Having focused exclusively on exploration in post-conflict environments since it was founded in 2010, Royal Road spent the last three months of 2022 reassessing its strategy and analysing geopolitical dynamics globally and locally within its countries of
operation, particularly in Colombia, which has accounted for around 70% of its exploration investment over the last seven years.
As a result of this exercise, the company has opted to spread its wings further afield, opening up exploration projects in new and supportive jurisdictions and adapting its strategy so that it can prioritise projects quickly and focus on single world-class assets in each country where it operates. Once it has identified a copper-gold project of world-class potential within a jurisdiction where it has large land holdings, it will focus on that asset, and suspend, sell or joint venture its other holdings while opening up exploration in new territories. Royal Road sees this strategy as a further means of managing global geopolitical risks.
In Colombia, the focus will be on the company's GNM project, which comprises the Guintär and neighbouring Margaritas concession contracts. The project is run as a 50-50 joint venture between Royal Road and local operator Mineros SA.
Drilling commenced at Guintär in July 2021, with the company testing for an underlying intrusive or porphyry-related source to the previously tested skarn-style gold mineralisation. Drilling proved successful, intersecting the underlying porphyry and returning best results of 304m at 0.8% copper equivalent. However, the JV partners recently agreed to suspend activities at GNM until the Colombian government clarified its mining policies and completed a redraft of its mining code.
In Nicaragua, Royal Road will continue to operate its Caribe project, where it has been drilling since 2019 and where promising results for gold have been returned, including recent results of 172m at 1.4g/t gold with 18m at 2.5 g/t gold and 0.2% molybdenum.
At the same time, the company has sought to open up in what it deems to be more politically supportive jurisdictions. In February 2023, Royal Road entered into a strategic alliance with MSB Holdings in Saudi Arabia for mineral exploration in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has begun to open up mining opportunities for explorers as part of its ambitious Vision 2030 initiative, with this partnership one of the first of what are likely to be similar deals with exploration firms.
The alliance will develop an exploration decision support system, leading to the identification of priority copper targets and a potential agreement on a 12-month work programme and budget. Ultimately, this could lead to a 50/50 joint venture between Royal Road and MSB for developing copper, gold and other metal assets in the country's Arabian Shield region.
Meanwhile, Royal Road has also recently entered into a definitive agreement that gives it the option to acquire 100% of mineral rights at the "drill ready" Santo Domingo porphyry copper and gold project in San Juan province in Argentina, a jurisdiction that the company describes as "established and supportive" of mining.
Royal Road president and chief executive Tim Coughlin explained how both the Saudi partnership and the expansion into new territories were driven both by the previously mentioned assessment of political risk, and the wider zero carbon agenda, which will be heavily dependent on increased production of copper around the world.
"We think the right thing to do just now is to look for the copper the world desperately needs and to find it in environments where mining is permitted," said Coughlin, referencing the need for copper to facilitate the energy transition. "If we are asked to meet the expectations of that transition, then in the next 22 years we will have to find and develop an amount of copper equivalent to all that mankind has mined and used since records began."
"So if you want to be a responsible explorer, the urgency is copper. I believe that metals such as cobalt are going to be designed out of batteries, maybe lithium too at
some point, but I cannot see how the world can get around electrifying itself without rewiring most of the existing electric infrastructure, particularly in the US, and so we need copper."
Addressing why Royal Road will switch from being focused on one or two jurisdictions to only having one ‘world-class' project in each country where it operates, Coughlin said: "As an exploration company, to limit yourself by national boundaries is nowadays highly geopolitically risky. Under the new strategy, as soon as we define something of interest that looks like it has world-class potential, we focus our energy on that and we expand into new environments. We relinquish everything else. We want to end up with five or six world-class assets in five or six different jurisdictional environments.
"We also want to work in environments that are supportive, and that have sensible election terms. In Latin America some countries have four-year federal election terms, staggered then with provincial election terms. Effectively some operating environments can be forever in an election process, making it difficult to get any work done. We want to be in countries where there is a stable political outlook or longer political terms and national strategies with consideration and pace behind them."
The relative lack of new copper discoveries in recent years and an increasing need for the metal to help deliver the energy transition have both exerted significant upward pressure when it comes to pricing.
"I think it's inevitable that pricing will advance. Consider for a moment that something like 42% of metal currently traded at the LME is sourced from Russia," said Coughlin. "There is significant and justified concern over where various critical metals are sourced and some notable initiatives such as the Global Battery Alliance. Couple that with the regulatory reaction to increasing environmental and social pressures and the restrictions regulators will inevitably impose on plans for dropping cut-off grades and expanding or developing new pits and I think it's very clear that we will suffer further supply pressures and a slow and steady price increase in respect of copper."