By Peter Kenter, Content Works, on behalf of King & Bay, published June 27, 2018 in National Post
Johnson Camp Mine is located just one mile north of Excelsior’s Gunnison deposit. This close proximity will allow for Gunnison copper solution to be piped to the SX-EW facility at JCM for processing into pure copper cathode.
Excelsior Mining Corp. recently attained full permitting of its Gunnison Copper Project, the first new copper mine to open in Arizona in more than 10 years, and also is set to become North America’s lowest- cost, pure copper producer at a time when market conditions are heading in the right direction.
Excelsior was founded in 2010 by King & Bay − a Vancouver-based full-service merchant bank that specializes in identifying, funding, developing and managing emerging companies in the natural resource, airline and tech sectors. Since Excelsior’s inception, King & Bay’s team of experts has worked with Excelsior’s growing, internal management team to create the right conditions for success by serving as an incubator to realize its ultimate corporate objectives. With its federal permit in place, Excelsior now is on its way to spreading its wings and capitalizing on this remarkable opportunity in Arizona.
“If Arizona was a country, it would be among the world’s top 10 copper producers,” says Mark Morabito, CEO of King & Bay. “The state is rich in copper, but in North America, the single greatest business risk isn’t locating viable deposits, it’s permitting. You need the capital, the commitment and the expertise to achieve the permits to approve production.”
Permitting and meeting regulatory requirements are challenges King & Bay has stared down before, whether in developing Canada Jetlines Ltd., its emerging ultra-lowcost airline venture, or advancing promising resource projects in British Columbia, Québec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“At the end of the day, all permitting processes present similar challenges,” says Morabito. “We acquire the skills of trusted advisors to handle any details of the process that are unique, while we do all the heavy lifting.”
Gunnison Copper first came to the attention of King & Bay as an orphaned copper deposit, located along Interstate 10 between the small cities of Benson and Willcox. Initially, the only people attached to the project were current Excelsior CEO and President, Stephen Twyerould and COO, Roland Goodgame. Geologists had identified significant high-grade copper deposits on the site, now believed to total more than 4.5 billion pounds of oxide copper, but open-pit mining would have presented significant environmental challenges. Removing overburden to pursue open-pit excavation would have created major local disruption.
“We looked at the project from the perspective of in-situ recovery (ISR) of copper, which we believed would not only be economically viable, but also much cleaner and more environmentally amenable,” says Morabito.
Arizona has a positive track record for ISR mining. It’s a low-cost, environmentally-sound process of extracting metals from deposits with advantages over other mining processes, including lower operating costs and clean and efficient mine closure. However, while ISR had previously been demonstrated on a small scale as an adjunct to existing pit mines, it has never been attempted or permitted on a full project scale.
“The beauty and rarity of our copper deposit is that it sits below the water table,” says Morabito. “That allows us to employ the most environmentally-friendly mining method available. We can control all mining fluids through a closedloop system that has been fully vetted by state and federal regulatory agencies. In addition, we’ve conducted detailed hydrogeological engineering studies that indicate that even if any fluid were to leave the extraction field, it would quickly be neutralized by the surrounding limestone. Without doubt, the Gunnison Copper Project is one of the most environmentally-friendly copper extraction projects under development in the world today. At the same time, it has the potential to be one of the lowest-cost, pure copper producers in North America.”
Permitting of the project also required buy-in from the surrounding community. As an in-situ operation, the project demonstrated to residents that it will produce very little traffic, noise, dust or light pollution. Commercial production is scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2019 and will provide a significant economic boost locally and for the state. The project is predicted to generate almost US$3 billion in economic activity statewide over the life of the mine.
Initial processing of the copper oxide will take place at the refurbished Johnson Camp Mine, acquired by Excelsior in 2015, located just a few kilometres north of the wellfield. Morabito sees Gunnison as the beginning of a new and more environmentally-friendly era for mining in the state of Arizona.
After nine years of hard work, it also marks the beginning of a long goodbye for King & Bay. “In the beginning, we ran almost all the development and operations from Vancouver,” says Morabito. “Today, we’ve helped Excelsior build a talented team of executives, engineers, geologists, lawyers, IT people and accountants based in Phoenix; Excelsior is well on the path to becoming the next independent copper producer in the United States.”