Guest Piece: Is gold mining coming back to the Yukon?

Notes from the Field: Yukon
By Louis James

I’ve just returned from another trip to the Yukon. Details on the companies I saw I’ll have to keep for Casey International Speculator subscribers, but there is a broader observation I can share that I think is of value.

The Yukon has a long and famous history of exploration and mining – especially for gold – but currently there’s been little actual mining going on in recent years. Capstone Mining’s (T.CS) Minto mine was the first new hardrock mine built in the Yukon this millennium, with first concentrates shipped in 2007. Until Minto proved it could be done, the prevailing wisdom seemed to be that the Yukon was geologically interesting, but a remote and expensive place to work, as well as a difficult political environment that made the effort questionable. The success at Minto attracted a lot of exploration dollars, with Underworld Resources making a new discovery that was quickly snapped up by major gold miner Kinross Gold (KGC, T.K) in March of 2010. This really put the place high up on t he radar screen, and exploration dollars flooded in.

However, a couple of months later, Western Copper (WRN, T.WRN) was delivered a surprise setback when the final permit it needed for its Carmacks copper project was rejected by the Yukon Water Board. This decision is being appealed, but the company is also seeking to address the regulators’ concerns, hoping to finally get the project permitted one way or the other. This has not slowed exploration in the territory, but it does have people wondering if the Yukon is really such a great jurisdiction for mining after all.

One answer to this is that Alexco Mining (AXU, T.AXR) was able – post-Camracks – to permit its Bellekeno mine in the Keno Hills district of the Yukon; it just went into commercial production. Now, Bellekeno has a much smaller footprint, being a high-grade underground mine with ore milled in a plant, rather than Carmacks’ heap-leach operation that would be the size of a mountain (sprinkled with scary-sounding chemicals), so it was much easier to permit, but it still shows that the government is not opposed to mining.

Well, not opposed so far; there is an election coming up, and it seems too close to call.

However, while my plane was grounded in Whitehorse due to weather, I bumped into a consultant who has worked with both the regulators and the mining industry. We had, I believe, a very sincere conversation (on that day, I was there to see another company, not hers) and she explained to me that the permitting process actually changed during the efforts to permit Carmacks. She also told me that, unlike British Columbia, most of the First Nations land claims have been settled in the Yukon, so dealing with native populations is much simpler. That’s a great advantage that removes a lot of uncertainty. Also, the Yukon being a relatively small territory with the government concentrated in Whitehorse, the actual logistics of dealing with regulators are simpler, and there’s less turf conflict between regulators. There was and always is a lot of politics involved in such things, but her take is that the Yukon is definitely a place where miners can work.

This perception fits with information I’ve gathered over the years from other sources. Permitting is always a challenge everywhere, but I think the average Yukoner wants to see the territory benefit economically from responsible mining. And the rocks sure look good. I think we’ll see more discoveries coming from the Yukon soon and more mines being built. I’ll be looking for more opportunities to profit if I’m right… and I’m looking now, while prices are down.

[Louis circles the world, applying Doug Casey’s 8 Ps to promising companies so that only the best speculative plays are recommended in Casey International Speculator. You can put his expertise to work for you: a trial subscription is completely risk-free for ninety days.]

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