The Investing News Network recently caught up with Scott McLean, president and CEO of Transition Metals, to discuss where platinum in Ontario is heading.
By: Teresa Matich and Jocelyn Aspa
Although most of the world’s production of platinum comes from South Africa, Ontario is gradually placing itself on the map as a hot spot for high grade platinum intersections.
The Investing News Network (INN) recently caught up with Scott McLean, president and CEO of Transition Metals (TSXV:XTM), a prospect generator focusing on the discovery of ore deposits in Canada. The company owns a number of projects in Ontario that are prospective for platinum, including the Sunday Lake platinum, nickel and copper project, a joint venture with South Africa’s Impala Platinum (JSE:IMP)
Listen to the interview, or read the transcript below, to hear what McLean had to say. The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
INN: We’re here today to talk about platinum in Ontario and you said there’s sort of three distinct regions or ways that this can present itself. Could you give us an overview?
SM: In the general model sense, Transition Metals looks at three different environments when it’s looking for its platinum group elements. And it often does associate it with nickel and copper. We call this class of the deposits magmatic sulfides. In Ontario, in particular, there’s a really well established mining camp that’s traditionally thought to be mostly nickel; it’s called Sudbury. It’s been in production since 1883, and it’s produced about 1.6 billion tonnes of ore from about 56 mines through time. And within that camp, platinum accumulates, as it is associated with nickel and sulfides. It’s often thought to be a nickel camp but with some of the deposits, the platinum/palladium is so high, it really should be called a precious metal of platinum/palladium camp.
The other environment that we’re active in that also produces good magmatic sulfides is an area sort of centered under Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes, and it’s called the Mid Continental Rift. This is an area where the continent, about one billion years ago, tried to split apart and had a lot of magmatic activity. It failed to do that, but a lot of magmatic activity happened in that environment which created, again, magmatic sulfides. And the third area that we’re active in that also produces PGEs, is in Archaean Greenstone belt. It is associated with ultramafic rocks, much like what they have in western Australia in the Kambalda camp. And if you’d like I could explain a little bit about each of those camps.
SM: Let’s start with Sudbury. Sudbury was a meteorite impact site. An astrobleme struck the Earth approximately 1.85 billion years ago, and it’s estimated that that meteorite created a crater that was about 200 kilometers in diameter; a huge event. It subsequently has been eroded and tectonically reshaped to be about a 60 by 30 kilometer feature. To put the model together, after the astrobleme struck it volatilized a large crater, it melted all the country rock and essentially filled up that bathtub of a crater with liquid. As that liquid cooled, it’s precipitated sulfide. And if there’s any sulfur in the system it’s going to attract things like nickel, copper and, particularly, platinum and palladium. Those sulfide blebs become heavy and dense relative to the liquid, and [they] settled and formed contact deposits on the base of that crater floor. So that’s one type of deposit and those are rich primarily in nickel, copper, cobalt and some platinum and palladium.
Those deposits get upgraded into high grade PG veins as they fractionate out into the footwall. So the minerals that crystalize at a lower temperature actually migrate out into the temperature gradient around that crater. The third type of deposit there that we’re particularly interested is in offset dyke environments. If you think about a stone hitting your windshield it forms a crater, and then forms sort of radial and concentric fractures around that crater. That’s exactly what’s happened in Sudbury. After the impact that created the crater, the crater filled up with liquid, it also fractured the earth in a radial and concentric fashion. And as the crust destressed after impact, those cracks opened up and liquid and sulfide was in place downwards into these, creating very high grade platinum type deposits. And that’s one of the projects that we’re working on.
Moving over into the Mid-Continental rift area, we talked about that a little earlier in this interview—it’s an area where the crust tried to break apart, tried to rift apart about one billion years ago.At that time, there was a lot of magmatic activity so very basic, or what we call ultramafic magmas, are originating in the mantle of the Earth are placed up into the crust along that rift feature. As they interact with the crust, the country rocks that have sulfur in them, the liquid or the magma becomes contaminated in sulfur, which again, just like in Sudbury, attracts nickel, copper and PGEs to that sulfide to form sulfide minerals and they accumulate generally at the base of these intrusions. Our property at Sunday Lake is precisely one of these types of deposits.
The third style of mineralization, or the third environment we talked about, were Archaean Greenstone belts much like what we see in western Australia. These are volcanic belts that were in place perhaps 2.7 billion years ago. So in Ontario, today we’ve already talked about 1-billion-year-old deposits, 1.85-billion-year-old deposits, and now 2.7-billion-year-old deposits. These are all, again, ultramafic, or very basic lavas that have originated from deep in the mantle. They come to surface and they actually flow across the surface like a stream, where that stream—and they also collect sulfur from the crustal rocks—they become contaminated in sulfur and produce sulfide minerals. Those sulfide minerals are then deposited in kind of like creek beds where there’s depressions in the creek bed or the lava flow bed. As the velocity of that magma is slowed down those heavy minerals that are sulfide minerals fall out of the liquid and accumulate as massive sulfides.
INN: So three very different types of deposits. What’s important for investors to know who are looking at projects in different areas?
SM: Like any deposit you’re looking for, you’re looking for grade and you’re looking for tonnes and these types of deposits offer excellent opportunities for high grade and high tonnage type massive sulfide deposits. The one thing I like to let people understand is that in order to have these types of deposits, you’ve got to have sulfur in the system to create sulfide minerals such as pentlandite, millerite and the spectrum of PGE minerals including michenerite … et cetera. If there is no sulfur in the system, then a lot of the metals, like nickel and platinum palladium, form within the silicate mineral structure. So they can give you a kind of false anomaly that perhaps there’s nickel in the system when there really isn’t nickel or platinum/palladium that’s actually recoverable. So you’ve got to have that sulfide mineralogy in order to have valuable platinum/palladium and nickel minerals.
INN: It seems like there is a lot of platinum in Ontario and most of the world’s platinum production comes from South Africa right now, so how does it compare to the rest of the world?
SM: When you look at Sudbury, Sudbury’s always stuck in people’s head as being a nickel camp, but the amount of platinum and palladium that’s come out of this camp is phenomenal. We’re drilling the Air Kidd property right now which is located between the Vale’s (NYSE:VALE) Totten Mine and KGHM’s (WSE:KGH) Victoria Development, and we’re having significantly high grades. In fact, we’re having some of the higher grade platinum intersections which include a couple meters of nearly 10 grams per ton platinum plus palladium, and shorter intersections where we’re getting half a meter of almost an ounce. So these are high grade platinum deposits. They’ve always been there.
As we’ve progressed through the development of Sudbury, we’re starting to pay a lot more attention to these higher grade deposits in the footwall and the offset environments, which are different than the traditional pure nickel plays of the contact deposits. In Thunder Bay, in our Sunday Lake project, I think we’ve discovered, with our recent intersection there, probably one of the more important platinum-palladium intersections to come outside of South Africa in many decades. That intersection was reported at about 43 meters of three and a half grams platinum plus palladium, including about 10 meters of about six grams. This type of material’s actually about two to one platinum to palladium, so very high grade platinum relative to palladium which is very unusual outside of South Africa around the world. So I look at Ontario as having great opportunity for platinum-palladium mines to be developed in the coming years.
INN: We were talking about yesterday you have a joint venture agreement with Impala (JSE:IMP), correct? And I think Walbridge Mining (TSX:WM) was also in Ontario doing nickel and platinum—they have a joint venture with Lonmin(LSE:LMI). So, the interest from these big platinum producers in Ontario, what do you think that means for the district?
SM: Well, one of the things I just mentioned earlier is there’s very few places around the world where you get really high grade platinum relative to palladium. And the Mid-Continental Rift is definitely one of those areas. When you get these specific types of inclusions they seem to be quite anomalous in platinum. Impala, our partner, who has been our partner for many years, has recognized that the Mid-Continental Rift is one of those places where you can be, as their logo says, ‘Distinctly Platinum’. So they’ve targeted this area. They’ve picked a group like ours to help them explore it, and it’s one of their steps outside of South Africa that they’ve made in the past few years.
INN: Thank you so much for joining me.
SM: It’s a pleasure, thank you for having me.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Teresa Matich, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Securities Disclosure: I, Jocelyn Aspa, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: Wallbridge Mining is a client of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid for content.