Bralorne Gold Mines is back in operation.
The company celebrated its grand opening on May 27 by pouring its first gold bar, and on June 14 the company announced that its first milling operations were successful. The mine recovered some 254 ounces of gold and 59 ounces of silver from the gravity process, and the flotation process on the same ore is expected to yield another 300 ounces of gold.
According to Johnathon Smith, investor relations officer for the company, all of the necessary approvals were put in place over the past few years - including environmental certification from the Ministry of Environment in April - allowing the company to begin milling ore from its new underground mine. The new "BK" mine is located between the historic Bralorne and King Mines that produced 4.1 million ounces of gold over their lifespans from eight million tonnes of ore.
"Things are going really well," he said.
"We started milling in the beginning of May and the first month of production yielded 554 ounces of gold and 59 ounces of silver with a 93 per cent recovery."
Historically, the Bralorne area has been one of the top producing gold mining regions in Canada, and between 1932 and 1971 some four million ounces of gold were taken from underground mines in the area. The new mines, said Smith, are located in between the major mines from Bralorne's "golden era."
"We have ample amount of growth ahead of us," he told Pique on Monday. "Speculatively, we could be looking at developing four to 4.5 million ounces in a 45 to 50-year mine life." That figure is well in excess of the proven 103,000 ounces and two or two-and-a-half year mine-life that was cited in the company's documents.
Currently there are around 50 workers on the mining site, and by the end of the second year Smith said they will likely double the crew as new mines are developed and the capacity of the mill is utilized. Many of the workers are staying at a camp, but residents of Gold Bridge and Bralorne are employed as well, with about 20 per cent of workers from nearby First Nations.
That's significantly fewer workers than in the past. At one point mines in the area employed over 10,000 people before the first mines started to shut down in the 1960s. Now, the population is just over 200 for the area.
Technology and machinery have made mining more efficient, as well as the fact that it's a pure gold mine rather than a larger mine where all minerals are mined or collected including gold.
"We think this is the first pure gold mine in decades to open in B.C.," said Smith, although to be accurate they're also finding some silver in the columns of quartz that they're removing and stockpiling at the mine site. The goal is to continue to develop the mines and stockpile to maintain as much as a year's worth of reserve ore at the mill so the company will have a buffer as miners follow veins of gold underground.
Gold is a valuable commodity in these days of economic uncertainty, a hedge bet for investors looking for safe places to harbour their wealth. In 2008, gold hit a new record of $900 U.S. per ounce, and in April the price of gold broke the $1,500 per ounce mark.
Smith said they are confident that the price of gold will remain high as a result of the economic uncertainty of the times. "With world economics the way they are, we think there's still substantial growth for gold above $1,500 dollars an ounce," he said.
The mine has already sold around 200 ounces to a buyer, which is really only the beginning.
While there may be a few more vehicles on the road, Smith said most visitors to the area won't notice the extent of mining operations.
"It's an underground mine, so the big benefit is that we leave little footprint in regards to the environmental impact. You won't see a lot of surface activity," he said.
"The method of mining used is the same as they used historically; drill for structure and drift for grade. With the use of electric locomotives and a track to bring out the ore this becomes labour-intensive, but also cost-effective."
The gold deposits are concentrated in narrow veins where there is a lot of gold in a relatively small area. You'll find similar mines at Kirkland Lake, Timmons and Red Lake.
The type of mining employed is called "shrinkage stoping," using focused blasting to break up the ore before bringing it to the surface.
"The method allows you to be very selective with your ore, so you get less dilution when you're blasting from underground." said Smith.
"What we target underground is white quartz veins that are from two to six-feet wide, and anything outside the vein is dark or grey rock, which we refer to is waste."
Bralorne Gold Mines has acquired all three historical mines in the area, Bralorne, King and Pioneer, as well as the significant four-kilometre gaps between them. It's the first time that all three operations have been owned by a single company. The company is traded on the TSX as BPM, and as GV7 on the Frankfurt exchange.