Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.
If Murray Pezim were around today, the larger-than-life character would approve of giving the award that bears his name to Bob Quartermain, president of Vancouver’s Silver Standard Resources. The two men met amidst the diamond drill rigs at the famous Hemlo gold find in the early 1980s. Pezim was overseeing the work of his company, International Corona Resources, and Quartermain was there on behalf of Teck. Interesting that the two companies later became partners in developing and operating the David Bell gold mine.
Quartermain is this year’s winner of the Murray Pezim Award, presented by the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia. It is given to an individual for “perseverance and success in financing mineral exploration.” With over 20 years at the helm of Silver Standard, Quartermain qualifies by the “perseverance” criteria.
As for financing, Quartermain excels at that, too.
In 2004 Silver Standard bought the Pirquitas silver-tin property in the northwest corner of Argentina. It is the site of an underground mine that produced from 1930 to 1990. By 2006, Silver Standard had advanced its plan to redevelop the deposit and completed a public offering that raised US$160 million toward the project. Again in 2008, Quartermain closed the sale of a further financing of convertible notes, this time grossing US$138 million.
The faith of the investors is about to be rewarded as the new, 6,000-t/d Pirquitas mill prepares to receive the first ore feed next month. It will be the culmination of a US$220-million, on-time and on-budget project. Annual output is targeted at 10 million oz of silver.
This time Pirquitas is developed as an open pit mine with more than 195 million oz of silver in its proven and probable reserves. Silver Standard took advantage of existing infrastructure such as the road, which it repaired. It also built a new mill from scratch to recover silver in a flotation circuit and tin in a gravity circuit. Average annual production will be 10.9 million oz of silver and 2,500 tonnes of tin over at least a 14-year life. There is also provision to recover zinc at a later date.
Quartermain said Silver Standard enjoys the support of the local residents because it can offer good jobs, and the company trained its neighbours to do those jobs. Moreover, the residents appreciated the fact that Silver Standard cleaned up the site before doing its work. The company relies heavily on the local people to help plan, implement and monitor its environmental program.
Nor is the Pirquitas mine the only project Silver Standard has on the go. Two development projects are underway. The Pitarrilla underground project in Durango State, Mexico, has reached the pre-feasibility stage to be followed by a full feasibility study. The San Luis project in central Peru is undergoing feasibility study, and the work that Silver Standard does will earn it an 80% interest in the project.
Two other projects have reached the advanced exploration stage. The Snowfield project, which includes the Sulphurets property, is located near the former Eskay Creek high-grade gold mine in British Columbia. The Diabilillos project is located on the altiplano of northern Argentina.
As for Silver Standard’s project pipeline, it includes nine blue sky properties from the Northwest Territories to Latin America and one more in Australia.
The resource numbers for all these properties are staggering, over 1.5 billion oz of silver. Proven and probable reserves host 195.1 million oz, measured and indicated resources host 995.2 million oz, and inferred resources contain 473.0 million oz.
No matter how much silver is in the ground, it is a rare individual with geological expertise and tenacity who can turn it into shareholder value. Quartermain has that genius.