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Alien moving towards Pilbara silver production

AIM-listed Alien Metals, which has been expanding its position in Western Australia’s Pilbara region over both precious and bulk commodities, has some big plans, according to CEO and technical director Bill Brodie Good.
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The giant Elizabeth Hill silver nugget attests to the potential of the area

Haydn Black

Speaking from a wintery London, while overseeing a new iron ore drilling campaign in the midst of a heatwave at the Hancock iron ore project near Newman, Brodie Good said Alien was working to advance its WA projects as quickly as possible, confirming plans to reopen the Elizabeth Hill underground silver mine for the first time in 20 years.
 
With cash from a recent £4 million placement at 0.85p per share, the company has secured the dormant Elizabeth Hill mining team and a headframe, plus supporting machinery and equipment.
 
It will soon have all the pieces in place to reopen the 100m deep underground mine that produced some 1.2 million ounces of silver at grades exceeding 2195 grams per tonne.
 
However, Elizabeth Hill was shut down in 2000, after a trial pit and just 12 months of underground operations due to a collapse in the silver price and a spat between JV partners East Coast Minerals and Legend Mining.
 
At the time the silver price was around US$5 per ounce, it is now closer to $22/oz.
 
Accessing the existing infrastructure will offer multiple benefits, Brodie Good said, from accessing unmined areas of the orebody, to enabling an opportunity to update the resource directly from underground.
 
The deposit was often described as "erratic", characterised by veins and pods of pure silver, and the nuggetty effect made it challenging to define resources, so while there was an historical 4Moz resource, Alien believes it was never fully defined.
 
Alien believes the JV became too focused on high-grading the Elizabeth Hill orebody, before the mining became too difficult.
 
"It was a very significant orebody, but it was managed by a JV that wasn't a happy marriage, so it imploded before the full potential of the project was realised," Brodie Good told Mining Journal sister site MiningNews.net.
 
"They shut it down in two days, which is amazing. They pulled their people out, stripped out anything with any value, and put a lid on it.
 
"I'd always liked the area, but no one had looked at it for a long time. 
 
"We looked around and found reams of data, but had people became despondent, and so much work was not finalised."
 
Alien is keen to resurrect interest in the area.
 
Permitting is already underway to help accelerate reopening of one of WA's most significant silver mines, from which Australia's largest ever silver nugget was found.
 
Step one will be to dewater the main shaft, but a dewatering system was left in place and is expected to be recommissioned.
 
The company expects the workings will be safe to enter by the end of the March 2022 quarter.
 
The company can then not only remap and sample from inside the deposit, but it will also be able to expedite drilling of the polymetallic mineralised halo - which is the long game at Elizabeth Hill.
 
"Historically they focused on the silver, and parts of the area are drilled like Swiss cheese, but they never assayed for anything else, but we look at the reports and we see they recorded 30-40m of disseminated sulphides that were never assayed at all," he said.
 
Recent work around the mine has provided visual encouragement for the presence of nickel, copper, cobalt and PGMs.
 
Trenching and rock chip sampling to the south of the mine, over the J-Reef at the Natalie Hill, and the Yannery Hill prospect returned strong results, which Alien sees as confirmation of a theory that Elizabeth Hill has potential for a large VMS-style system. 
 
Alien already had the adjacent Munni Munni North leases, and recently secured a 30% interest in the famous Munni Munni platinum project from Platina Resources for A$2.23 million, primarily in shares.
 
Brodie Good confirmed it has designs of Artemis Resources' remaining 70% stake and has right of first refusal should Artemis strike a deal with another parry.
 
Some $20 million has been spent at Munni Munni over the decades, including by Lonmin, which made Munni Munni its first investment outside South Africa, but it dropped the project in 2003 when the palladium price tumbled.
 
It as a JORC 2004 resource of 2.2Moz, comprising 1.14Moz palladium, 830,000oz platinum, 152,000oz gold and 76,000oz of rhodium, but it remains open along strike and at depth.
 
Munni Munni "sort of fizzled out", and the whole area was left on simmer, until the platinum price started its climb and Azure Minerals made the Andover nickel-copper discovery.
 
Suddenly, the area seemed interesting again, and Alien decided to leverage its presence in the Pilbara iron ore space as "a foot in the door".
 
Alien views its trio of projects as a single opportunity to be unlocked.
 
One of the advanced targets is the J Reef, which is an extension of the Munni Munni intrusion, and could be either part of the same system that hosts Munni Munni, or a parallel to the Ferguson Reef resources.
 
Alien also has an interest in the Elizabeth Hill silver tailings that were left behind from the inefficient plant that recorded recoveries of about 50-60%. In 2000 they were valued at $8 million using the considerably lower silver price of the day.
 
With areas now effectively under one company, Brodie Good said Alien was keen to unlock exploration synergies.
 
"If we can get all of Munni Munni we'd have a fantastic, large project offering a mix of local and regional exploration to better understand the mafic-ultramafic contact and the Munni Munni fault," he said.
 
The native silver is found at a sheared contact between the basement granite and the Munni Munni ultramafic complex that hosts the Munni Munni deposit. It appears the silver is dominant to the west of the fault, and copper and nickel to the east.
 
"We could run cost effective exploration over 200sq.km from one spot, just 10km from the Radio Hill plant and 35km out of Karratha, and operate that with our iron ore programs.
 
"We are being brave. Some people think we have too much, but we can do the work when we can and but spread the risk."
 
WA could be about to realise its early 2000s promise as being a new frontier for PGM exploration as long-term demand for the precious metals are expected to rise.
 
Future Metals dusted off the Panton project for its recent $10 million IPO, and recent efforts by Podium Metals, Chalice Mining, Pantoro, and Duketon Mining to look at the precious metals.