Facts and Fallacies: a personal commentary on the last 45 years of uranium exploration and development in the Athabasca Basin of northern Saskatchewan.
Part I: The Background - Some Facts – Roger Wallis
|| The geological setting of the North Saskatchewan uranium deposits
|| A summary of the discovery history since Rabbit Lake in 1968, >80 deposits totaling 2.16 billion lbs of U3O8 (at US$40/lb. this is >C95 billion “in the ground”)
|| The distribution - both geographic and geological of tonnage and grade of these >80 deposits
|| But note: 65% of them have NOT been developed - why is this?
Part II: Economic Development – William Kerr
High-grade unconformity hosted deposits are the target of choice for almost every Athabasca-focused exploration entity due to their spectacular grades. However, there are no current CNSC licensing applications to place any of the ~~40 known undeveloped deposits, some with more than 100 million pounds U3O8 in resources and some with extremely high grades of up to 19% U3O8, (and all of which are very high-profile) in production. This analysis, based on history of production and published costs, indicates that shaft-accessible deposits, unless approaching Cigar Lake size, are simply not economic and may be physically and economically stranded and will never be developed under any short to medium term uranium-pricing scenario. Counter-intuitively, this analysis also indicates that smaller lower-grade basement-hosted deposits may be much more economically viable than the remaining un-mined higher-grade unconformity-hosted deposits. While the Athabasca Basin is accepted as the highest-profile uranium exploration “camp” in the world, a radical re-think of these preferred exploration targets, in the context of their “mineability”, is suggested.
Part III: The Current Exploration Model - A Severe Case of EM Myopia – Roger Wallis
All the early discoveries were due to follow-up of airborne and ground radiometric surveys - boulder chasing e.g. Rabbit Lake, Cluff Lake, Key Lake, Midwest Lake. However, since the publication of Dahlkamp’s and Tan’s (1977) paper, which noted the proximity of graphite to the Key Lake deposits, uranium exploration in the Athabasca Basin had been dominated by a severe case of EM myopia. Note: This has been incredibly successful, >50 deposits having been discovered by drilling EM conductors.
And, graphite becomes a significant component of the Hoeve/Sibbald (1978) geological model. However, Yeo/Potter (2010) have demonstrated that graphite is very unlikely to have been an “active” reductant. Using EM techniques to delineate graphite is simply “pragmatic”. It is easy to do, relatively inexpensive and provides drill targets. It is a classic example of the “it worked for them, so it should work for us, we don’t know why, but fly and drill” exploration model.
Thus, over the last >30 years >10,000 “wildcat” drill holes have been drilled, at the cost of >$500M, with no specific target other than “it’s an EM conductor” and our property has got lots of them!
So, a few points: (i) NO graphite, or a significant EM conductor, occurs directly for example at Beaverlodge/Gunnar, Cluff Lake, Rabbit Lake, Raven, Horseshoe, Eagle Point, Centennial - a total of >30 deposits. (ii) Recently discovered deposits Roughrider and Phoenix do NOT occur on AEM conductors and were NOT targeted on EM data. (iii) As of 2014 the Basin is saturated with EM to depths of >1000m. So what now? Saturate the Basin with IP, Resistivity, Gravity, Seismic, Magnetotellurics, etc. OR, is it time to return to basic geological controls: fluid transport and ore deposition. There has to be a reason why the deposits are where they are! Why not target these locations?
This event is followed by our annual Christmas Networking event, which has been generously sponsored by TGDG and WGM.
Bio: Roger Wallis
Roger Wallis graduated from Birmingham University (UK) with a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Geology and minors in Civil and Mining Engineering in1960, and a Ph.D. in 1966. Roger has worked at Cambridge University as a Senior Research Associate; Senior Geologist with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey; Senior Geologist with Barringer Research; Project Manager at Barringer Fiji Ltd.; Chief Geologist, Minerals Division, Canadian Occidental Petroleum; V.P. Exploration, Billiton Metals Canada Inc. (Royal Dutch Shell), and since 1993 as a Consultant.
Successful mineral discovery/development projects include McClean uranium (6) deposits; Selbaie Cu-Zn-Ag-Au; Blende Pb-Zn-Ag; Mt. Pleasant Sn/W; Hanson Lake Cu-Zn-Ag-Au and the Phoenix U deposit. Roger has published >30 peer reviewed papers, and been a Distinguished Lecturer for the GAC/CIM and Invited Lecturer for the SEG/GSA. He has been awarded the CIM's Barlow Medal (3 times) and the J. C. Sproule Memorial Plaque for >40 years of successful mineral exploration; the PDAC‘s Distinguished Service Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to the Canadian Mineral Exploration Industry. Roger was a longtime member of the TGDG Executive.
Bio: Bill Kerr
Bill Kerr graduated from UNB in 1975, worked on the Abitibi grant in Buchans, Newfoundland, then spent 3 years with Questor flying INPUT surveys before joining Dome Exploration in 1981 as resident geologist out of Campbell Red Lake Mines, and later the big Dome in Timmins. He joined Denison Mines in 1997 and became Denison’s technical representative to the McClean Lake JV and also Vice-President Exploration. He was lead author in 2003 of the world’s first NI 43-101 technical report on U reserves and resources, and co-author of a NI 43-101report on blindshaft boring (forerunner to the McClean Lake JV’s MED and SABRE system). He directed the Management Committee of the Midwest JV in 2004/2005 to restart exploration to follow up historic hole MW-238, which became the 13 million pound Midwest A deposit. He built and led the teams responsible for, and named the discovery of, the worlds highest-grade Uranium deposit at Phoenix, while simultaneously doubling resources by discovery at deposits in both Mongolia and Zambia. He left Denison in 2011 to run gold and base metal exploration for the Saudi Arabian government’s mining company Ma’aden, returning to Canada in 2013.