"We will see how M&A in the region plays out, but importantly, Clean Air Metals has the flexibility and experience to develop the Thunder Bay North project itself.”
What potential do you see at the Thunder Bay North project?
Thunder Bay North is multi-ounce platinum and palladium magma conduit system, with high grade characteristics. We have recognized that this system has a lot of similarities structurally and stratigraphically to the Norilsk mining district in Russia and similar exploration techniques can be applied. It consists of two sub-horizontal conduits, one of which is the Current Lake deposit, with a 9.8 million tonne historic estimate that is currently being evaluated by Nordmin Engineering. 3 km west of this, we have been drilling off the Escape Lake deposit, a Rio discovery that is showing every bit of the potential and scale of the Current Lake deposit. The historic level of expenditure also attracted Jim and I to the Thunder Bay North Project, as Rio Tinto and Panoramic had collectively spent C$85 million on the project. Clean Air Metals has a strong operating platform as a result. We are not your average startup.
How was the financing of the deal to acquire the property structured?
Benton made a C$3 million (50%) down payment to Rio Tinto in October, 2019, to secure the deal in return for shares of Clean Air Metal and is a 17% shareholder of the company. In October 2020, Clean Air Metals made a C$1 million payment to Rio Tinto to maintain the Escape Lake option, and there are C$2 million in payments to Rio remaining over the next two years (October 2021 and 2022). Panoramic have transferred 100% ownership of Panoramic PGM’s (Canada) Ltd., now a wholly owned subsidiary and 100% owner of the Current Lake deposit to Clean Air Metals, subject to security on the remaining payments of C$1.5 million per year over the next three years going forward. Clean Air Metals has paid C$8.5 million of a C$15 million purchase price so far and we are funded to make the balance of those payments today. However, for the time being we are content to go with the instalment plan and put our money in the ground to expand the resource. As we come to a definitive feasibility study on the Current Lake deposit, we may elect to exercise the option with Benton Resources early by paying everyone out.
Where are you targeting exploration efforts for the rest 2020 and early 2021?
The mandate to Nordmin Engineering was to deliver an initial resource validation under NI 43-101, which we expect by Q1 2021 and a Preliminary Economic Assessment or scoping study in Q2/21. In addition, we have the Escape Lake deposit that is currently being delineated.
We believe that the 30,000-hectare Thunder Bay North project land package holds significant greenfield potential as well. Drawing upon techniques used in the Norilsk mineral massive sulphide deposit model, we applied audio-magnetotellurics (a low frequency resistivity system) to the feeder zone areas of the Current Lake and Escape Lake intrusions, where they are underlain by the Escape Lake fault. As a result, we have discovered heretofore unknown low-resistivity, high-conductivity anomalies, which we will be drill testing.
Is the medium to long term plan for the project to engage in M&A or actually build the mine?
We can credibly say that not only are we going to explore and delineate the project, we have the experience and track record to build it. Presently our base case is a high-grade, underground, ramp-access mining operation at the Current Lake deposit and that is the mandate for Nordmin Engineering’s design team.
There is competitive tension in the region. Impala Canada’s Lac Des Iles mine is located 60 km up the road, and Lundin Mining’s Eagle deposit is on the south side of the Lake Superior basin. We will see how M&A in the region plays out, but importantly Clean Air Metals has the flexibility and experience to develop the Thunder Bay North project itself should this be justified according to optimized engineering solutions.