The Mines and Money (M&M) Americas conference in Toronto on October 15-17 included a presentation from Frazer Tabeart, the managing director of PolarX Ltd. Dr Tabeart summarised the company's Alaska Range project, in particular the Zackly Cu-Au-Ag skarn deposit.
Dr Tabeart talked of a Tier 1 asset in a Tier 1 jurisdiction and told delegates of the "massive upside potential" for the deposit, which was the "tip of the iceberg" on what was a huge geological anomaly. Some C$5 million was spent on exploration this year, and drilling of the near-by Mars and Zackly SE porphyry targets will commence in the next drill season, starting circa May 2019.
Mining Beacon (MB) caught up with Dr Tabeart to ask him what an ASX-listed company was doing with a project in Alaska?
Frazer Tabeart (FT): Quite simply, when the Alaska Range Project came across my desk it had the best exploration potential of any I had ever seen, and I had been looking for a very long time. I am a geologist, with over 30 years of experience which includes searching for copper and gold in the southwest Pacific, American Cordillera Belt and throughout Asia, half of this time was with WMC Resources.
MB: So, it is the deposit rather than Alaska that appealed?
FT: Well, both — I had left WMC to join the Mitchell River Group (MRG) consultancy and was always focussed on seeking Tier 1 projects in Tier 1 countries but the deposit always comes first. Alaska has a well-established geological record with known endowment for world class deposits, so it's not a stretch to envisage the Alaska Range Project delivering something of immense value.
MB: Was copper also always the target?
FT: Yes, I am very confident of the long-term future of copper, which has extremely robust fundamentals. The recent difficulties are temporary and are driven by short-term issues; I am confident investors will return. This view is reflected by the quality of the company's shareholder register, which includes JP Morgan, Ruffer (UK) and Jupiter Asset Management.
However, gold as a significant bi-product is a very valuable addition to the resource. The deposit has very good precious metals grades, which bodes well for any porphyry deposit we may discover nearby — the Alaskan and Canadian porphyry deposit (such as Pebble) often have considerable gold credits, unlike the largely gold-free porphyry copper deposits in New Mexico and Arizona.
MB: And managing the project at this extreme distance?
FT: Given there is a 16-hour time difference between Perth and Alaska, it can be challenging but we've had a highly competent team on-site, and Jason Berton (PolarX's technical director) and I visit regularly. I've visited Alaska around ten times during the past two years, but the trip does take between 40 and 55 hours door-to-door — and I am still experimenting with different routes!
MB: What do you considered the most important change in the mining-investment landscape over the past few years?
FT: The burgeoning future for electric vehicles has transformed the metals and mining sector, giving an enormous boost to battery metals (cobalt, lithium, vanadium etc) but also to the long-term need for copper.
MB: On what aspect of PolarX should investors focus?
FT: The potential of Zackly, in particular, where one more drill season may see this transformed into an economically-viable resource but then there is also the potential of the other nearby targets for something much, much bigger.
MB: What sets your company apart from others in the same investment space?
FT: PolarX is developing a good deposit in a good commodity and in a good location; ie in a Tier 1 country. We are also at a good point in the discovery curve, right near the upward inflection point in the share valuation that comes when the market finally realises you have made a significant discovery.
MB: What development over the past 12 months do you think has been the most important?
FT: Recent drilling, coupled with high-resolution aeromagnetic data, has been extremely encouraging and we are confident that we're now on the edge of a major discovery.
MB: What opportunities do you expect to emerge over the next 12 months?
FT: I expect the potential for additional discoveries to be confirmed during the next season of drilling (the latest assay results from this year's programme are imminent). We have two main goals; first, to expand the Zackly resource to an economically viable scale, and second to confirm a world-class copper-gold porphyry discovery at Mars or Zackly SE.
MB: What do you see as the key risks or challenges facing your company?
FT: We are not facing any significant political risk as the US is a good place for miners to operate: resource nationalisation is not an issue here unlike some other jurisdictions. Long-term metals prices also seem secure due to the excellent fundamentals. The main risk, for us and other juniors, is the access to capital. We need to be able to fund adequate exploration without excessive dilution for existing shareholders. At the moment, unfortunately, it is a challenge to attract serious 'risk' investors, ie those seeking longer-term gains, largely because of the competing markets in cryptocurrencies, speciality metals, cannabis etc, but also due to the recent global sell-off in equities across the board.
MB: And the price of copper?
FT: Much depends on the trade war between China and the US. I expect the metal's difficulties to remain in the short term, but we are hedged to a certain extent because of the project's gold content.
MB: Did you get what you hoped from presenting at the M&M Americas event?
FT: I was not expecting anything in particular from the presentation itself. I was in Toronto to improve my understanding ofthe current views in the North American investment market; and talking to my peers and the investors at the conference certainly helped with that. There seemed to be a general view that markets will improve in early-2019, with a shift of capital back into exploration and mining.
MB: Many thanks.
PHOTO: Frazer Tabeart (on left) and project manager Chris van Treeck standing on the Zackly skarn deposit with the Mars Cu-Au target in the hills across the valley.