Read on for a transcript of interview with Dr. Tim Marsh, President & CEO of Bell Copper (TSXV:BCU).
Peter Bell: Hello Tim. Let’s try to discuss some of questions from people on the internet. Let’s start with the difference between surface rights and mineral rights. In the recent news release, you announced that Bell has secured access to private land and intend to drill from that location next. You already had mineral rights, but have now secured surface rights, which reduces permitting times. In one of the interviews out there, you say something about a "handshake agreement" to get access to that land and I wonder about that.
Tim Marsh: Well, I think the person online has a very low estimation of the leadership in Bell Copper to ridicule us as they do. I think their concerns are unfounded and it'd probably be better if he direct his energy in some other direction.
Peter Bell: It's amazing that people find time and energy for some of the things they do online. Which piece of land are we talking about – is it different from the piece that's carved out from the mineral rights just north of hole K-17?
Tim Marsh: Yes. That block you are referring to is a piece of property the land owner bought from the railroad company about fourteen years ago. That person bought the mineral rights beneath his private surface rights.
That is now an area that Bell isn't interested in. There were times when we were in that area, like when we were drilling hole K-9 and seeing some real nice alteration and mineralization. At that time, we thought that land was going to be important to Bell, but that's no longer the case.
Peter Bell: And that's a different piece of land than what we're talking about here in the news release, right?
Tim Marsh: Yes.
Peter Bell: Okay. When you said that you secured access to this private land, you're talking about surface rights, right?
Tim Marsh: Yes. And we've secured access to private surface rights before, too. Water in this area is gold, since it’s a desert area. If you have water, then you have the start of a habitation. Some people drink the stuff, but I wouldn't. You can use it to irrigate the ground, though. We've gotten onto private surface rights in the past by offering to complete our mineral exploration holes as water wells, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. That means the holes have to be drilled and completed in a certain way to protect the ground water from surface infiltration. We've taken those steps a number of times to leave the landowner a hole in the ground with water in the bottom. In the desert, that's valuable.
I rarely find what I'm looking for, which is ore-grade mineralization, but we find ground water in every one of these holes just because we're drilling below the water table. We can't guarantee that it is going to be the quality or quantity that anybody needs for any specific purpose but, based on what's happened in the past, chances are fairly good that we're going to be able to find water in the hole.
Peter Bell: Amazing to think of a trail of water wells left behind you.
Tim Marsh: In fact, the federal government took one of them from us. We completed a hole on BLM ground that's now out there if the BLM decides they want to allow grazing on a particular area or entice a rancher to pay a grazing fee on a particular area. They can say, "Hey look, we've got a water well out there." The well was completed by Bell Copper and turned over to BLM.
Peter Bell: And this new access to private land that you've announced, in the target area of the copper shell.
Tim Marsh: Right.
Peter Bell: How much of the surface rights are privately held versus state?
Tim Marsh: Half is the number you're looking for, Peter. That is the percentage of state versus private surface rights in the ovoid. And another question, Peter, is how much of the private surface rights are accessible from state surface rights via drilling? That is very nearly one hundred percent.
Peter Bell: Hmm. Does that mean drilling angled holes?
Tim Marsh: That means drilling angled or deflected holes.
At Resolution, we drilled holes – one in particular – where the end of the hole was 900 meters offset horizontally from the collar position. A section of land is 1,600 meters or 1 square mile wide and I can, at least theoretically, access anywhere within that section by directional drilling.
Peter Bell: Wow. Does the hole pivot and start going straight when it reaches a certain depth?
Tim Marsh: That's right. First you drill the hole vertically and then wedge it using a mud motor to deflect the hole to the orientation, the inclination and azimuth, that you want. Then you begin coring again and the hole goes straight down from that point on, essentially.
Peter Bell: Great. And I wonder if we'll hear more details about that private land that you secured?
Tim Marsh: My sense is that the details aren’t anybody’s business but Bell’s and the owner’s of the surface rights.
Peter Bell: And there clearly is a difference between the mineral rights and the surface rights.
Tim Marsh: That's the case in most of the western world, Peter. There are two estates associated with every patch of ground: the king's estate, which is the mineral right, and the renter or farmer's estate, which is the rights of access on the surface. If and when the king desires to recover his royalty and minerals, then he makes an arrangement with the surface owner for access and then extracts the mineral value. That is western law. Bell has to follow that law. We can't deprive people of what they've purchased and have invested in.
Peter Bell: I wonder about the mechanisms for developing things where someone who has surface rights may want to resist the development.
Tim Marsh: Well, you can read some books on it. We can sit down around the campfire at Kabba and I'll explain how things work.
Peter Bell: I can't imagine the case law. I bet it's a very complicated area.
Tim Marsh: It's happened in the past and there are plenty of examples.
Peter Bell: And not a fatal flaw for Bell Copper. Good to check off the boxes. There were some other questions about the locations of the various holes at Kabba. I’ve put out a google map, but there are also other maps from the company and the Arizona government showing state land. Anything you care to share with us about all that?