Greg Johnson, chairman and CEO of Metallic Minerals, sits down with Maurice Jackson of Proven and Probable to discuss his company’s silver exploration in the Yukon.
Maurice Jackson: Joining us today is Greg Johnson, the CEO and chairman of Metallic Minerals Corp. (MMG:TSX.V), which is known for high grade silver in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
Today’s interview will be the first of a three-part series, introducing the value proposition for the Metallic Group of Companies comprising Metallic Minerals, Group 10 Metals and Granite Creek. These are three separate leading exploration companies, each with a different metal of focus, but with a common approach to business under the proven management of the Metallic Group.
Today, we will focus on Metallic Minerals, a leading explorer of high-grade silver in the Yukon Territory. Mr. Johnson, for someone new to the story, who is Metallic Minerals? What is your flagship project? What is the thesis you’re attempting to prove?
Greg Johnson: Metallic Minerals is a leading explorer for high-grade silver, and we are exploring in the Keno Hill silver district of Canada’s Yukon territory. This famous silver district is one of the highest-grade silver producers in the world, producing over 200 million ounces of past production and hosting over 100 million ounces of current resources.
Over the past two years, Metallic Minerals has consolidated the district adjacent to Alexco Resources, and we are undertaking exploration along the extensions of the known productive structures that continue onto our land holdings. We believe that the Keno Hill Silver District has the potential to be a billion plus ounce silver district, and geologically is very similar to the Coeur d’Alene District in Idaho, which has produced over 2 billion ounces of silver from very similar style veins.
Maurice Jackson: Please share where in the Yukon the Keno Silver Project is located and provide us with some historical context.
Greg Johnson: The Keno Silver Project is located in the central part of the Yukon and was discovered after the famous Klondike Gold Rush with dozens of producing mines developed in the district over the years since the 1920s to the present.
Metallic Minerals has consolidated what was previously very patchwork land ownership, with more than 40 different owners in the district. It’s largely now Alexco and ourselves, with eight past-producing, high-grade mines on our holdings, giving us excellent exploration potential.
Exploration of the Keno District over the past few years has seen some major new discoveries including the Bermingham silver deposit by Alexco, which is probably one of the best new silver discoveries in the industry, by grade and quality. It really demonstrates the remaining potential in this proven high-grade district for new discoveries.
Maurice Jackson: Mr. Johnson, we’ve covered some good background on the Keno Silver Project. Walk us through the project.
Greg Johnson: I think a good way to start is by taking a look at a map of the lower part of the Yukon. You can see on this map, the Keno District is right in the middle of the Yukon, located on the highway. There’s grid power on site with a mill operated by Alexco Resources. The Silver Trail highway from the Keno area connects to the Klondike highway leading through the capital, Whitehorse, and down to existing port shipping facilities, in Skagway, Alaska.
All the infrastructure that’s needed to build a mine is already here in the Keno District. This project also sits within the traditional territory of the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, who have comprehensive cooperation benefits, agreements in place with both Alexco and some of the other most advanced projects in the region. It’s really an excellent place to be exploring.
If we take a look at a regional map of the district you’ll see the Alexco holdings in the light green and the Metallic Mineral holdings in the golden brown color, that really forms the core part of the Keno Hill Silver District, where these high grade silver veins occur.
Within the region, there are additional players, such as Victoria Gold Corp. (VIT:TSX.V), which is developing a large open-pit mine that’s currently under construction. To the north, Atac Resources, partnered with Barrick Gold on the Rau Trend property, which is adjacent to our Mackay Hill project, another high-grade silver project that we’ll talk about a bit later.
On this map you can more clearly see the road access in the area, with Keno city and the Keno Hill mill in the center of the district. This infrastructure gives accessibility to the entire property and will really facilitate a development of any resources in the future.
Alexco Resources built the current mill in 2010. You’ll see that the average grade is between 840 and 930 grams per tonne for the current mine plan for Keno Hill. This is the highest grade of silver in its class. At 3.5 to 4 million ounces per year, this would make this a top 10 silver producer in terms of silver production levels among listed companies.
You’ll notice that the capex for the new mines is quite low at $27 million dollars, with an exceptional IRR, and that’s because these deposits are quite shallow. These deposits are very high grades, and the relatively low tonnage and near surface depths make for a low capital investment to bring these to production.
If we take a look at grade of the Keno District versus grade of the other primary silver mines in the industry, this chart compares the mine grades of those various projects.
What you’ll see on the far right are a number of relatively low grade mines, then a large group of mostly underground, medium grade deposits. Then on the far left of the chart it highlights six silver mines that truly stand out in terms of their grade.
Keno Hill, is the second highest total grade, and the highest in terms of silver grade with the new mine plan of any of those deposits. What also stands out in this comparison is that it is located in Canada. It’s one of the few Canadian silver projects and thus among the lowest political risk.
The style of deposit and the style of the veining that we see at Keno occurs as high sulfide, silver, lead, zinc veins. These are structures that form in the key host rocks, such as the Keno Hill quartzite and greenstones. What you can see in this image is underground at the Bellekeno Mine and is fairly typical of the mineralization that you would see in the Keno District.
These are structurally controlled deposits and for exploration it is key to understand where the structures are. This tabular zone shown here would continue towards the surface, and it would continue at depth varying in terms of its overall width. These are very high-grade silver veins and that can run over 5,000 grams per tonne in the in the Keno District.
If we take a look at the geologic map of the entire Keno Hill District from Silver King on the West to Cobalt Hill on the East, it measures about 35 kilometers from end to end. The lines on map represent the 12 known mineralized structural trends and in the orange circles are the past producing mines that occur along those major trends like “pearls on a string.” You can see in yellow the recent new discoveries in the district, which highlights some of the new mines that we expect to see going into production in the near future. The small red circles represent high grade past producers that occur on the Metallic Minerals holdings.
Our lands are dominantly to the East, which is the lesser explored part of the district, but also continue to the South and West and in places internal to the Alexco holdings. We have focused on acquisition of key blocks of ground that have shallow past production and have potential for resource development.
Looking at a cross section across the district from West to East allows us to look at a slice through the geology and to see the regular nature of these deep seated structures that have formed vein deposits in the district.
The red stippled ellipses represent the mineralized zones particularly in the brittle quartzite host rock, which is shown in light purple. The Keno Hill quartzite is an excellent host for these structures to form these Keno type deposits.
It’s believed that underneath the Keno District we had metal rich intrusive bodies that were the source of the fluids that drove these vein deposits. As you move from west to east, you see a general decrease in the amount of exploration and production that we’ve seen in the district. The Bermingham Trend is the most developed with 160 million ounces of past production plus current resources, while the lesser explored adjacent Elsa and the Husky trends have about 35 million ounces each. As we continue to the east, you have the Flame & Moth Deposit, which is a new discovery in the district with about 50 million ounces, and then Bellekeno at about 25 million.
As you progress further east the areas had some shallow historical mining but, as mentioned, were these were mostly held privately and have not generally seen modern exploration. These areas have been subsequently consolidated under Metallic Minerals and have the same style of geology as on the western side of the district where most of the past production was focused. We are now exploring in these less explored areas as part of our Keno Silver Project.
Looking at a long section along the vein on the Bermingham Trend, we get a sense of the types of geologic settings and deposits that form across the district. In the center of this section are the Hector-Calumet Mines, which were the largest producers in the district at over 100 million ounces, of very high grades in excess of a 1,000 grams per tonne silver.
Notably, Alexco recently discovered the Bermingham deposit along this major structural trend, in an area of relatively modest past production just 1 kilometer from the Hector-Calumet mines. That deposit has now grown into some 50 million ounces, it still remains open at depth, and it has the potential to become perhaps even the largest deposit in the district.
As an exploration geologist you get quite excited when a deposit of this quality and size is being found right near surface and only a kilometer from the largest producer in the district. This is a strong indication that this is a district that has excellent potential for new discoveries, as we continue to explore a lot on these trends.
As you go to the east from the Hector-Calumet, you get out of the quartzite hosted vein systems and into the greenstone hosted vein systems. This is a second brittle host rock that provides an excellent setting for developing high grade mineralization, and the Sadie Ladue mine is an example of a greenstone hosted Keno deposit.
These styles of deposits are the same styles that Metallic Minerals is looking at in on our ground in the other parts of the district. We have ground that is both east and west of the Bermingham Trend, and we have been prioritizing among various targets to pick the ones that we believe have the best potential to advance the most rapidly towards resource development.
We have three priority categories of targets at Keno that are at different stages of development. The most advanced targets are at the resource delineation stage, where we have high grade mineralization at surface, with trenching and shallow drill holes that indicate we have a mineralized system similar to the setting seen in other parts of the district. We’ve been drilling along those structures to determine the scale and potential of those targets at the Caribou, Homestake and Formo deposits.
We have six other targets where we have high-grade mineralization at surface with trenching and surface sampling, but these have not yet been drill tested. These targets are now refined enough that we’re ready to go in and drill test them as part of our 2019 program. Initially, we’ll probably drill four to six holes on these targets looking to determine whether or not these have potential to become large vein systems, similar to what we see in other parts of the district.
In addition, we’ve got about 20 earlier stage targets, where we are developing and refining our understanding of the system through tools such as a geophysics and soil sampling, trenching and mapping. These will be targets that we’ll be looking to advance to a drill targeting stage. Coming out of this program in 2018, we’re quite excited to be continuing our work, refining the targets that we have drilled and getting these initial step out drill test completed, on some of these already identified target areas.
Maurice Jackson: Mr. Johnson, you’ve demonstrated that Metallic Minerals is exploring for high grade silver in a world class district. Compare and contrast how shallow your deposits are compared to similar districts like the Coeur d’Alene District, Idaho, which was the start of many of the best-known silver miners like Coeur and Hecla.
Greg Johnson: This is an excellent point, Maurice. When we look at the Keno District, as I mentioned it is very comparable in terms of style geologically with Coeur d’Alene, but in the Keno district the deepest mining to date is only to about 300 meters from surface. The deepest drilling is in the new Bermingham discovery at 400 meters of depth.
By contrast, in the Coeur d’Alene District they’ve recently completed a new shaft to 3 kilometers of depth and region has produced over 2 billion ounces of silver. This highlights the potential in the Keno District as we continue to explore a long trend in depth and to really grow this similar style district beyond the 200 million ounces of past production and current 100 million ounces of total resources.
Maurice Jackson: The Keno Silver Project is considered a large brownfields exploration property, for the members of the audience that may not be familiar with the term brownfields. Please explain why this should matter to them.
Greg Johnson: A brownfield exploration property is a term that we use when you’re exploring an area that has had significant past production and discoveries. Many people may not realize that the majority of the exploration dollars that are spent each year in the mining industry actually go into expiration in and around existing mines, because that is one of the best places to make discoveries that can be rapidly developed and produced using the existing infrastructure in the area. The adage in the mining industry is the best place to find a mine is right next to an existing one.
In this case, in the Keno District, we’ve consolidated our landholdings alongside an existing mine operator, Alexco Resources, and we are exploring on those same productive geologic structures. This dramatically increases the probability of exploration success, and for making new discoveries. It also would allow us to utilize existing infrastructure in the district to facilitate rapid development of low capital cost mines.
Maurice Jackson: Metallic Minerals has another silver property in your portfolio, McKay Hill, where is it located from the Keno Hill Project and please provide us with some historical background.
Greg Johnson: The McKay Hill property is an earlier stage property, but it’s an opportunity that we see for another potentially district scale, high grade silver-lead-zinc property similar to Keno. It’s about 50 kilometers to the north up near Atac Resources’ ground; it was historically a high-grade producer back in the 1930s and the 1940s. What our work over the last couple of years has shown is that we’ve got a large number of veins in the area, that these come right to surface, and with the sampling that’s been done to date, we see the opportunity to develop a second project with significant potential here. We completed a work program in parallel to our Keno Silver Program this year on the property, and we’re expecting to be able to release results from that very shortly.
Maurice Jackson: How has the work gone this year at McKay Hill?
Greg Johnson: Well, it’s been an exciting year this year. This is a follow-up year from last year’s program where we did initial sampling in some of the known historical prospects. This year, our work expanded out across the property using geophysics, geochemistry and prospecting. We did work in new areas that hadn’t been previously recognized and expanded the known zones. What was exciting is that we had several new vein discoveries that we uncovered this year and we significant expanded the size of the historical central zone now approximating a kilometer in length and 250 meters in width. It really looks like we’ve got the potential for something that’s coming together as a bulk mineable target, as well as a number of other high-grade vein occurrences on the property that really justify additional work.
The results that we received last year showed similar types of mineralization to Keno with silver equivalent values over 1,000 grams per ton, and sometimes gold values exceeding 10 or more grams per tonne in some select samples. This is again a polymetallic system, it’s silver, lead, zinc, copper and gold. It’s an exciting opportunity earlier stage, and is indicating that this regio shows excellent potential for creating value, as we continue to explore and advance this portfolio projects.
Maurice Jackson: All right sir, now you’re wrapping up exploration for this season at the Keno Silver and McKay Hill Silver Projects. When should we expect to see the next results from this year’s drilling and target development work?
Greg Johnson: Much like last year, we would anticipate being able to release results over the next couple of months, as we receive them. Last year based on putting those numbers out, we saw quite a good response in the market and are encouraged as we continue to advance and highlight the potential on the property. We expect to have a series of news releases ahead for the company, and we look forward to being able to lay out those results and indicate the potential, the number of targets we’ve got and the opportunity going forward on these properties.
Maurice Jackson: Lastly, Metallic Minerals is also building a portfolio of alluvial gold production royalties in the Klondike Gold District. Can you tell us about that?
Greg Johnson: This is a fairly new opportunity for the company. Last year, we had a chance to pick up a large block of ground in the Klondike Gold District, the historical Gold Rush area where alluvial or placer production of gold in gravels was discovered in the 1890s. Since that time, production of gold has continued in the region, with large bucketline dredges through the 1970s, and later open pit mining along the major drainages. To date there’s been about 20 million ounces of gold produced in the region.
The Indian River drainages are now the single largest producer in the Klondike District, producing about half of all the alluvial gold in the Yukon. Metallic Minerals has been able to acquire a large block of land in this area, with the opportunity to be able to invite experienced placer mining operators to option this ground where we receive a 10% to 15% royalty on their production.
We completed two options last year and have already received some initial royalties from test mining in 2017 and 2018. This year we have leased another 6 miles out of 27 miles with exploration activities happening this year on those new leases.
We see this as an opportunity to start to build a production royalty business, that though modest to start with, over time we think can be fairly substantial for the company. It could allow us to build sustainable and cash flow while we continue exploration as one of the leading silver explorers in the Yukon.
In particular, the opportunity on Australia Creek is an interesting one, as this area was not historically mined and it is one of the few areas in the region where land packages of scale are available to be developed. These initial leases have established infrastructure that then allows additional high quality operators to come in to the upper parts of the stream. We are currently in the permitting process on three new operating areas, and we’ll have the potential for another 10 operators here in the next year or two. We are in discussions currently with a number of parties who are interested in acquiring ground in this highly prospective area.
It’s an exciting development for the company, and I think it has the opportunity to provide sustainability and potential cash flow for the company going into the next couple of years.
Maurice Jackson: I am quite impressed with the 10% to 15% production royalty that you’re receiving here. Share with us how are we able to accomplish this?
Greg Johnson: It’s a point that’s worth noting since, in the hard rock mining business royalties are often range from 1% to 3% range, the difference here is that the cost to run an alluvial mine in terms of the equipment and the operating cost and capital is much, much lower.
This means that operators can afford to pay a higher royalty for alluvial production because there’s not as much capital investment and the timeline to permit one of these projects is months as compared to years for hard rock deposits. That allows the opportunity for both higher royalty payouts and a faster pathway to production on these in comparison with a royalty for a hard rock deposit.
Maurice Jackson: This really speaks to the business acumen of Metallic Minerals. What is management’s philosophy? Are you looking to build mines or are you focused on exploration?
Greg Johnson: On the silver side of the business, we’re very much focused on the opportunity to make discoveries and to rapidly advance those to resource definition. We think that this stage is one of the greatest periods for value creation and represents opportunity for investors to benefit by being part of it. It’s not uncommon that the value that’s created in that initial discovery and resource development phase may not be exceeded again until these projects actually go into production, often times many years later.
This is a team that’s been serially successful, in terms of finding large deposits and developing name those and advancing those. We really see that as the opportunity for our investors to participate in that process.
On the alluvial gold business, what we’re focusing on is acquiring large land packages, getting them permitted, and then inviting experienced operators to come in and pay us a royalty on production. So it’s really a combination of both value creation through new discoveries and production royalties that define the opportunity with Metallic Minerals.
Maurice Jackson: Switching gears, I learned from Rick Rule and Doug Casey that the people running the business are equally, if not more important, than the latent material on the ground. Mr. Johnson, please introduce us to your board of directors and the management team and what unique skill sets do they bring to Metallic Minerals?
Greg Johnson: I think this is really an exceptional group of explorationists and professionals. We’ve worked together in the past with other companies. Many of us worked with the well-known large producers such as Barrick Gold and others, and were key members of leading explorer/developers such as NovaGold, Trilogy Metals, Wellgreen and Northern Free Gold. This is a group that has been credited for the discovery and advancement of some of the largest deposits in North America, including the Donlin Creek Gold Deposit in Alaska, now over 40 million ounces of reserves; the large Galore Creek Copper, Gold, Silver Deposit in British Columbia; and the Wellgreen Platinum Nickel Copper Deposit in Yukon. This is also a group that has been involved in permitting mines in Yukon, and has been recognized for its environmental stewardship and our approach to business.
It’s exceptional to see an explorer have the depth of experience that we have in this team with many people having 20 to 30 years or more experienced in the industry. I think it really was an opportunity for a great group of people who’d worked together in the past to be able to come together to work on some truly exciting projects. Where they saw the potential to create value, to be an equity shareholder and to have some fun working on some really exciting projects.
Maurice Jackson: Let’s talk about the stock, tell us about your share structure, options, warrants and cash position.
Greg Johnson: The company is a relatively new company, founded in middle of 2016. Now, we’ve got 61 million shares outstanding, and with options and warrants, it’s about 87 million fully diluted. Current market capitalization is approximately $15 million and we’ve got about $1.3 million in cash as of our last quarter, and we’ve got about $1.8 million in callable warrants that are deep in the money, and we are debt free. We’ve got a good tight share structure, we’ve got probably trading something on the order of about 1 to 2 million shares a month.
On a relative trading basis, you will see that the Metallic Minerals has held up well against both the Silver ETF as well as the GDXJ shares, the Junior Miners ETF. I think that’s largely because our shareholders recognize the long-term value in the Keno Silver district and the potential opportunity to participate in that discovery process. I think that we’ve been able to demonstrate value creation despite a very challenging market, through the results we’ve had to date and look forward to continuing to deliver on those kinds of results.
Maurice Jackson: What was your budget this year on Keno Silver and MacKay Hill?
Greg Johnson: We spent about $2 million at Keno Silver, and about $500,000 at Mackay. At McKay, we are advancing towards a drill targeting stage and should be ready to drill for 2019. At Keno, a combination of target development and refinement, and drill testing at the three most advanced targets on the property, where we’ve done step out drilling to continue to understand the scale and potential of those opportunities.
Maurice Jackson: Tell us about your burn rate.
Greg Johnson: Our burn rate is quite modest. One of the benefits with the Metallic Group of Companies is that we’re sharing an admin team and office space. We’re really focused on keeping costs low, terms of running the company, being able to focus money in the ground. We’re probably running at about $50,000 a month, including our technical team, to run the company, and we’ve got some opportunities to reduce those numbers further. This is really all about trying to focus funds on doing value creating activities, and that’s really money in the ground and money at the drill bit.
Maurice Jackson: Do you have institutional investors at this point?
Greg Johnson: Even though we’re a relatively newer company, we do have several mining focused institutional funds. We’ve got one group out of Europe already and two of Toronto, making up about 11% of the shareholders, and then we’ve got about 30% of the shares held by high net worth individuals, and management and board is one of the largest holding groups at 25%.
Maurice Jackson: What is the float?
Greg Johnson: We are probably looking about 30 million shares and probably significantly less as the actual available stock that’s out there for trading. It’s fairly tightly held, though we have pretty good liquidity for a smaller company in the sense that we’re trading at a couple of million shares a month on most months.
Maurice Jackson: All right, sir, you survived, multilayered question here. What is the next unanswered question for Metallic Minerals? When can we expect results and what will determine success?
Greg Johnson: The next few months should be an exciting period for the company. We’re expecting news results from both Keno Silver and MacKay Hill coming out over the next couple of months, similar to last year. There has been considerable progress on both projects and we continue to develop and advance new targets at both.
In addition, with the expansion of the resource at Bermingham that was announced recently by Alexco, and with them advancing that into production very shortly, that should draw attention to the district over the next six months and should be a positive catalyst for Metallic Minerals.
The Keno Silver project is an ongoing opportunity for value creation. It’s a very large land package, in 2019 we’ll have nine targets that are a drill ready, including the three that are at the early resource delineation stage. We’ve got another 20 targets that were advancing towards drill testing. This is a property that’s got a long history of discovery and production and we will continue to be focused on building out that value for our shareholders.
We’re also very bullish on the silver price. Looking at where we are in the metal price cycle, and the historic returns that have been seen particularly in the silver sector coming out of these market bottoms, we think this is an excellent time for investors to be looking at high quality names in the precious metal space, and particularly in silver.
Maurice Jackson: Mr. Johnson in the introduction we alluded to the Metallic Group of Companies, please introduce us to them.
Greg Johnson: In early 2018, Metallic Minerals and Group Ten Metals announced they were forming a collaboration as part of the Metallic Group of Companies, with some common directors between the companies and a similar approach to business. Group Ten Metals is focused on platinum and palladium along with nickel and copper, in the Stillwater District, of Montana. In October, we announced the newest company to join the group, Granite Creek Copper, as a newly launched copper focused exploration company with an exciting project right next door to a high-grade copper producer in the Carmacks District of the Yukon.
These three companies share a common philosophy and approach to business; all three have focused on acquiring large blocks of brownfield holdings during the low part of the metal price cycle next to operating mines so that the infrastructure and facilities are already in place. All of these show multiple targets that have potential for new discoveries, with targets that start at surface.
With these operating mines next door, it really provides an opportunity to be able to fast track development on these targets by utilizing the existing infrastructure in their respective districts. There is the potential for partnering with those operators or if we’re successful in discovering very large scale deposits, which we believe is the potential in these properties, to be able to see perhaps even the entire district become a target for consolidation by even larger companies.
The Metallic Group of Companies are reducing costs by having a common admin group and CFO, as well as allowing us to have a deeper technical team with some specialists that can be shared across the group.
It’s an exciting group of companies with a common philosophy. Our objective is to build real value for the Metallic Group investors going forward.
Maurice Jackson: What did I forget to ask?
Greg Johnson: Well, I think that was a pretty comprehensive discussion. One last point that’s probably worth mentioning is regarding our newly launched copper exploration company, Granite Creek Copper. We have just announced that we are undertaking an initial offering on Granite Creek Copper, and interested accredited investors can contact us if they would like to get additional information on that private placement opportunity.
Maurice Jackson: If one wants to get more information on Metallic Minerals, please share the website address.
Greg Johnson: Our website is http://www.metallic-minerals.com.
Maurice Jackson: As reminder, Metallic Minerals trade the TSXV symbol MMG, and on the OTCQB symbol MMNGF. For direct inquiries, please contact Chris Ackerman at 604.629.7800 Ex.1, he may also be reached at [email protected].
Last but not least, please visit our website www.provenandprobable.com where we interview the most respected names in the natural resource space. You may reach us at [email protected].
Greg Johnson of Metallic Minerals, thank you for joining us today on Proven and Probable.
Maurice Jackson is the founder of Proven and Probable, a site that aims to enrich its subscribers through education in precious metals and junior mining companies that will enrich the world.
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