful to somebody, you ought to explore it.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. Well, Morgan, I want to thank you for your time. It's obviously an exciting time. I know that you probably can't comment, but there's rumors that there's been several site visits by potential suitors recently. Again, if you can't comment, just say, "no comment". If you can comment, I would love a comment.
Morgan Poliquin: I think it should be obvious that we have a development project, and there's very few of those in the world that are at this stage. There's even fewer that are just gold-silver deposits that have this sort of a resource in a good jurisdiction. So, I think it would be normal business practice for us and for third parties for there to be interest in our deposit from mining companies. I would consider anything of that to be normal course of business and standard procedure.
Certainly, our strategy here in the company is to develop the project. We think we know what are the obvious and best steps forward in the short term here, which is de-risking the deposit by getting our full mine permits, which we expect to do in the next 12 months. That's our time table. Of course, that involves government permitting and there's many risks in that, but we think it's a well-defined risk and we'll be entering that permitting phase shortly. At the same time, we're doing this exploration drilling, which could change the whole dynamic. So, our tasks ahead of us, we don't control what third parties do, but our tasks ahead of us are very clear and shareholders and interested parties can be assured that we'll be following them diligently.
Gerardo Del Real: Excellent. Well it's exciting to see the company doing exploration drilling, especially during the summer doldrums. I know there's a lot of news in the pipeline. I'm looking forward to having you back on, Morgan. Thank you very much for your time today.
Morgan Poliquin: Likewise. Thank you very much.