"The downturn hit us hard and we are about two years behind schedule," said IR manager, Igor Dutina.
Atico spent recent years upgrading and expanding its plant to about 800 tonnes per day, upgrading the mine through the installation of a new decline, and exploring for new ore at the mine, such as the Zeus orebody that is now in production that hosts grades up to 6% copper and 6g/t gold.
Its 2017 production results were the best to date and mean that the company expects to pay off the remainder of its $1.8 million in outstanding debt with mineral trader Trafigura by July.
El Roble produced 20.63 million pounds of copper and 10,923 ounces of gold in concentrates in 2017 with head grades of 3.87% copper and 2.1g/t gold, and recoveries of 95.0% for copper and 64.2% for gold.
"Our goal is to get to 2,000tpd via exploration success and to do that without going to the market and diluting our shareholders. We are finally at the point where we have the cash and can make good use of it at El Roble, so now the pressure is on Joseph," said Dutina, referring to senior exploration manager Joseph Salas, the former Barrick Gold (CN:ABX) Colombia country manager, who is tasked with discovering new mineralised bodies.
And a beaming Salas is ready for the challenge. "The exploration team has had some quiet years but now we have a US$3.5 million budget for this year and I think more money will be available depending upon results," he said.
Atico has identified a 10km corridor with potential to host more volcanic massive sulphide (VMS) mineralisation on its properties, where the target is crumbly black chert at the contact on the main regional fault.
Despite looking for massive sulphides, geophysics is used with caution as minerals such as graphite can provide misleading readings and perhaps mask the massive sulphides. That said, the company is using the DAS induced polarity geophysical tool that worked well during the exploration of Mina Justa in Peru.
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