By ROSALYN ROY
PERTH, AUSTRALIA – It’s a brilliant, sunny day in Australia according to Warren Potma and Keith Bowes of Matador Mining. The two are in short-sleeves and looking tanned during a video chat about Matador’s Cape Ray Gold Project on Thursday evening, Jan. 21 (Newfoundland time). With a 14.5 hour time difference, that means it’s already Friday morning in Australia. But if they have their way, they’ll soon bundle up into warmer clothes and head back to Newfoundland to get back to work on their company’s worksite located near Isle aux Morts.
Thanks to the pandemic, neither Potma nor Matador’s Senior Geologist, Charles Gillman, were able to make it into the province and get to the site. This year, if granted permission by provincial health authorities, Gillman will travel here in March and Potma will follow in April. Even without a site visit by senior personnel, the company still made significant progress.
“We had a really good year in the end, despite COVID’s best attempt to scuttle us. We had a bit of a late start to drilling,” offers Potma, Matador’s Exploration Manager. “We had a big crew on site, and last year was the first year where we employed a relatively new batch of people from the local communities in labouring roles on the job. We’re looking forward to increasing those numbers this coming year.”
Potma promises that there’s going to be a lot more work on the ground this year. The work will be low impact, but it will cover a much larger area.
“We’re really stepping up the exploration side of things,” says Potma. “Last year we had our first new discovery on the project in 20 years.”
When Matador first picked up the Cape Ray project, all of the existing resources were already known, and the previous owners had effectively confined drilling to known resources. Last year and for the first time, Matador went exploring to new greenfields to identify new targets.
“We made an announcement, I think it was September last year, of the Angus discovery,” says Potma. “It was a really important new discovery for us, demonstrating that there’s a lot of opportunity on this project.”
Buoyed by the discovery, Matador Mining then upped their marketing to reflect that potential. The company owns 120 kilometres of strike length of the project area.
“All of the existing resources sit within 15 kilometres strike length of that, and outside of that there’s only 20 drill holes for the remaining 105 kilometres of project, which is ridiculous,” explains Potma.
He points out that if the site were located in Australia instead, hosting both the Cape Ray and Marathon deposits, it would be peppered with drill holes.
“To have a project like this, that’s only got 20 drill holes in 105 kilometres of a structure like that, sitting under really thin cover, for us is just massively exciting,” says Potma.
A much more thorough exploration of the remaining strike area is planned. Matador suspects but doesn’t yet know whether or not there’s even more gold deposits to be found within the remaining 105 kilometres, but they intend to find out.
“I think for the first time we’re actually looking for it in a systematic manner, and we’re looking along the entire length of the structure, and I would be very surprised if there isn’t significant additional mineralization along that structure given what we know Marathon have got, given what we know we’ve got, and given that there’s been no effective exploration of the ground between the two of us,” says Potma.
Exploring for potential deposits used to require diamond drilling, but Matador uses a single-person portable drill rig that can get through the thin cover to a depth of about eight metres. The plan is to use the portable rig systematically over the next couple of years to effectively map the remainder of the project.
“It’s going to take a while because it’s quite a big area to cover,” concedes Potma. “But we’ve got a number of priority projects. We’ll hit 12 of those, sort of four to six square kilometre areas, this coming year.”
That means the company will need skilled geologists and some field helpers, and that translates into job opportunities for residents of the Southwest Coast. Last year, Matador advertised for three helpers and were overwhelmed by the response. Potma estimates the company received in excess of 50 applications.
“We weren’t able to employ all of them last year, but this year we will be employing more and more of those local people who want to work on the project,” promises Potma.
Matador is also hoping to train employees for other roles beyond field work.
“There’s a whole branch of different jobs both in the field and in the core shed that we can see the local community, who may not have geological training, can still be involved in that work,” says Potma. “You don’t have to be a trained operator to be very handy in jobs like this. There’s a lot of physical work to be done.”
Outside of keeping the senior team from reaching the site, COVID has also delayed the company’s ability to complete its environmental impact study (EIS). Matador has been granted an extension through to August 24, 2021, but Bowes believes that they will require an additional extension beyond that date.
“We have the ability to extend it by one more year,” says Bowes. “I think we’ll probably be submitting early next year.”
Part of the EIS means liaising with community stakeholders, and given the need for social distancing and the large time difference, even Zoom meetings can be challenging explains Bowes, Matador’s Project Manager.
“When we tried towards the end of last year to do some Zoom meetings, obviously with the COVID restrictions it wasn’t possible to get a group of people together into the community halls,” says Bowes. “We’re not as advanced with our stakeholder negotiations as perhaps we would have liked to have been. So I think we still need to do quite a bit of work on that this year.”
Matador is hoping to get more feedback from communities on what their concerns are surrounding the project. While some individuals have come forward to discuss issues, such as potential impact to ground water or wildlife, they have yet to hear from community groups.
They have been working with indigenous groups and government bodies. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) paid a site visit in 2019, as have other inspectors, to ensure environmental safety compliance regulations are being met.
“People do quite often reference Hope Brook, the mine that had issues previously, and ask questions around how we’re going to make sure we don’t have the same issues that Hope Brook had, and we’re going to look into that in a bit more detail. And we think we understand what issues they had and how we’re going to manage it,” says Bowes.
Working in partnership with local groups and businesses is key. Potma says Matador effectively vacated a specific area for about four weeks last year so as not to disrupt a local outfitter.
“We have the potential to impact that income for them,” says Potma. “So we literally packed up and moved out.”
He says that the company’s activities are designed to be low impact. The drill rigs are unlikely to be heard or even spotted after about a kilometre away from where they are working.
“We’re really cognizant of creating as little impact on the local communities as possible, and we try to do our drilling work before the hunting season starts,” notes Potma.
The advantage to having a milder than usual winter, in this region at least, is that it allows Matador to get on the ground much earlier than they normally would. Thanks to the pandemic, work in 2020 didn’t effectively get underway until July. It also helps that the Southwest Coast has escaped relatively unscathed.
“Australia has been very successful at containing it,” says Bowes. “We haven’t been in any lockdowns and we’ve had no community cases for nine months.”
He jokes that if he could somehow travel directly from Perth to the Southwest Coast, it would be perfect.
Getting up and running by mid-March means the weather will have to continue to co-operate as well. Any large accumulation of snow will force a delay, but so far everything is on track.
“There should be no trouble towards the end of March getting in there and doing all of the prep work for the drilling. The drilling will start a little bit later, but the surface work hopefully start March-April,” says Potma. “We’re really keen to get started as soon as we can.”