The results included channel samples from two underground adits that were unsealed in October 2022 and sampled in November 2022.
US Critical Materials said the claims at Sheep Creek contain 12 of the most essential critical minerals needed for electrification and to establish a domestic supply chain, as North America’s reliance on China for rare earths has become increasingly untenable.
The Sheep Creek project area is in Ravalli County, an hour from Darby, and is accessible by paved roads for 40 miles and then an additional 4 miles along all-weather gravel roads. US Critical Materials holds 223 lode claims on 4,700 acres. More than 50 carbonatite dikes have been identified in the prospect area.
In addition to high grades, the underground data shows a low thorium level — below 500 parts per million, which will negate the need for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit, likely speeding up the overall permitting process and will make extraction and processing easier, faster, and less damaging to the environment, Critical Materials executive director Harvey Kaye told MINING.com.
“What we believe is the differentiator between Sheep Creek and the other players is that these deposits are not 600 feet on the ground, but are more easily obtainable,” Kaye said.
“We have the ability to bring these online, we believe, a lot faster than most that talk 10 years, when the reality is that all the American automotive companies, the Department of Defense, [and] renewable energy sources need these products now.”
Critical Materials president Jim Hedrick, a former rare earth commodity specialist for the USGS, said the combination of high-grade rare earths, low thorium, and carbonatites 125 feet below surface is a geological phenomenon that “does not exist in other reported US deposits.”
Hedrick said the pre-resource-stage deposit is valued at a “conservative” $43 billion.
“Over the course of my career independently evaluating rare earth properties within the US, I have never encountered a property with the grades being generated by Sheep Creek,” Hedrick said.
Hendrik added that the company’s geologists found 50 carbonites over 800 acres, and they believe there is a ‘continuous source’ underground that ties it all together.
He pointed out that the rare earths at Sheep Creek support the production of Samarium Cobalt —alternative rare earth magnets used in aerospace, automotive and military applications such as sidewinder missiles, and added that if cobalt production comes online in Montana the results could be a “marriage made in heaven.”
“As we drill in different areas over the 50 carbonatites, hopefully it is continuous, because there is some similarities between all of the carbonatites, ancylites, primarily, the main mineral…in some of the minor elements change on trend from northwest to the southeast… other elements, like gallium goes down, but then niobium goes up – but the rare earths are staying pretty much the same,” Hedrick said.
“That’s all a good indicator, and that there’s so many … it’s not a small area, but its a lot of carbonatites for 800 acres,” Hedrick said. “It’s showing that there is probably a similar source for all of these – and that’s what we’ll be going out there to prove.”
A drilling program is slated for Q2 2023.