Azimut surveying mineral prospects in Nunavik’s interior this summer
"We’re quite confident about its potential, and converting that potential into an economic reality"
The mining company with the largest number of properties in Nunavik is gearing up for airborne surveys along one of its properties in the region this summer.
Starting this week, Quebec-based Azimut Exploration Inc. will launch electromagnetic surveys over a 20-kilometre stretch of its Nantais property, located about 80 km south of Glencore’s Raglan mine and 115 km southwest of the community of Kangiqsujuaq.
Earlier sampling in the area showed deposits of gold, silver and copper.
Azimut has contracted an Ontario-based company to do the surveys over the region, with the hope of moving the project into the drilling stage, said the company’s president and chief executive officer Jean-Marc Lulin.
“Nunavik is the least explored region in Quebec,” said Lulin. “But we’re quite confident about its potential, and converting that potential into an economic reality. We think we can diversify the mineral base by exploring the back country.”
By “back-country,” Lulin is referring to Nunavik’s interior, away from the region’s coastal communities and infrastructure. That’s where the company is focused on precious metals and base metals, especially copper.
Eight of the company’s 10 Nunavik properties, including Nantais, are located in the region’s interior. That includes its two Rex properties east of Puvirnituq.
Azimut spent $17 million on large-scale exploration on those properties between 2010 and 2013, doing air surveys and collecting lake samples.
The company is now in the process of ranking samples collected from that exploration, and is hoping to start drilling soon.
Azimut also reported “excellent results” from its 2011 search for rare earths on its Diana property, 40 kilometres northwest of Kuujjuaq.
And although it’s still in early exploration phases, Azimut has also explored gold and copper in its Qassituq, Kovik and Tasinga properties just west of Glencore’s Raglan mine.
Raglan is one of two operating mines in the region, the other being Canadian Royalties’ Nunavik Nickel mine, which started production last November.
But Lulin warns that, while the company sees much promise in Nunavik, the process of mining metals is not imminent
“People believe you see helicopters with airborne equipment, they think we’re close to opening a mine,” Lulin said. “But in fact, it takes time. It’s a long way to the mining stage.”
Lulin said it’s hard to say exactly when Azimut, which started exploration in the region in 2006, could be ready to move one of its Nunavik properties into production.
“It may take 10 years after making an initial discovery, but that’s the best case scenario,” he said. “Given the economic context, it could take 15 years.”
And that means little economic benefit for Nunavik communities in the meantime.
This summer’s exploration work has been contracted out to Ontario-based Geotech Ltd., who will conduct the helicopter surveys.
It’s not a job that requires much manpower, and it won’t employ any people from local communities, although Lulin said Azimut has made efforts to employ local people in the prospecting stage of its projects.
“Our involvement in Nunavik is not opportunistic or accidental — it’s exclusively driven by the technical understanding of the potential of this region,” Lulin said. “We have a long-term commitment to Nunavik.
“This can’t be developed without the local people,” he said. “But this is still the very early exploration stage.”
While Azimut holds the largest exploration portfolio in the region, its focus has shifted in recent years. While it once held 24 Nunavik properties, the company has whittled that down to 10.
The properties Azimut abandoned were mostly uranium properties, which “the economic context did not support,” Lulin said.
Azimut has kept its North Rae uranium property, southeast of Kangisualujjuaq, merging it with its nearby Daniel Lake property. But Lulin describes the property as “not really active” for the time being.
“There’s been a lot of debate around uranium Quebec, and it’s very political,” Lulin said. “But we feel very comfortable exploring uranium, it’s just part of the global energy scenario.”
Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) is currently hosting a province-wide tour to gauge the public’s opinion on uranium mining, including stops in Nunavik.