With people scurrying for a good copper play after this apparent crisis in Peru, it's important to keep your head. What stage of development are you looking for? What location? If you take the Lassonde curve as a guide, then it's best to invest in something near-discovery or near-production. Near-production is good, but there are more explosive returns associated with discovery. Is it even possible to find something that is near-discovery?
"Within the first 4 holes, it was clear that there was a porphyry. It had been moved further than I expected, but it was there. That was around 17 years ago when I first put my boots on the ground at Kabba," says Dr. Tim Marsh, CEO of Bell Copper (TSXV:BCU). It's been a tough road for Bell Copper since then, but they have managed to advance their flagship copper porphyry project in Arizona and are closer than ever to a discovery with assays pending from a drill program executed by Kennecott Exploration.
It's one thing to identify a porphyry in initial drilling, but it often takes years and many rounds of drilling before geologists get a good sense for the system.
To understand why Bell Copper is still on the verge of discovery after nearly 20 years working at Kabba, consider the scale of what they are looking for. They have identified a "pyrite shell" that is approximately 3,000x5,000 meters at surface and 500 meters deep, which contains approximately 22.5 billion tonnes of rock. If just 10% of this shell contains significant copper mineralization, then that is 2 billion tonnes of ore. At an optimistic 1% copper, that is approximately 45 billion pounds of copper. As you likely know, copper has been gaining some attention trading above $3/lb recently and a monster discovery like this in the mainland USA is a big deal.
Have a quick look at a satellite image of the project area to get a sense for what they’re dealing with (35° 7.5’ N 113° 44.5’ W).
Bell Copper has a great exploration story at Kabba. The roots of the porphyry system are exposed at surface approximately 8 kilometers west of their exploration area and the top of the system was split from the roots by a fault. The deposit of interest is concentrated in the top of the system and it was either moved downwards and preserved under the valley, or moved up and eroded away.
It's a simple story, but the devil is in the details. Thankfully, Bell Copper has a technical team that understands the details and is taking a scientific approach to exploration. That is particularly important for copper exploration in Arizona since the State has produced such a large amount of copper historically (10% of all copper ever mined in the history of the world?!) that most prospects have been picked over many times.
Kabba itself has been drilled since the 1950s, but past programs drilled down into roots of the system and found they were not mineralized. That is to be expected based on current models of porphyries, but was surely a troubling surprise for the exploration geologists of the past. Who would have thought that rock they were looking for had been displaced approximately 8 kilometers to east and buried under a mountain of gravel?
The valleys in Arizona are typically very smooth at surface, but Tim told me that they can have as much relief at bedrock as is seen in the nearby mountains! What's more, the gravel cover can be relatively thin. Kabba had enough features of interest to keep people working on it for decades, but recent developments in the understanding of porphyries and local geology has put Bell Copper in a good position to finally find the upper part of this system. Watch for cross sections from the most recent round of drilling if they hit significant copper to see just how deep we are talking about here.
I asked Tim why he has stuck with this project for so long – why does he think this porphyry is mineralized?
He said, "Any time I lose faith, I get back on the footwall and look at those veins. The volume of fluid required to produce that much chemical change in rock is impressive and I'm gonna find this thing if it's the last thing I do…"
We talked more about it and he told me that the best evidence that Kabba is a well-mineralized porphyry is based on a Master's thesis completed by Mr. Wyatt Bain under supervision of Dr. Jean Cline at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In short, the Master's thesis was based on geochemisty of the included fluids in veins found in a few drill holes, exposure in footwall, and veins in the valley. They collected samples from core, footwall, and hanging wall, took samples to a lab in Switzerland to vaporize the fluid inclusions for chemical analysis.
The Master’s thesis supported two main conclusions:
1, The core and footwall were indistinguishable. That's a good thing because it suggests they are part of the same system, rather than two separate things that were coincidentally near each other.
2, Kabba is similar to other well-mineralized systems in Chile, Indonesia, and elsewhere around the world. There were the right ratios of volatile elements, a lot of molybdenum and chalcopyrite, and other important features that are beyond me. Again, that's a good thing.
I have helped organize funding for several academic-industrial research projects and I am very pleased to see the company taking advantage of the opportunities out there for companies to interact with universities. This goes to show that the Bell Copper team is resourceful and respects science.
They are not just wildcatters out there at Kabba! Back in 2007, they used seismic reflection to see geometry under the gravels of the valley and confirmed important structural features of the geological model. More recently, they used Induced Polarization electrical surveys and magnetotellurics to guide 5 drill holes into areas with high-chargeability. They found pyrite, but no copper mineralization. They continue to use statistical methods to analyze large amounts of data from past assay results to guide future drilling.
Tim has led a major discovery before, playing an important role in the discovery of Copper Creek, which now has approximately 4 billion pounds of copper in Arizona. He continues to do right by shareholders, working hard at site and sharing activities with the world on social media.
After watching this video of Tim at the project site, I was surprised to hear how involved he is with the project since Kennecott Exploration is funding and managing the project. I expected they would bring in their own people to replace him, but apparently Tim's dedication and experience have convinced them to keep him on site, sleeping in the back of his truck.
It helps that Tim has a relationship with Rio Tinto. He was Chief Geologist at the Resolution Mine in Arizona, which is the largest copper deposit in North America. Although he didn’t discover it, he did drill the first 20 deep holes and established that it was a mineralized porphyry. His boss at the time was Mr. Dave Andrews, who is now VP Exploration for Rio Tinto and was involved in Rio Tinto signing a deal for Kabba after Bell Copper hit chalcocite in a shallow hole.
He told me that he has recently been planting grass seed at site when not logging core, saying "It's important that it gets done well. The people around here see the reclamation work being done well and that helps." His dedication to the project sets the tone for the kind of company that you can support through thick and thin.
Please note that I was not compensated by the company to prepare and distribute this promotional material. I hold shares in the company and may buy or sell at any time.