North American Tungsten: CEO Interview
Tungsten is the hardest and strongest metal on the planet. It is over three times harder than chromium, cobalt and titanium and over five times harder than nickel, iron and platinum. Tungsten alloys well with other metals and displays high resistance to corrosion.
Strategically speaking, tungsten was ranked in a first place tie with rare earth elements on the British Geological Survey annual mineral "risk list" in 2012.
The updated risk list gives an indication of the relative risk to the supply of a chemical element or element groups which are required to maintain our economy and lifestyle.
The position of an element on this list is determined by a number of factors which might affect availability. These include the abundance of elements in the Earth's crust, the location of current production and reserves, and the political stability of those locations. Recycling rates are also included in the analysis.
North American Tungsten is a leading junior tungsten producer. The company currently produces 4% of the world's supply and has been producing tungsten from its Cantung mine in Canada's Northwest Territories since 2001.
The company has navigated two mine shutdowns and restarts and, during the most recently shutdown in 2010, upgraded the mine with a $25 million capital program. In addition to the Cantung mine, North American Tungsten owns the MacTung property which boasts one of the largest high-grade tungsten deposits in the world.
We recently joined company President & CEO, Stephen Leahy, for a one-on-one interview where we took a look back in time, and found out what's in store for 2013.
For many mining investors tungsten is a relatively unknown metal. Please tell our readers about tungsten mining and what tungsten is primarily used for.
Tungsten is a Strategic metal with significant attributes. It is the hardest material on earth besides diamonds, it has the highest melting point of any metal, it is close to gold in density, and it is non-toxic.
The majority of tungsten use is in cutting tools, inserts and drills. These equate to approx. 65% of consumption. The balance is widespread including military, electronics, lighting and even jewelry. New composite technology is opening up significant new markets for Tungsten that will use its density and non-toxicity as key drivers.
North American Tungsten produces 4% of the world’s tungsten – who do you sell to and what does a typical sale look like?
While all of our off-take agreements are confidential, I can tell you that we currently ship about 70% of our production to Asia and 30% to Europe. We typically contract for a minimum of one year and our pricing is usually 80% or higher of the LMB Ammonium Paratungstate (APT) quotation which is adjusted monthly.
Currently, production is out of your CanTung mine in the Northwest Territories. How long has the mine been in operation and what are the current operational highlights?
The CanTung Mine started operations in the early 60’s as an open pit mine and moved underground in the early 70’s. While we currently only have some 2 years of forward resources, we’ve had that approx. number for the last eight years of mining. Needless to say, we do believe that there is much more development to be done at CanTung.
We do boast the highest head grade of any mine we know of and our gravity concentrate is world renowned for its exceptional quality. We have made significant improvements, investing some $50 million at the mine in the last 2 years, boosting productivity and efficiencies.
On October 16th the company announced a major permitting milestone for its MacTung project in the Yukon. What is the significance of the Draft Screening Report?
The draft screening report from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board recommending that our MacTung project proceed, is a major milestone in the Yukon mining permitting process. The DSR essentially gives the green light for the project to the government regulators for their approval.
Once permitting has been fully received, what are your plans for MacTung?
Financing is the key to MacTung and we have already started the process to connect with potential partners and long term off-take entities. The construction plans for MacTung call for a 2 year time frame.
Globally, how does MacTung stack up against other tungsten projects in operation or in development?
MacTung is the world’s largest known undeveloped high grade tungsten-skarn deposit with over 33 million tonnes at 0.88 WO3. That means a 30+ year mine life, which in the tungsten world is very very significant.