In November 2013, Canadian exploration company North Arrow Minerals (TSXV:NAR) made headlines with the news that it had returned high microdiamond counts from the PK 150 kimberlite at its Pikoo project, located in Saskatchewan.
At the time, a company press release stated that those high counts “demonstrat[e] the potential for a coarse diamond size distribution,” while Ken Armstrong, North Arrow’s president, CEO and director, said he believes they establish “Pikoo and the northern Sask Craton as a new diamond district in Canada.”
In the months since then, a number of companies and individuals have staked claims near North Arrow, making it clear they agree with him. Seeing that interest, Diamond Investing News got in touch with Armstrong and Nick Thomas, North Arrow’s investor and community relations manager, to learn more about Saskatchewan’s diamond industry.
Where are the diamonds?
Armstrong explained that most of Saskatchewan’s diamond discoveries thus far have been located in the Fort a la Corne (FALC) field. Situated in East-Central Saskatchewan, it is considered one of the largest clusters of diamondiferous kimberlites in the world; it also has some of the biggest kimberlite pipes in the world.
The FALC field is located on the Sask Craton, which, like other cratons — examples of which include Canada’s Slave Craton and the Wyoming Craton in the United States — is essentially “an area of really old rocks” that is prospective for kimberlite. However, what’s interesting about the Sask Craton, said Armstrong, is that it is a “relatively new” idea. That’s “because it’s a little different than the Slave Craton in that a large portion of it has some much younger sedimentary rocks that sit on top of the really old rocks. Those younger rocks are there because there used to be an ocean, or a shallow sea, that sat in that area of Saskatchewan and spread into Alberta.”
Putting the Pikoo discovery area into context, Thomas said it lies more to the north of the FALC field in an area within the Sask Craton, but outside of the area with younger sediments deposited by the shallow sea.
Diamonds a recent development
Saskatchewan doesn’t have a particularly long history of diamond exploration — in fact, according to the Saskatchewan Mining Association (SMA), it wasn’t until 1948 that anyone reported finding the gems there; from there it took until the 1980s for any serious interest to be generated.
Sparking that interest, the SMA notes, was the 1988 discovery of a kimberlite containing diamonds in the Sturgeon Lake area. Though that kimberlite eventually proved to be a glacially transported block, a “staking rush” nevertheless followed and “led to the discovery of numerous kimberlite intrusions in the Fort a la Corne region.”
Notably, Uranerz Exploration and Mining, now Uranerz Energy (TSX:URZ,NYSEMKT:URZ), “acquired an extensive land position east of Prince Albert in and around the Fort a la Corne Forest,” Oro Capital (OTCBB:OCAP) states on its website. Eventually, Uranerz brought in De Beers Canada Exploration, Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ) and Kensington Resources as partners, forming the FALC joint venture. Together, those companies “conducted an intensive geophysical exploration program” that successfully “mapp[ed] 69 drill-confirmed kimberlite bodies.”
Entering the region shortly thereafter was Shore Gold (TSX:SGF), which in 1995 acquired key claims in the FALC area. The company soon returned encouraging results from an anomaly now known as the Star kimberlite; it completed various programs at Star until 2005, when it merged with Kensington Resources.
Shore then proceeded to buy Cameco, Uranium Exploration and Mining and De Beers out of the FALC joint venture, selling 40 percent of the joint venture to Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM). Currently, the company’s Saskatchewan-based diamond projects are the Star and Star-Orion South projects, as well as the FALC joint venture.
More recently, Stornoway Diamond (TSX:SWY) made the decision to target Saskatchewan in 2007, eventually staking the Pikoo project area in 2011. North Arrow got involved just last year, when it entered into a joint venture with Stornoway under which it has the option to earn an 80-percent interest in Pikoo.
When asked whether Saskatchewan is amenable to exploration and mining activity, Armstrong responded in the affirmative.
“It’s very good,” he said, adding, “Saskatchewan has a very ingrained exploration community, there is support for exploration and there are drilling companies located in the area.” That, he explained, is due to “the uranium exploration in the Athabasca Basin, and also because in the Flin Flon area, just to the east of Pikoo, there’s a real history of gold exploration and mining
Accessibility is another plus. “Having road access to get in relatively close to the property is important,” he said.
Results from the Fraser Institute’s Survey of Mining Companies 2012/2013 corroborate his view. During that period, the province ranked 13th on the Potential Policy Index, which assesses the attractiveness of a jurisdiction’s mining policies.
Though that ranking is down from the top 10 position Saskatchewan had held since 2008/2009 — due to “worsening perceptions … over which areas will be protected as wilderness, parks, or archaeological sites” as well as concerns about taxation and skills availability — it’s still leagues ahead of diverse areas, including many of Canada’s other provinces.
Where are we now?
No company has yet gotten to the point of mining diamonds in Saskatchewan. However, that doesn’t mean none are trying.
As might be expected, it’s Shore Gold and North Arrow that are leading the pack. Shore Gold, as noted, is concentrating on the Star and Star-Orion South projects and the FALC joint venture. Most recently, the company provided its results for the third quarter of 2013, commenting that its main pursuit during that time was work relating to the environmental assessment process for the Star-Orion project. It was also involved in “continuing to seek opportunities for development capital” for the project.
For its part, North Arrow is busy making plans for 2014. Armstrong said, “last year was kind of proof of concept for the region; it shows that kimberlites are present and that if you have good indicator support for geophysical targets, your hit rate can be very high.” As a result, the company doesn’t want to drill further geophysical targets until it has “done some groundwork … to show that they’ve got indicator mineral support.”
Continuing, he said that the company’s next phase of exploration will start off with till sampling “because the main discovery, PK 150, has a really nice indicator train associated with it. And that train was initially identified by a single till sample that had two garnets in it.” After that, there will ideally be a second-phase program in the fall — “it’ll either be drilling or more till sampling, depending on what’s appropriate.”
As for the companies that have been staking claims near Pikoo, they include:
- Gold- and diamond-focused exploration company Alto Ventures (TSXV:ATV), which on January 22 acquired six mining claims near Pikoo. Five days later, it entered into an option agreement to acquire a 60-percent interest in four further mining claims near the property.
- Cavan Ventures (TSXV:CVN), which is focused on graphite and rare earth elements. It announced in November 2013 plans to explore for diamonds on claims staked about 140 kilometers north of Pikoo.
- Junior explorer Copper Reef Mining (CNSX:CZC), which at the end of January acquired from CanAlaska Uranium (TSXV:CVV) two claim packages northeast of Pikoo. The packages contain “a number of untested kimberlite targets outlined by an airborne magnetic survey that was originally flown by Stornoway.”
Also buying stakes, Thomas commented, are single-name people who have been “trying to make deals with some companies to get them involved in exploring there.”
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: North Arrow Minerals and Stornoway Diamond are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.