Artemis Gold Inc. [ARTG-TSXV], as a result of internal engineering analysis, has committed to additional investments as part of its phase 1 development of the Blackwater mine in central British Columbia in order to facilitate the potential fast-tracking of the phase 2 expansion.
In support of these additional investments, the company has amended the gold stream agreement with Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. [WPM-TSX, NYSE, LSE], which will provide an additional US$40-million ($54-million) in financing at a very low cost of capital.
The additional investments during phase 1 include additional structural steel and increased conveyor belt widths in the crushing circuits, as well as the introduction of variable-speed drives to the ball mill. Electrical components have also been upgraded to facilitate the phase 2 requirements and to include optionality in relation to the use of redundancy back-up power sources. Other optimizations include upsizing of the oxygen plant coupled with down-shaft-sparging of oxygen to the preleach and carbon-in-leach (CIL) trains, along with the optimization of the CIL layout in order to facilitate non-intrusive expansion to phase 2, as well as full conversion of the detoxification process to remove the need for tanker-supplied liquid sulphur dioxide.
These investments in the phase 1 initial capital are expected to allow the company to further optimize throughput in the early years of operation. This is particularly significant as it is expected that early ore types fed to the mill will be considerably softer than the maximum ore hardness contemplated across the life of mine plan in the September, 2021, feasibility study.
The cost of these additions, together with overbudget expenditures on permitting costs and additional bonding costs connected to those permits, will require additional financing of approximately $50-million.
Steven Dean, chairman and CEO of Artemis Gold, said: “We have been exploring these options internally for some time. This announcement is the logical next step and, importantly, provides the additional funding to further pursue these optimizations at a low cost of capital with a great partner in Wheaton, without a material dilution of the net asset value per share for shareholders.”
The amendment to the gold stream agreement has been achieved with a simple increase in the number of ounces to be delivered to Wheaton prior to the reduction in Wheaton’s stream participation from 8% to 4 % (previously expected to occur in 2034 based on the September, 2021, feasibility study schedule), which effectively provides Wheaton with an interest in approximately 92,000 additional gold ounces to be delivered starting in approximately 2034 (subject to certain delivery thresholds being met).
This mechanism is akin to a prepay and grants no additional stream percentage participation in Blackwater by Wheaton.
“Since Wheaton’s acquisition of the gold and silver streams on Blackwater in 2021, we have been impressed with the progress the Artemis Gold team has made in de-risking the project and advancing construction activities,” said Randy Smallwood, Wheaton’s president and CEO. “Wheaton is excited to continue working beside our partner, Artemis Gold, and to contribute to the success at Blackwater.”
With the commitment of the additional US$40-million financing under the gold stream, the optimized initial capital for phase 1 construction of Blackwater is fully financed. In addition to receiving its initial US$35.2-million deposit under the silver stream on June 9, 2023, the company has also now received its initial US$10-million deposit under the amendment to the gold stream.
The initial capital to complete to first gold pour is now estimated to range between $730-million and $750-million, of which the company had incurred approximately $150-million as at the end of May, 2023. The company’s cash balance at the end of May, 2023, totalled approximately $47-million.
Over all project construction as of May 31, 2023, stands at approximately 20% complete.
The company intends to commission an optimization engineering study to formally outline the benefits of the installation of the additional equipment outlined above, and to confirm the benefits of advancing the phase 2 expansion earlier than contemplated in the September, 2021, feasibility study. The results of this study are expected to be released in Q4 2023.
The current gold price in Canadian dollars of approximately $2,700 supports this initiative, as that price is 33 per cent higher than the $2,025 equivalent price used in the September, 2021, feasibility study. Note also that the vast majority of Blackwater’s operating costs are expected to be denominated in Canadian dollars.
The company’s current focus is construction of the Blackwater mine project in central British Columbia approximately 160 km southwest of Prince George and 450 km northeast of Vancouver. The first pour of gold and silver from Blackwater mine is expected in the second half of 2024 and the mine is expected to be in production for a minimum of 22 years.