By Steve Fiscor, editor, E&MJ

They say you can judge the health of the mining business by the escalators at the Toronto Metro Convention Center during the annual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention. Among other things, it offers miners a chance to discuss their projects and prospects with bankers and investors. Empty escalators signal tough times ahead for the mining business, but that was not the case this year. Indeed, it was quite the opposite with security holding back the crowds at times.

The official figures circulated by the association pegged total attendance at 25,843, with visitors coming from more than 130 countries. One of the highlights was a visit from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke with PDAC President Glenn Mullan before 300 delegates. The conversation revolved around Canada’s support for its mineral sector through the recent renewal of the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit (METC) for five years, along with its leadership position with Indigenous programs, responsible exploration, and global competitiveness.

At the Awards Gala & After Party on Tuesday, March 5, PDAC recognized industry leaders for their achievements.

Peregrine Diamonds received the Bill Dennis Award. In 2008, the Peregrine Diamonds exploration team made the grassroots discovery of the Chidliak Diamond District, near Iqaluit on Baffin Island, Nunavut — Canada’s second largest kimberlite district. Exploration programs and engineering studies completed between 2008 and 2018 led to the discovery of 74 kimberlites, one of which has an 18-million-carat (ct) inferred mineral resource with an average grade of 2.41 ct per metric tons (mt) and average diamond value of $151/ct, with six other kimberlites having economic potential. A 2018 Preliminary Economic Assessment outlined an open-pit mine with a 13-year mine life and post-tax NPV of CAD$668.7 million and IRR of 31.2%. Peregrine was acquired by De Beers Canada in 2018 and Chidliak is expected to become Canada’s next great diamond mine.

Don Bubar received the Distinguished Service Award. The inaugural chair of the PDAC Aboriginal Affairs Committee that was formed in 2004, Bubar is credited with raising awareness about the importance of engagement between companies and Indigenous communities, and encouraging participation by Indigenous peoples in the mineral industry. During his tenure, PDAC saw tremendous growth in participation by self-identified Indigenous people at the annual PDAC Convention.

NexGen Energy Ltd. received the Environmental & Social Responsibility Award. A uranium exploration and development company with a portfolio of projects in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Uranium Basin, NexGen is giving back to the province by investing in community initiatives focused on education, health and economic development. NexGen’s programs empower Saskatchewan’s youth through hands-on work experience, providing access to education, sport and employment opportunities. From an environmental standpoint, NexGen is an early adopter of centrifuge units and introduced the use of TECH Directional drilling methods as a way of reducing the surface footprint from exploration drilling.

Gordon Maxwell received the Skookum Jim Award. A well-known and respected geologist who is a member of Sachigo Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario. Maxwell’s career of more than 35 years has taken him around the world evaluating projects and potential acquisitions. He is a longtime workplace health and safety advocate, and has spent many years championing the Canadian Diamond Drilling Association’s Drilling Excellence Certification Program to establish a new, higher standard of quality in the diamond drilling industry.

Cardinal Resources received the Thayer Lindsley Award for its Namdini Project, which is a rapidly evolving discovery. An atypical Birimian gold deposit in the northeast corner of Ghana that comprises an initial Minable Reserve of 129.6 million mt at an average grade of 1.14 g/mt of gold, for an impressive 4.76 million oz of gold that can be extracted from a single open pit. In addition, there are nearly 63 million mt (indicated and inferred) at 1.2 g/mt of gold for 2.11 million oz gold. Based on the October 2018 prefeasibility study, and using US$1,250/oz as a gold price, Namdini has a post-tax NPV(8) equal to US$588 million, with a IRR of 38%.

Nemaska Lithium recurved the Viola R. MacMillan Award for its Whabouchi project located in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region in Québec. It is one of North America’s largest spodumene deposits. The company successfully completed a CAD$1 billion financing package in May 2018 to build a unique lithium hydroxide and carbonate production facility, in tandem with a spodumene mine. The Whabouchi mine and concentrator are expected to start production with sales of spodumene concentrate in the third quarter of 2019. It has an initial 33-year mine life and is expected to produce 213,000 mt/y of 6.25% (Li2O) spodumene concentrate.