Keep the right side of this Empire
“…With a new position in one of the world’s most prolific gold regions, and a busy few months ahead, Empire is one to watch this year…”
Gold exploration and development company Empire Metals (AIM:EEE) continues to consolidate its presence in Western Australia, having pivoted over the past two years from a long-time focus on mines in the Caucasus.
The company changed direction in 2020, dropping its previous flagship asset, a 50pc interest in the Bolnisi Copper and Gold Project in Georgia, after a long running dispute with the Georgian National Agency of Mines over the extent of the licence, and acquiring a 75pc interest in the Eclipse Gold Project, a historic mine located 55 km north-east of Kalgoorlie, which has recorded historic production of 954 tonnes at 24.6 g/t gold. A 2014 drilling programme identified high-grade mineralisation within a 30 metre zone either side of the main Eclipse shaft, and soil surveys indicated elevated gold concentrations in portions of the Project’s mineralised system.
Empire sharpened its new focus on Australia last May, taking a 75pc option interest in the Central Menzies Gold Project 90 km north-west of Eclipse. The Project, comprising four exploration licences covering a granite-greenstone belt within the Menzies Shear Zone, is close by the 320,000 oz Menzies Gold Project operated by ASX-listed Kingswest Resources, and directly south along strike from the 15 kilometre Yunndaga line of workings, which has a historic metal inventory of 1.1 Moz of gold. The agreement gave Empire a nine-month option period.
Two phases of reverse circulation drilling at Central Menzies last year indicated a significant gold anomaly identified along a 500 metre strike length, while drilling at Eclipse sought to test the extent of previously identified mineralised systems. By July Empire had drilled 19 holes and three core diameter drill holes, discovering ‘several parallel veins in addition to the main Eclipse vein’, and confirming intercepts from previous drilling.
In August the company refined its Eclipse drilling strategy after finding the main gold mineralisation at the mine to be more prevalent at depth and ‘perhaps orders of magnitude larger than originally anticipated.’ Rather than moving ahead directly to a small-scale open pit operation Empire would take time to recalibrate its programme ‘with the objective of delivering a larger mineralised inventory’.
The rethink presaged a significant adjustment in strategy this year. In January Empire published somewhat mixed news on December operations at Central Menzies. Although drilling had indicated the presence of gold mineralised zones, and intercepted quartz veins and alteration occuring along the contact between basalts and sediments, ’only a few of these intercepts [had] identified significant gold mineralisation extending into fresh rock’.
A few days later the company said it had agreed Heads of Terms to enter into a Tribute Agreement with Maher Mining Contractors Pty Ltd, giving Empire the right to explore, develop and mine within a granted area on Maher’s Gindalbie Gold Project, located near the historic gold mining town of Gindalbie, adjacent to the Eclipse Gold Project. The Gindalbie project area would increase Empire’s mineralised footprint around Eclipse by more than 200pc, taking it to a total of 943 hectares, and extend the current area for exploration targets a further 2 km along the Eclipse lodes trend, and 1 km to the north and 3 km to the south. Gindalbie was an active gold mining centre around the turn of the last century producing through the periods 1887 to 1913 and the late 1930s to the early 1940s. Total recorded production to the end of 1913 was 44,622 tonnes of ore for 40,643 oz gold (at an average grade of 28.33 g/t gold). With its new acquisition Empire would be able to target ‘significant additional high-grade gold targets to be evaluated within the combined Eclipse-Gindalbie area, both along the southeast strike extension of the Eclipse trend and in sub-parallel northwest-southeast trends lying to the northeast and southwest of the Eclipse trend’. Under the agreement, for which binding terms were signed last month, Empire will pay AUD$250,000 for an initial six-month exploration term.
Drilling gets underway at Gindalbie
Empire went on to announce an initial drilling campaign at Gindalbie, to be pursued in conjunction with a new phase of exploratory drilling at Eclipse, both of which ‘will be implemented over the coming weeks’. The Eclipse programme, which will employ both reverse circulation and diamond drill holes, is designed to gather further geological and structural information around the Project’s Eclipse and Jack’s Dream shafts, and test for both high grade gold mineralisation at depth and continuity of the mineralisation between the previous high grade drilling intercepts. The current Eclipse database shows only 20pc of the reverse circulation holes drilled to date have penetrated below the gold-depleted regolith zone into fresh rock. Previous drilling indicates that gold mineralisation likely continues to greater depths, and that further drilling is warranted to test the strike and depth extensions of multiple gold structures at Eclipse.
Reverse circulation drilling at Gindalbie will seek to extend the mineralised trend a further 2 km to the southeast of Eclipse and to understand the extent and origin of what the company believes to be ‘a much larger gold system’. Last month Empire said exploratory drilling campaign at the location was now underway, testing for high-grade gold lodes within the transition and fresh rock, immediately below or adjacent to several of the historic mine shafts. The programme consists of 16 reverse circulation holes for 1,610 metres, drilled on the back of the reverse circulation drill campaign at Eclipse, which has also started. Empire hopes that by building a better understanding of the structural geology at Eclipse, and targets along the mineralised trends traversing the Gindalbie project area, the company will be able to develop ‘a comprehensive and targeted exploration plan for both the Eclipse and Gindalbie projects with a view to moving rapidly to a development phase’.
The company’s inauguration of the Eclipse-Gindalbie campaign was accompanied by news that it had decided not to take up the option for the Central Menzies project. Results so far had been ‘generally inconclusive, with no obvious continuity along strike and no significant high-grade intercepts’. Empire will now focus on the known high-grade gold assets centred around the Eclipse-Gindalbie project area ‘as well as look for further acquisitions within Australia’.
The year ahead
Empire remains funded for exploration over the coming months with some £2.1m in current cash reserves, boosted by the current favourable exchange rate between Sterling and the Australian dollar. The company now seems fully reoriented towards Australia, clarifying the nature of the opportunity at around Eclipse, and embarking upon a programme to open it up. (It’s worth noting Empire also holds a portfolio of three precious metals projects in central-southern Austria, which may come into play depending on its progress in Australia.)
Empire’s share price fell all the way from 25p to 1p after its Georgian venture run aground, but has shown signs of picking up again at it has doubled down on the Eclipse-Gindalbie prospect. The price is currently around 1p, spiking at 1.50p just a month ago. With a new position in one of the world’s most prolific gold regions, the price of gold surging with war waging in the Ukraine, and a busy few months ahead, Empire is one to watch this year.
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