Refinanced, reinvigorated and raring to go, Barkerville Gold Mines (BGM: TSXV) is emerging from the shadows of a controversial year, determined to re-assert its claim as one of Canada’s most promising junior mining prospects.
“Our focus has never strayed for 19 years,” says company president and CEO Frank Callaghan. “We have always been focused on proving the property as a large deposit, and we are continuing to work towards turning the company into a world-class producer.”
Callaghan’s optimism has been fuelled by an infusion of $15 million from investor Eric Sprott, a long-time backer of Barkerville. Says Callaghan: “Eric financed our bulk sample test of Bonanza Ledge in 2004 and now he is assisting in financing Bonanza Ledge as a mine.”
The company’s board has also been immeasurably strengthened by the appointment of Chairman Norm Anderson, former CEO and Chairman of mining giant Cominco, a respected veteran with half-a-century of experience in the global minerals industry.
Despite these key developments, Callaghan still faces the challenge of winning back believers disillusioned by events of the summer of 2012.
Controversy began with what turned out to be a somewhat prematurely optimistic estimate of the resource at the company’s 100-per-cent owned Cariboo Gold Project, near historic Barkerville, B.C.
In a submission to the BGM board, veteran Canadian geologist Peter George of Geoex Ltd., estimated a geological potential of between 65 and 90 million ounces of gold on approximately 10 per cent of the property.
A figure that grabbed most of the attention was an “indicated resource” of 10.6 million ounces of high-grade ore at a single location, Cow Mountain, which, if proven, would have made it one of the world’s richest gold deposits.
Analysts and industry observers were staggered by the implications of the Geoex report. One said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate such an outstanding discovery.”
Looking back after 15 months, Frank Callaghan, the ebullient president and CEO of Barkerville Gold, admits that he, too, was taken aback by the estimates.
“In hindsight, maybe we should have gotten another opinion,” he says. “We had no idea the deposit was going to be that large. But you can’t sit on that kind of news. It’s going to get leaked. We thought we had to get the numbers out.”
The initial response to the published numbers was ecstatic. BGM shares exploded, soaring more than 50 per cent to $1.67.
But red flags began waving as critics voiced doubts about the implied enormity of the resource. Amid heavy trading the stock slumped, shedding more than 25 per cent of its value.
In August 2012, trading in Vancouver-based Barkerville was issued a cease-trade order after a review by the B.C. Securities Commission pending resolution of a number of disclosure and filing issues that it identified resulting from its review of Geoex’s filed technical report.
The embarrassment to the company was considerable, but with typical doggedness Callaghan set about repairing the damage.
Additional independent and qualified geologists were hired to audit and re-assess the deposit and a year later, in July 2013, released an updated estimate that provided a “more sober resource” at Cow Mountain of around 4.9 million indicated and inferred ounces.
On the face of it, the new estimate appeared to dull the glitter of Barkerville’s gold. But Callaghan sees it differently.
He acknowledges that there was “not enough detail” to justify the initial optimistic estimate, but insists that the numbers were misread - and may turn out to be not far off the mark after all.
That 10.6 million ounce figure, he says, was an “uncapped and unconstrained” estimate, but the technical report also contained a “capped” estimate of 7.4 million indicated and inferred. As Callaghan points out, adding indicated and inferred resource estimates is not an accepted practice for NI-43-101 technical reports.
“Immediately publishing the uncapped number provided by Peter George as a basis for his technical report was, in hindsight, maybe premature. We could have emphasized the capped number. If we had done so, I don’t think any of this would have gone on the way it has gone on.”
As for the estimated geological potential of between 65 and 90 million ounces of gold on approximately 10 percent of the property, Callaghan says: “The area of interest was reduced by a half, as the area had little or no information, although it had the same favorable geology. That, in turn, reduced the target potential to between nine and 27 million ounces of gold on Island and Barkerville Mts., excluding the Cow Mt. resource estimate, or any potential at depth.”
Callaghan points out: “If you do the math, the favorable area could be a lot larger but the company does not have enough information to really assess it at this time.”
And he notes that “101 creeks have recorded placer gold production along the 67km corridor of the Cariboo gold belt on the company’s property, yet very little exploration was carried out for the source of gold because of fractured ownership in the past.”
Nevertheless, he says, “the deposit has been shown to be bona fide. The 7.4 million ounce figure is not that far apart from the 4.9 number. In my view - and the board is of the same opinion - Peter George was really vindicated by the updated technical report.”
However you look at it, “five million ounces is a very respectable number. I don’t know of many five-million-ounce deposits with our grade in Canada, not with our advantages. And we are hopeful that number is going to improve with the work that’s going on at the site right now.”
Work has continued steadily at the Barkerville properties, despite the trading hiatus.
“We had some money, and we had friends and shareholders, suppliers and contractors that all contributed to ensuring that the company kept going,” says Callaghan. “We laid off no workers - we kept going straight through.”
The announcement of the $15-million loan from legendary precious metals investor Eric Sprott will enable Barkerville to keep operating, apply for reinstatement on the TSX Venture Exchange and pay back a $1.5 million bridge loan from Sprott Resource Lending Partnership.
“Eric has visited the property and has faith in the project,” says Callaghan. “And our Chairman, Norm Anderson, who has been a tremendous asset to the company, told Eric that this is a world class project that could be a very large producer over a 20-year term.”
The updated technical report released in July, done by Snowden Mining Consultants, Apex Geoscience and Geoex, sets out a program of action for 2014 that calls for investments of around $15 million. Callaghan says the money will come at least partly from gold production at its QR mine property and the new Bonanza Ledge mine.
Meanwhile, says the CEO, the company is hopeful more meticulous assays recommended by Snowden and Apex, and now being carried out, will see the overall resource estimates increase significantly.
“We expect to have a new number, hopefully in the first quarter of 2014, and we are optimistic it will be better.”
Callaghan expects the loan deal with Sprott to close in early October “and we anticipate trading to resume the same business day, as it is a condition for the funds to be released.”
And what about the impact of being shut out of the market for the past year?
“We missed the complete downturn in the market,” Callaghan laughs. “At the end of the day, we totally missed the downturn.”
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