Nevada Gold Mines celebrates the opening of its newest operation, the Goldrush mine. (Photo: Barrick Gold)

Beyond gold, silver and lithium production ramp up

By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief

Nevada’s gold miners continue to press forward with mine projects, and the transition toward more underground mining continues. Greenfield projects are advancing through the permitting stages and some expansion projects have been commissioned. But it’s not all golden in the silver state, as some operators encountered difficulties.

Record gold prices, high forecasted demand for battery minerals and buy-in from the federal level is having a positive impact on the mining business in Nevada. Many of the mines are using exploration drilling programs to further define known resources and better understand geometallurgy. What was once a nuisance mineral, now adds value and complex polymetallic deposits gain more interest.

Working with the community and other stakeholders, mine operators have earned the trust and support of their neighbors. Similarly, federal permitting knowledge and experience has improved the decision-making process for the federal government. Without a major disruption, the mining business in Nevada will remain brisk as more projects come online.

NGM Opens the Goldrush Mine

The Goldrush Project is officially on track to produce 130,000 ounces (oz) of gold this year and will further enhance the value Nevada Gold Mines (NGM) brings to the state through taxes, employment, and meaningful support for communities, said Barrick Gold President and CEO, Mark Bristow, at the project’s opening ceremony in late April, which was attended by Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo and local stakeholders.

Barrick Gold, which owns 61.5% of the $1 billion project through the NGM joint venture with Newmont (38.5%), is developing and will operate the mine, scheduled to reach commercial production by 2026 and growing to approximately 400,000 oz/y by 2028 (100% basis). The underground mine, which has a 24-year mine life, is expected to provide 500 jobs during its construction and employment for 570 people once operational.

Haul trucks are lined up and ready to go at the Round Mountain mine. (Photo: Kinross Gold)

Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bristow thanked the bi-partisan federal delegation and the governor for their active and unwavering commitment that was instrumental in obtaining the record of decision (ROD) in December 2023, as well as our community stakeholders for supporting the project through the permitting process. “We recognize that we have been entrusted with a tremendous economic and environmental responsibility and we look forward to sharing the benefits of this new mine with Nevada and its people,” he said.

Upon receiving the Goldrush ROD, Cortez immediately started work on the surface infrastructure accesses. This will allow the mine to complete the construction of the first ventilation raise, alleviating current ventilation constraints and allowing the expansion of the mining and development areas.

Peter Richardson, executive managing director for NGM said that the company’s strong social license to
operate and the many partnerships it has cultivated in Nevada were instrumental in the government’s approval of the ROD.

“Our teams worked tirelessly to show the many benefits of the Goldrush project to all the stakeholders through numerous community and government engagements, including several mine tours. We hosted two tours specifically for Native Americans and the project was ultimately unopposed by their tribal governments,” he said.

NGM met with the state’s wildlife agency and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and identified improvements to strengthen protection for sage grouse, a sensitive species in the western United States. These protections were implemented in addition to NGM’s work restoring habitat for the sage grouse on more than 40,000 acres degraded by wildfire and invasive plant species near the Cortez mining district.

“When the Goldrush permitting process was held up in Washington, the governor and a bi-partisan group of regulators succeeded in progressing the process by stressing the project’s economic and employment benefits to the Department of the Interior and the BLM,” Richardson said.

Richardson said the permitting experience NGM has gained through Cortez would help drive its next growth projects at Robertson and Fourmile. Robertson already makes a major contribution to Cortez’s reserve base and has the potential for continued growth through near-mine extensions. The Barrick owned Fourmile is the highest-grade undeveloped gold deposit in North America. The now-completed Goldrush permits allow access to the Fourmile orebody, but the project team continues to assess the mining and access options.

Kinross Gold Advances Extension at Round Mountain

In 2023, Kinross Gold’s Round Mountain and Bald Mountain mines in Nevada produced 235,690 oz and 157,749 oz respectively. The company said the Round Mountain mine performed well during Q1 2024, with production increasing quarter-over-quarter due to higher mill throughput, grade, and recoveries, partially offset by fewer ounces recovered from the heap leach pads. An increase in production
compared to Q1 2023 was primarily due to higher mill grade and throughput, partially offset by lower mill recovery and fewer ounces recovered from the heap leach pads. In both comparable periods, the cost of sales per ounce sold was lower due to the increase in production as well as an increase in capital development related to the start of Phase S stripping.

At the Bald Mountain mine, production increased in both comparable periods mainly due to an increase in ounces recovered from the heap leach pads. The cost of sales per ounce sold was lower quarter-over-quarter mainly as a result of a higher proportion of capital development and higher production.

Round Mountain’s extension strategy is advancing well. At Phase S, mining is on plan. For the heap leach pad expansion, earthworks began during Q1 2024, procurement is advancing as expected and construction activities remain on track.

Kinross said development of the exploration decline at Phase X, is progressing well, with more than 1,800 meters (m) developed to date. The decline has now progressed to the point that infill drilling of the primary Phase X target will begin in Q2 2024, as planned.

Ramp up to 32 million tpy remains on schedule at Rochester. (Photo: Coeur Mining)

Rochester Expansion Achieves Commercial Production

Coeur Mining, Inc. said its newly-expanded Rochester silver and gold mine in Nevada, had achieved commercial production at the operation as of March 31, 2024.

“Following its full hand-off to the operations team in early March, the expanded Rochester mine has ushered in a new growth phase for Coeur leading to higher silver and gold production levels, lower unit costs, and positive free cash flow,” said Mitch Krebs, president and CEO, Coeur Mining. “The invaluable experience and learnings gleaned over the past three years from operating similar infrastructure that we installed at the legacy operation has contributed to an impressive ramp-up curve to date and positions the mine for a strong second half of 2024. With commissioning now behind us and the ramp-up proceeding well, the team is turning its focus to mine optimization efforts and business improvement initiatives aimed at maximizing the value of this world class, long-life asset.”

Commissioning of the new three-stage crushing circuit and truck load-out facility was completed on March 7. Since then, the crushing circuit has operated at an average throughput of nearly 70,000 tons per day and has exceeded 88,000 tons per day, leading to the declaration of commercial production as of the end of the first quarter. Ramp-up to full design capacity of 88,000 tons per day — or approximately 32 million tons per year — remains on schedule for completion during the first half of 2024.

Approximately 9.3 million tons of ore have now been placed on the new Stage 6 leach pad, which — together with the new Merrill Crowe processing facility — was commissioned late last year. Materially higher production levels are anticipated to build throughout the second half of 2024 consistent with completion of Rochester’s ramp-up.

Once operating at full capacity, throughput levels are expected to be approximately 2.5 times higher than historical levels, making Rochester one of the world’s largest open pit heap leach operations. It is expected to be America’s largest source of domestically produced and refined silver.

Marigold Mine Breaks a Record

SSR Mining’s Marigold 2023 produced 278,488 oz in 2023, a record for the operation over its more than 30-year operating history. For the full-year, SSR Mining reported cost of sales of $1,047/oz and all-in sustaining costs (AISC) of $1,349/oz. In 2022, Marigold produced 194,668 oz.

i-80 Gold Continues to Drill

Last year was a busy year for i-80 Gold. The emerging gold producer sold 14,613 oz at a realized gold price of $1,940/oz, and it sold 83,933 tons of mineralized material (29,512 tons of sulphide mineralized material) for $26.3 million.

More than 2,640 ft of exploration ramp development was completed at McCoy-Cove. The Granite Creek mine completed more than 12,700 ft of development.

More than 204,000 ft of exploration drilling (core and reverse circulation) were completed, which will further define the mineralization at Ruby Hill, Granite Creek, McCoy-Cove, and the FAD project.

“In 2024 the i-80 continued to see impressive drill results from Granite Creek, Ruby Hill and McCoy-Cove. In addition, we increased revenue with gold ounces sold from operations at Granite Creek and residual leaching in addition to tons of mineralized material (oxide) sold under existing ore purchase and sale agreements,” Ryan Snow, CFO, i-80 said. “We continue to advance permitting activities at our projects allowing the company to move forward with its projects toward the ultimate goal of building a mid-tier Nevada-focused producer.”

The autoclave engineering study for the Lone Tree plant advanced to a level three estimate (feasibility level). Value engineering will continue to better optimize the cost, engineering, and project management aspects of the study, the company said.

Lone Tree is expected to become the hub of i-80’s Nevada operations and the central processing facility for gold mineralization from the Granite Creek, McCoy-Cove and Ruby Hill underground gold deposits. Importantly, Lone Tree is host to infrastructure that, following successful refurbishment efforts, will position i-80 as one of only three companies in the United States capable of processing both oxide and refractory mineralization.

Lithium Americas Moves Forward With Construction at Thacker Pass

During April, Lithium Americas Corp. closed on a public offering that generated $275 million. The net proceeds of which will be used to fund the construction and development of the company’s Thacker Pass lithium project in Humboldt County, Nevada.

“We are pleased to have completed this key financing milestone, which together with the U.S. Department of Energy loan under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program, satisfies the funding condition to closing the General Motors second tranche investment,” Jonathan Evans, president and CEO of Lithium Americas said. “These financings are expected to fully fund Thacker Pass Phase 1 construction.”

“With site preparation for major earthworks completed, our focus is on de-risking construction execution by increasing detailed engineering and progressing procurement packages,” Evans said. Major construction is expected to commence in the second half of 2024, following the anticipated closing of the AVTM loan.

During mid-March, Lithium Americas received a conditional commitment from the DoE for a $2.26 billion loan under the ATVM loan program to finance the construction of the processing facilities at Thacker Pass. While the conditional commitment indicates DOE’s intent to finance Thacker Pass, Lithium Americas must satisfy certain technical, legal, environmental, and financial conditions before the DoE enters definitive financing documents and funds the loan.

Thacker Pass is currently the largest known measured and indicated lithium resource in North America, targeting total production capacity of 80,000 metric tons per year (mt/y) of battery-quality lithium carbonate to be developed in two phases of 40,000 mt/y each. Phase 1 production is anticipated to commence in 2027. Material sourced from Thacker Pass will support electric vehicle eligibility for
consumer incentives under the U.S. clean energy tax credits program.

In January 2023, GM agreed to invest $650 million in Lithium Americas across two tranches for the development of Thacker Pass, representing the largest investment publicly disclosed to date by an automaker in a company to produce battery raw materials. GM has exclusive offtake of 100% of the lithium production from Phase 1 for up to 15 years and has a right of first offer on Phase 2 production.

Rhyolite Ridge Looks Forward to Draft EIS

Ioneer Ltd. moved one step closer toward construction at its Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron site, following the BLM’s planned issuance of the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) during April. The pending release of this draft EIS is the first to be issued from the Biden Administration as part of its efforts to accelerate domestic lithium production. It is the result of years of effective collaboration between Ioneer and federal, state and local agencies and Tribal Nations. It marks a key milestone in the environmental permitting review process for the proposed greenfield project in Esmeralda County, Nevada, set to inject a critical supply of integral transition materials into the U.S. EV battery production supply chain.

The draft document will include Ioneer’s efforts to redesign and relocate proposed project activity away from Tiehm’s buckwheat, an endangered species classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in December 2022. The draft EIS will also detail Ioneer’s investments as part of a formal protection plan and propagation strategy for the Nevada plant.

“The forthcoming release of the draft EIS represents six years of hard work to help build America’s critical minerals supply chain and reaffirms the viability of our investment in Nevada,” said James Calaway, executive chairman, Ioneer.

The public comment period for the draft EIS began April 19. The company said that reaching this stage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process reflects federal inter-agency collaboration and agreement that the draft document is ready for public input. Following the prescribed 45-day comment period, which will include BLM-organized public meetings, the BLM will incorporate feedback into a final draft and issue a final EIS and a ROD, expected in October 2024.

Upon issuance of a positive ROD, construction at Rhyolite Ridge can begin following a Final Investment Decision (FID). Based on that timeline, Ioneer anticipates production to begin in 2027.

“This news sets a clear path forward to construction and brings us one step closer to making Rhyolite Ridge a reality,” said Bernard Rowe managing director, Ioneer. “Rhyolite Ridge will be a significant, reliable, and sustainable source of critical minerals for the United States. We are committed to working with the local community, Tribal Nations and state and federal agencies to help the U.S. secure a domestic supply of the critical minerals vital to the clean energy transition.”

The Marigold mine produced more than 278,000 oz in 2023, a record for the operation, which produced about 195,000 oz in 2022. (Photo: SSR Mining)

Nevada Copper Encounters Difficulties at Pumpkin Hollow

Nevada Copper encountered unexpected challenges during its 2023 ramp-up process that hindered sales. The company has fully withdrawn $25 million of debt pursuant to a deferred funding agreement with its two largest shareholders, Pala Investments Ltd. and Mercuria Holdings (Singapore) Pte Ltd.

The company now requires additional financing to complete the ramp-up of the underground mine. While Pala has continued to support the company, it is under no obligation to do so. Nevada Copper is also in discussions with other third parties. There is no assurance that additional financing will be obtained in a sufficient amount, or at all. In the absence of securing sufficient funding from Pala or other third parties, the company will not be able to continue carrying on business.

“Since restarting mining and milling operations, we’ve made progress in a number of areas, including completion of life of mine projects such as the Geho dewatering system and phase two of the underground crushing and ore handling system, development of significant stope inventory underground and realignment of the site operations team,” said Randy Buffington, president and CEO, Nevada Copper, stated. “However, several unforeseen setbacks impacted our progress on meeting operational targets. We took critical steps and refocused resources to mitigate and address these issues.”

At the end of 2023, more than 135,000 tons of ore were stockpiled on the surface; and more than 190,000 tons of stope ore are ready to mine. Unexpected bottlenecks encountered in the process plant’s systems are being mitigated.

Material sourced from Thacker Pass will support electric vehicle eligibility for consumer incentives under the U.S. clean energy tax credits program. (Illustration: Lithium Americas)

A build-up of water underground from increased development activities prior to completing the Geho dewatering pump project, caused several delays in progress. The Geho pumps were successfully commissioned in November 2023, doubling pumping capacity, and all efforts were focused on removing the water from critical areas of the mine, which has now been cleared.

Full hoisting capabilities resumed in December 2023. “With commissioning of the Geho system and additional surface infrastructure in place, we should now have sufficient pumping capacity to manage any temporary surges that are encountered,” Buffington said. “Additionally, we are implementing water reduction strategies including grouting programs to help reduce water inflows to mining areas.”

The ore handling portion of the underground crusher and ore handling system and a third ore pass were completed in late 2023 and it has provided additional ore handling capabilities. Material handling is being routed through three
existing ore passes and the recently completed ore handling facility.

Automation improvements to the hoisting system were made in December to increase reliability and consistency in operations with the expectation that further increases in hoisting rates would be achieved. Hoisting rates in January have improved dramatically, having achieved a daily record of 4,475 tons.

The mill restarted in October 2023 and operated intermittently throughout Q4 2023. The milling and flotation circuits operated well, achieving expected recoveries during periods of stable operations, however, unanticipated bottlenecks were encountered in the thickener and tails filter presses that caused repeated mill shutdowns. With the assistance of a technical consultant, upgrades to the filter presses, thickener equipment and operating protocols were made through December and into January.

The second phase of the paste plant that delivers thickened tails directly to the paste plant has been fully constructed. Commissioning of the second phase is planned for February as stope mining resumes. Approximately 40%-45% of the thickened tails will bypass the filter presses and go directly to the paste plant in full operation, reducing the operational demand on the filter presses.

McEwen Mining Acquires Timberline Resources

McEwen Mining operates the Gold Bar mine in Eureka County, Nevada. Last year, the Gold Bar mine produced 43,700 oz of gold.

“Despite weather conditions in early 2023 that led to flooding and a slowdown of production at Gold Bar, our team ramped up gold production significantly through Q4, as planned, and achieved its annual production guidance,” said Rob McEwen, chairman and chief owner, McEwen Mining. “Cash costs of $1,565 per gold equivalent oz (GEO) sold and AISC of $1,891 per GEO sold were 12% and 13% higher than annual guidance of $1,400 and $1,680 per GEO sold, respectively, but improved compared to 2022 as a result of mine contractor and crushing crew productivity, as well as the expansion of our heap leach pad, which was completed on time and on budget. Our Q4 unit costs were significantly below annual guidance at cash costs of $1,253 and AISC of $1,467, and we expect similar trends during H1 2024.”

McEwen expects the Gold Bar mine to deliver higher production during H1 2024 relative to H2 2024, due to a scheduled waste stripping phase in the Pick pit in preparation for the 2025 mining program. The company said the mining sequence continues to be optimized.

In related news, McEwen Mining entered into a definitive agreement and plan of merger to acquire all of the shares of Timberline Resources Corp. by way of a merger between Timberline and a subsidiary of McEwen. The company said the transaction will augment Mc-
Ewen’s existing portfolio of development and exploration projects in Nevada.

Timberline Resources is a Nevada based exploration company with its flagship gold-silver property in the Eureka District. The Eureka property includes the historical Lookout Mountain and Windfall mines in a total property position of approximately 70 km2.

Near the northern end of the Battle Mountain – Eureka Trend, the company also jointly holds the Paiute Project with Nevada Gold Mines. Timberline also controls the Seven Troughs Project in northern Nevada, which is one of the state’s highest-grade former gold producers.

In total, Timberline controls more than 111 km2 of mineral rights in Nevada.

Fortitude Waits on Permits

Fortitude Gold is a junior gold miner that owns five high-grade gold properties.  All five properties are within an approximate 30-mile radius of one another within the Walker Lane Trend.  Several properties are large district size land positions, and all are very prospective with high-grade surface and or near surface gold. 

The company recently reported preliminary Q1 2024 production of 3,983 oz of gold as it awaits permit approval to mine deeper in the Pearl zone of the Isabella Pearl pit.

“The first quarter of 2024 was successful on numerous fronts despite the ongoing permitting delays,” said Jason Reid, president and CEO, Fortitude Gold. “Our Isabella Pearl mine’s lower grade Civit Cat zone and our heap leach pad operations generated over $8 million in revenue for the company at $777 per ounce all-in sustaining cost.”

During the quarter, the company said it aggressively explored its properties and had as many as six drills operating at a time focusing on the County Line project, the Scarlet target on the Isabella Pearl mineralized trend, and East Camp Douglas. “Fortitude remains in a very strong financial position as we await our permits to mine both deeper in the higher-grade Pearl zone in the Isabella Pearl Pit and to begin mine construction of our County Line project, our next targeted mine build,” Reid said.

Fortitude plans to operate the County Line mine as an aggregate operation, hauling crushed ore to our nearby processing facilities at Isabella Pearl. “With minimal infrastructure to be built, we are optimizing the mining sequence to access the highest-grade ore possible in the phased mining approach and look forward to being able to add additional new ore from County Line to our Isabella Pearl heap leach pad for operational longevity,” Reid said. “Meanwhile, our exploration team continues to generate exceptional drill results.”