Thursday, March 14, 2013

Doubts about the economic viability of Taseko Mines’ New Prosperity copper-gold proposal at Fish Lake in British Columbia's Chilcotin region.


As a person who has previously worked in the mining industry in the NWT for 15 years, I have serious doubts about the economic viability of Taseko Mines’ New Prosperity copper-gold proposal at Fish Lake.

The major investor in this project, Franco Nevada, is a royalty investment company that makes large returns on investments and options. They have a loan agreement with Taseko whereby Franco Nevada would be in return for 22% of the gold the mine produces at a fixed price of US $400 per ounce. Any difference between this price and the market price of gold would go to paying off the $350 million loan. (The construction costs were projected at $1.3 billion in 2010.)

It is not apparent that Taseko’s feasibility study reflects this reduced income from the fixed price for 22% of the gold going to Franco Nevada.

According to Taseko's feasibility study, the mine would produce just 0.41 gram-per-tonne of gold, which is considered a very low grade ore body. Franco Nevada Chairman Pierre Lassonde, in an interview on Business News Network, stated that companies who pursue mines with an ore body of less than 0.5 gram-per-tonne of gold may find it hard to make money or generate growth. The ore grade of the copper at the site is also very low at 0.23%. This is one of the lowest grade deposits in the world. It is wholly dependent on high copper prices to survive, not the discovery of more ore.

When the price or grade of ore falls and the revenues cease, the operator and its investors, such as the provincial government, are the losers. However, Mr. Lassonde’s company - the royalty holder - would continue to make profits on royalties and options based on the minerals extracted, even when the mine actually loses money.

It is very important that the scope of the project's economic projections be closely examined to determine whether or not environmental risks could be mitigated in the case of premature mine closure or abandonment. In the company’s eagerness to have this project approved and its recently heightened strategy of persuasion and influence at the local level, it is even more crucial that local residents are made aware of the substandard economic realities of a mine at this location.

Steve Monk is an active participant in Friends of Fish Lake