After talking with Mr. Mark Campbell for several hours about Aton Resources (TSXV:AAN) and mining in Egypt, it is my pleasure to share a few quotes from him in the note below. I did my first-ever interview with Mr. Campbell back in fall 2016. Mark is still dedicated to the business of Aton Resources and things are looking good there. As he said several times in our hours of conversation in August, "We're in the final furlong of this whole thing." Godspeed, Mark!
Mark is President, CEO, and Director of Aton Resources and I was grateful to ask about the situation facing Aton Resources for everything from the investment by Sprott Global in the company's last financing to mining regulations in Egypt and the variety of geological targets at the company’s Abu Marawat Concession.
Mining is a massive, ongoing industrial activity and the regulatory environment is of critical importance. Mark shared his perspective on the situation and provided some interesting details. He has been working in Cairo, Egypt for many years in oil & gas. He has been involved in mining exploration here for the last two decades. With dogged determination, comes success.
"We have a clear plan of moving to securing our complete Abu Marawat Concession area and starting mines at Hamama and Abu Marawat by the end of 2019. As I have said before, we will achieve that goal. We have been in consultation with EMRA, who have been very helpful and good partners to work with regarding our path to achieve that and we are both on the same page. We are now about to start in September the final part of our exploration phase at our two main projects, Hamama and Abu Marawat, while doing the work for the retention over our regional exploration areas, as laid out in our concession agreement. It is an exciting time for us as we get to the end of a very long road." -- Mark Campbell
Aton has 732 kilometers squared in their concession area. Why so large? Because Egypt regulates mining like oil and gas. With such a large land package, exploration can take years. Mark has been doing it for decades now and he knows what it takes to get to the end goal. As he said, "We're in the final furlong of this whole thing, " but I have to point out that he was just referring to the exploration stage! What will follow as Aton works towards their goal of establishing a "commercial discovery" by July 2018?
Mark had lots of helpful commentary regarding this idea of a commercial discovery for a mining project in Egypt. If Aton is able to make establish such a discovery with the Egyptian government then it will allow them to advance to the exploitation stage, which is a rare event in the recent history of Egypt. Hopefully, it will become more common in the future as mining becomes a more valuable part of the Egyptian economy.
Back in 1994, mineral exploration in Egypt was recognizable by global standards with regulation that allowed juniors to actually walk the ground and chose where to stake their claims. At that time, Mark was involved in oil and gas in Egypt. After Centamin made the first modern commercial discovery, mining regulation quickly came to resemble the oil and gas industry as the authority over mining was assigned to the Ministry of Petroleum.
In the last decade, Egypt has held auctions for mineral exploration rights in 2017 and 2009. Mark told me that they are now "run like an oil and gas tender," as you can see reflected in the large sheer size of the typical mining exploration concession in Egypt today.
Mark is from Texas. He gave me a bit of background on the "production sharing agreement" in the oil and gas industry, which is well known and widely used around the world. It reflects ideals of "resource nationalism" from the 1970s where countries felt that they should have much more say in development of their resources. Particularly for oil and gas, where short timelines to production and long production lifetimes combine to give a predictable basis for taxation. Mining of metals is a different proposition.
"If I drill a 10,000 foot vertical well in the Western Desert of Egypt, then it may cost say $12 million for that well based on exploration, drilling, and completion costs. The all-in cost. Depending on the price of oil, my recovery of my cost is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a year, give or take a few months. My operating costs are negligible! The completed well is my mine." -- Mark Campbell
Mark had a lot more to say about the implications of the Egyptian mining regulations for Aton. Long story short, it is business as usual where the company will continue to advance the Abu Marawat Concession. There is a compelling case for changes to Egyptian mining policy, but Mark doesn’t believe it is necessary for the company to be successful. Mark’s goal continues to be for Aton to build a gold mine.
Mark was involved with the most recent "commercial discovery" in Egypt, which occurred 16 years ago at the Sukari Mine. He may not have gotten credit as a consultant at the time, but I believe he learned a lot about the process. In particular, I think he learned important lessons about the potential to advance a gold project in Egypt from exploration into production under its own steam. In all these hours of conversation, I asked Mark every question I could think of about strategic options for Aton. He had considered everything I suggested. The typical exit strategy for a junior miner of selling an advanced project is not likely for Aton, given the state of mining in Egypt today. With that window closed, it’s time to get creative and go back to the basics of building a mining company.
Please note that Peter Bell has been compensated by the company to prepare and distribute this material. The company has reviewed these materials prior to publication.
This document contains statements that are forward looking statements and are subject to various risks and uncertainties concerning the specific factors disclosed under the heading “Risk Factors” and elsewhere in the Company’s periodic filings with Canadian securities regulators. Such information contained herein represents management’s best judgment as of the date hereof based on information currently available. The Company does not assume the obligation to update any forward-looking statement.