Rio Grande Silver, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hecla, owns the San Juan Silver project located in a 21-square-mile land package in one of Colorado’s most prolific silver producing districts. The project consists of the historic producing Bulldog silver mine, closed in the mid-1980s due to prevailing silver prices, currently in pre-development to reactivate operations, as well as the advanced-stage exploration Equity and Amethyst Vein systems.
Historically, the epithermal veins of the Creede Mining District in Colorado have produced about 84 million ounces of silver from underground mining – the type of narrow-vein mining in which Hecla has particular expertise. Much like Hecla’s land position in Idaho’s Silver Valley, this 21-square-mile area was part of a major silver-producing district that had never been consolidated into one venture until the San Juan Silver JV was established in 2008. In December 2011, Hecla’s wholly owned subsidiary, Rio Grande Silver, Inc., acquired the remaining 30% interest from its joint venture partners in approximately 45% of the 21-square-mile consolidated land package. In addition to the 37-million-ounce resource confirmed and modeled by Hecla from historic records, exploration targets exist that may have the potential to discover significant additional resources in excess of 100 million ounces. Portal and underground access rehabilitation at the Equity project was initiated in the 3rd quarter of 2011 which allowed drilling to define resources along the Equity and North Amethyst veins. In late 2011, road access was established to the Bulldog portal and infrastructure was put in place to support a new decline into the Bulldog. The new Bulldog decline was completed in late 2013. This access is expected to allow confirmation of the resource and advancement of the ongoing scoping studies to determine the production viability, rate and sequencing of mining at the Bulldog.
If economic resources and reserves are defined, development and production is anticipated to follow as soon as possible thereafter.
Information with respect to measured, indicated and inferred resources is set forth below.
|(As of December 31, 2020 unless otherwise noted)|
|(000)||(oz/ton)||(oz/ton)||(%)||(%)||(000 oz)||(000 oz)||(Tons)||(Tons)|
|Indicated Resources (1)||516||14.8||–||2.1||1.1||7,620||–||10,760||5,820|
|Inferred Resources (2)||3,078||10.7||0.01||1.3||1.1||33,097||36||40,990||34,980|
- (footnotes)Note: All estimates are in-situ. Resources are exclusive of reserves. Totals may not represent the sum of parts due to rounding.
(1) Indicated resources reported at a minimum mining width of 6.0 feet for Bulldog; resources based on $26.5 Ag, $0.85 Pb, and $0.85 Zn and a cut-off grade of 6.0 silver equivalent oz/ton.
(2) Inferred resources reported at a minimum mining width of 6.0 feet for Bulldog and a cut-off grade of 6.0 equivalent oz/ton silver and 5.0 feet for Equity and North Amethyst vein at a cut-off grade of $50/ton and $100/ton; based on $1400 Au, $26.5 Ag, $0.85 Pb, and $0.85 Zn.
Reporting requirements in the United States for disclosure of mineral properties as of December 31, 2020 and earlier are governed by the SEC’s Securities Act Industry Guide 7, entitled “Description of Property by Issuers Engaged or to be Engaged in Significant Mining Operations” (Guide 7). Effective January 1, 2021, the SEC has issued new rules rescinding Guide 7. Mining companies are not required to comply with the new rules until the first fiscal year beginning on or after January 1, 2021. Thus, the Company will be required to comply with the new rules when filing its Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021. The Company is also a “reporting issuer” under Canadian securities laws, which require estimates of mineral resources and reserves to be prepared in accordance with Canadian National Instrument 43-101 (NI 43-101). NI 43-101 requires all disclosure of estimates of potential mineral resources and reserves to be disclosed in accordance with its requirements. Such Canadian information is included herein to satisfy the Company’s “public disclosure” obligations under Regulation FD of the SEC and to provide U.S. holders with ready access to information publicly available in Canada.
Reporting requirements in the United States for disclosure of mineral properties under Guide 7 compared to the new SEC rules (Item 1300 of Regulation S-K under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934) and the requirements in Canada under NI 43-101 standards are substantially different. This document contains a summary of certain estimates of the Company, not only of Proven and Probable reserves within the meaning of Guide 7, but also of mineral resource and mineral reserve estimates estimated in accordance with the new SEC rules and definitional standards of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum referred to in NI 43-101. Under Guide 7, the term “reserve” means that part of a mineral deposit that can be economically and legally extracted or produced at the time of the reserve determination. The term “economically”, as used in the definition of reserve, means that profitable extraction or production has been established or analytically demonstrated to be viable and justifiable under reasonable investment and market assumptions. The term “legally”, as used in the definition of reserve, does not imply that all permits needed for mining and processing have been obtained or that other legal issues have been completely resolved. However, for a reserve to exist, Hecla must have a justifiable expectation, based on applicable laws and regulations, that issuance of permits or resolution of legal issues necessary for mining and processing at a particular deposit will be accomplished in the ordinary course and in a timeframe consistent with Hecla’s current mine plans. The terms “Measured resources”, “Indicated resources,” and “Inferred resources” are mining terms as defined in accordance with the new SEC rules and NI 43-101. These terms are not defined under Guide 7 and prior to January 1, 2021, were not normally permitted to be used in reports and registration statements filed with the SEC in the United States, except where required to be disclosed by foreign law. The term “resource” does not equate to the term “reserve”. Under Guide 7, the material described herein as “Indicated resources” and “Measured resources” would be characterized as “mineralized material” and is permitted to be disclosed in tonnage and grade only, not ounces. The category of “inferred resources” is not recognized by Guide 7. Investors are cautioned not to assume that any part or all of the mineral deposits in such categories will ever be converted into Proven or Probable reserves. “Resources” have a great amount of uncertainty as to their existence, and great uncertainty as to their economic and legal feasibility. It cannot be assumed that all or any part of such a “resource” will ever be upgraded to a higher category or will ever be economically extracted. Investors are cautioned not to assume that all or any part of a “resource” exists or is economically or legally mineable. Investors are also especially cautioned that the mere fact that such resources may be referred to in ounces of silver and/or gold, rather than in tons of mineralization and grades of silver and/or gold estimated per ton, is not an indication that such material will ever result in mined ore which is processed into commercial silver or gold.
The Bulldog property is a major piece of the San Juan Silver land package that includes the historic Bulldog mine, which produced 25 million ounces of silver for Homestake Mining before closing in 1985 as a result of then depressed metals prices. Hecla has taken the preliminary steps necessary to re-access the Bulldog underground workings which will provide underground drill platforms to confirm and potentially expand resources, as well as provide a means to develop future mining plans. Recent drilling from the surface has defined mineralization 1,500 feet north of the current resource. Additional in-fill drilling will be conducted in this area from underground.
While initial exploration will focus on expanding the historic resources of both the Bulldog and the Equity-North Amethyst mines, the consolidated land package encompasses more than 30 miles of additional prospective veins and vein splays. Large portions of the Bulldog, Amethyst, Equity, Alpha Corsair, and OH veins will provide exploration opportunities for many years.
The Equity mine located in the northern portion of the Creede Mining District and north of the Bulldog mine was explored by a previous owner which outlined promising gold-silver mineralization in the 1980s. Hecla’s 2010 surface exploration program intersected significant mineralization at the intersection of the Equity and North Amethyst structures. The Equity decline was re-opened in the third quarter of 2011, and the underground rehabilitation work completed enabled Hecla to drill and evaluate the Equity and North Amethyst veins along strike and at depth. Underground drilling in 2012 and 2013 continued to outline multiple zones of high-grade, gold and silver-bearing veins near the intersection with the North Amethyst Vein. However, it did not generate sufficient tons to justify continuing at this time.
Current activities are focused on water discharge permits and on an amendment to the 5-year Plan of Operations (POO) for surface exploration drilling. Subject to receipt of the permits and the amended POO, and improved market conditions, the Company expects to commence underground rehabilitation at the Bulldog mine to establish drill platforms. Inspections and reporting for Storm Water Management Plans and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans continue.