Exploration company says it’s firming up its copper finds at Somerset Island

More drilling expected in summer of 2022

Aston Bay Holdings Ltd. says it will conduct more drill work at its Storm Copper project on Somerset Island next summer, following promising this past summer’s promising surveying results. (Photo courtesy of Aston Bay Holdings Ltd.)

By David Lochead

A mineral exploration company says it has found promising results in its latest search for copper deposits on Nunavut’s Somerset Island.

Aston Bay Holdings Ltd. announced Monday the results of surveying it conducted in August at its Storm Copper project.

The results suggest there’s enough copper in the ground to justify another drilling operation next summer, Aston Bay CEO Thomas Ullrich told Nunatsiaq News.

“That’s why this is exciting to us as a mineral exploration company,” he said of the survey’s results.

The company used electromagnetic surveying to build on its past drilling results in the area, which it’s been exploring since 2016. That involves setting wires around the area to detect electrical currents in the ground, Ullrich said.

Rock with about 0.5 per cent copper is considered worth mining. Aston Bay’s survey, meanwhile, suggests the exploration site contains levels of copper around 2 to 3 per cent, he added.

Aston Bay tries to hire Inuit from the nearest community, Resolute Bay, during its exploration seasons, Ullrich said, adding the company has consistently been in contact with the hamlet during its project.

Six Inuit were hired in 2016 and 11 were hired in 2018, with those two years being the busiest seasons. A field season typically lasts a month and a half to two months, Ullrich said.

Jobs that Inuit have had at the project include working as polar bear guards, he added.

Aston Bay is careful to follow the rules to reduce environmental impacts.

“We want to do everything correctly,” Ullrich said.

In an attempt to complete this project, Aston Bay Holdings has partnered with Australian company American West Metals Ltd., who commissioned the survey.

American West Metals Ltd. has an option to earn an 80 per cent interest in the project if it spends $10 million on exploration. He added that if the project continues to go well American West Metals could own the entirety of the project while Aston Bay receives a royalty.

From 1964 to 2007 Canadian mining company Teck Resources Ltd. was exploring the area of Somerset Island where Storm Copper resides. In the mid-1990s, Teck found the significant amount of copper Aston Bay is currently exploring.

Aston Bay took control of the Somerset Island exploration site from Commander Resources Ltd. in 2016.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Truestory on

    Let a Nunavummiut control everything there. Managers, superintendents, supervisors should all be Inuit. Let us Inuit control it.

    • Posted by Okay on

      Inuit with multiple years of experience as drillers, geophysicists, geologists, or mine engineers and planners would almost certainly be snapped up immediately.

    • Posted by Umingmak on

      If you know Inuit with the qualifications to do those jobs, who are currently seeking employment or better pay, let them know about these opportunities. No company would turn down educated, skilled & experienced Inuit labour.

    • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

      Go for it. Start a company and go exploring to set up a mine. No one else is going to do it for you or “let”. You need to be motivated enough to start a company and have the skilled people to carry it through. Or did you think someone else who had the skills an d resources was going to do all the grunt work and then hand it over to someone?

    • Posted by John K on

      Hop to it then. No one is stopping you.

  2. Posted by Where were the consultations? on

    So, I have no problem with this exploration in principle, but this is a perfect demonstration of the problem with the whole review process. Have these companies gone through NPC, NIRB, community consultations, anything like that, to discuss what the potential development around this site would be?
    I doubt it. Maybe they’ve had a quick approval through red tape to be allowed to”explore and survey”. Has the town of Resolute been consulted? Arctic Bay?
    Taloyoak? If you stopped 100 residents in each town and asked them about copper exploration on Somerset Island, how many would know what you’re talking about?
    What happens in this process is a company will spend millions of dollars on these surveys and tests to find out that “hell yeah, we wanna develop here”, and before any residents know what’s going on there’s a company already tens of millions of dollars deep doing a community consultation that’s not about whether or not the community members approve of the entire project, but about how the company should “mitigate any negative effects” that their multi-billion dollar resource extraction in a defined location will have.
    This process needs to begin much earlier, because the way it works right now the community members end up feeling unheard and powerless to the big machine.

    • Posted by Observer on

      Why not look it up yourself and see? Aston Bay has a website where you can see all about the project, including downloading a document giving the history. Exploration has been going on with that property for _58 years_ now.

      • Posted by Important Details on

        I don’t see anything in there about community consultation, do you? You’d think in 58 years somebody would stop to say, “hey maybe we should check to see if this site is acceptable to those it impacts?”
        Especially, you know, this year. Because things have changed, since on March 9, Aston Bay entered into an option agreement with American West Metals Limited to earn an 80% interest in Aston Bay’s Storm Project by spending a minimum of C$10 million on qualifying exploration expenditures.
        Pretty significant change?

        • Posted by Not really on

          In terms of impacts, no, it’s not a change. Projects change ownership and such all the time without changing what happens on the ground, which is what is important.

          And to turn your question around, if, as was the claim, no one local knows about the project, but at the same time the impacts are unacceptable, why hasn’t anyone noticed them in the last half-century or so?

          • Posted by Important Details on

            Sounds like you have a reading comprehension problem. I never said no residents in the nearby communities know about the project, I asked how many would know. I imagine it’s more than zero, but still largely unknown, especially details of future plans. I also never said the impacts are unacceptable, not even close. I actually said “I have no problem with this exploration in principle”, if you need it word for word again.
            For all I know, even if this goes ahead full bore, this could be the cleanest, least harmful project to ever occur globally. But I don’t know, that’s kind of the issue I have with the process (not with this company, not with this project), and I’m surprised at the kickback about this. I feel like by this point, the company should have had to reach out to say, “look, if our exploration and survey and everything else goes absolutely perfect, this is what we’re looking at doing”.
            Underground mining? Open pit mining? How many tonnes per year? How many sealift barges per year? Where’s your port going to go? Will there be a tote road or a railway? What would be the footprint? How many jobs?
            These are fairly basic questions, and I understand there’s still more work to be done to answer these definitively, but these companies should have a general idea by now and the process should involve earlier awareness.

            • Posted by John on

              You call these fairly basic questions when they are anything but basic. At such an early exploration stage, there is absolutely no way to guess at those answers. You have to drill to understand the depth of the ore zone, the grade of the ore zone, the thickness. Is it deep and narrow requiring underground mining or is it near surface porphory deposit that you can do open pit mining on. You have to do metallurgical testing to understand whether it has impurities that will cause issues or to determine what kind of processing is required (leaching, flotation, gravity separation, etc…). Underground mining won’t have the same production capacity as an open pit, do you make a concentrate that you ship out or do you build a refinery and process it there to finished copper (what energy sources are available to support these parts of the process?). Way too many questions.

              All they know at the moment is that there is enough within their current drilling to encourage investors to risk some additional money on drilling. You are asking for the final answers and calling them “fairly basic questions”. That shows a severe lack of understanding on the exploration process and how few of these properties actually progress any further.

              • Posted by Dear John on

                Look John, all I’m trying to get at here is, why not let the nearest communities know what you’re up to before you dump tens of millions of dollars into exploration? Saying, “oh so many of these don’t even proceed so why even bother?” isn’t really a good enough answer in my opinion. If you’re going to put tens of millions into exploring a location, you could at least do basic community outreach before you do.

    • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

      Only about 1 in 10,000 exploration projects turn into a mine ten then if it were a hopeful prospect they would need to stake a claim with the Territorial/Federal governments. That goes for Crown Lands and land traditional used by Aboriginal people.

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