Your Treasure Map to Gold's Mother Lodes

If you thought all the gold in British Columbia was handed out to the Olympians in Vancouver, think again.

Well known for an array of prolific copper and coal mines operated by the likes of Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK  ) and Taseko Mines (AMEX: TGB  ) , Canada's westernmost province remains a hotbed of as-yet untapped mineral wealth. Featuring massive mother lodes and midsize treasure troves, British Columbia boasts one of the world's premier concentrations of high-quality metal-mining prospects.

The following survey of the region's leading mine development projects is designed to assist Fools in identifying those projects that best suit their individual investment goals. Whether you prefer the relative safety of small-scale developments by established producers like New Gold (AMEX: NGD  ) , or aim to hit the golden lottery with a megadeposit like Seabridge Gold's (AMEX: SA  ) Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) property, there is something here for everyone.

The friendliest places to mine
Let's face it: Canadians have earned their reputation for uncommon friendliness. Within the wide world of mining jurisdictions, a Fool would be hard-pressed to identify a more stable and attractive location for mine development than Canada. Although Quebec has been hailed as the top mining jurisdiction in the world, seven of Canada's provinces made the top 10 in a 2009 survey conducted by the Fraser Institute. British Columbia was ranked 24th, but I believe that a responsibly stringent environmental review process (and close consultation with the region's First Nations) makes the province a terrific host for miners willing to commit to the exacting process.

Taseko's Prosperity project began its environmental review process in 1995, and only obtained its provincial permit this year. While such a lengthy review might deter some miners or investors, Fools are reminded to consider that irresponsible or innefective operators are likely to be weeded out by such a process. Of the seven projects discussed in this article, four have been awarded the necessary permits to proceed with mine construction (see below).

Big things come in small packages
Diving right in with the smallest of all these golden prospects, New Gold's New Afton is the only one that is presently under construction. This underground mine is expected to achieve full production during late 2012, and yield 85,000 ounces of gold per year for a 12-year mine life. With power lines and natural gas pipelines already crossing the property, the company has a convenient head start on energy infrastructure. With powerful feasibility-study metrics including a cash cost of negative $852 per ounce after copper and silver by-product credits, New Afton is a slam dunk for New Gold. Longer-term investors will have their radars attuned to the company's nearby Ajax-Python property, which already boasts a 1-million-ounce measured and indicated mineral resources just 10 kilometers from New Afton.

Following years of relative obscurity, Taseko's road to prosperity is finally laid out before shareholders like a modern-day treasure map. Because I consider Taseko among the most dramatically undervalued miners out there, I believe that the potential for truly epic shareholder returns to result from the gold and copper buried beneath Prosperity is more than mere idle speculation. Of the total reserves listed below, even just the recoverable portion of 7.7 million ounces of gold and 3.6 billion pounds of copper is enough to render as utterly laughable the market's de facto valuation of Prosperity at less than $200 million. Like New Afton, Prosperity also sports negative estimated production costs, and Taseko likewise has a long-term ace up its sleeve in another project called Harmony.

The final two gold properties with permits in hand stand on opposite corners of the momentum scale. Frozen in time since 50% joint venture partner Teck Resources balked at escalating construction costs back in 2007, NovaGold Resources' (AMEX: NG  ) Galore Creek project has about as much momentum behind it as a couch potato during America Idol. That could change in a hurry, though, as NovaGold has scored enthusiastic new sources of capital (and Teck Resources has finally recovered from a disastrous fall).

Meanwhile, Terrane Metals has issued a positive construction decision for its Mt. Milligan project, and now seeks to raise some C$915 million in project financing to complement the C$40 million credit facility floated by 60% equity stakeholder Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) . Although the required sum is large compared to Terrane's market capitalization, here again the robust economics of the mine plan stand in favor of a successful outcome against the apparent odds. Construction costs are expected to be recuperated after just four years of a 22-year mine life.

The moment of truth for northern megamines
It may sound counterintuitive, but often the projects with the largest caches of gold encounter the heaviest headwinds on the road to development. A moment of truth for Seabridge's Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) deposit is fast approaching, with a feasibility study due for release any day now. A fresh set of engineering studies have aimed to reduce the project's estimated $3 billion price tag and finally entice a deep-pocketed buyer. Seabridge plans to submit an application for environmental review later this year. With potential suitors busily pursuing their own multibillion-dollar projects, it's any Fool's guess when they might turn their gaze to KSM. Eventually, I suspect the promise of a 48-year mine life with negative operating costs will entice a buyer.

KSM does not stand alone in the wilderness of an unknown future. In fact, Silver Standard Resources' (Nasdaq: SSRI  ) Snowfield and Brucejack properties are located right next to KSM, leading this Fool to wonder whether the best way forward for both projects is to roll them into a single mining camp. These two deposits are not as far along the development continuum as KSM, but already their combined resource potential is impressive. What's the saying? Go big or go home? Incorporating Snowfield and Brucejack into the KSM complex could conceivably yield the largest metals mining camp of the 21st century.

We have covered a lot of territory in this survey. Please refer to the table below for a summary of the projects at a glance, and be sure to post your questions and thoughts below after voting in our Motley Poll.

British Columbia's buried treasures at a glance

Operator

Project Name

Reserves*

Resources*

New Gold

New Afton

1 Moz. gold
3 Moz. silver
1 B lbs. copper

NA

NovaGold Resources

Galore Creek

NA

7.3 Moz. gold
123 M oz. silver  9 B lbs. copper

Seabridge Gold

Kerr-Sulpherets-Mitchell (KSM)

NA

39 Moz. gold
10 B lbs. copper

Silver Standard Resources

Snowfield /
Brucejack

NA

24 Moz. gold
116 Moz. silver

Taseko Mines

Prosperity

11 Moz. gold
4 B lbs. copper

NA

Terrane Metals

Mt. Milligan

6 Moz. gold
2 B lbs. copper

NA

*Note: Reserves listed above are proven and probable mineral reserves as estimated by the most recent resource estimate available for each property. Resources are of the measured and indicated category only (inferred resources omitted). Gold and silver are expressed in millions of troy ounces (Moz.), and copper is expressed in billions of pounds (B lbs.). Underlying metal price assumptions and cut-off grades may vary.

Gold is a hot topic on the blogs at Motley Fool CAPS. Join the free service today and see just how many Fools are taking the long view when it comes to investing in gold. The "Gold" tag at CAPS lists 51 potential investments, and you'll find Christopher's comments on most of them.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of New Gold, NovaGold Resources, Silver Standard Resources, Taseko Mines, and Terrane Metals. The Motley Fool has a gilded disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (32)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 11:21 PM, JAVEROA wrote:

    Thanks a lot David for such a clear article on Gold mining companies''s potential developments.

    I hold TGB and recently sold my NGD shares (I believe they are fighting in too many fronts at the same time). I completely agree that with companies like TGB having cash flow from other mines, you get a cushion.

    As you mention, prosperity seems to have a de facto market valuation of $200M, which most people agree is rather laughable.

    With Gold it seems that a lot depends on their getting the permits first. If they do, they will have a long list of suitors, financiers.... Nobody wants to commit themselves before that. The exception seems to be NG, to some extent.

    However, investors seem to take their chances on metals that are regarded as a ""necessity"" like GMO and its huge moly mines, as you are well aware of the recent commitment by a foreign company in addition to MT and PKX.

    In your view, and if the permits were granted, what would in your opinion be the fair value of Prosperity?

    Would you kindly include your assumptions as well.

    Thank you

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2010, at 8:38 AM, XMFSinchiruna wrote:

    javeroa,

    My prior articles on Taseko discuss valuation in broad terms, but the most conservative approach would be to use the NPV from Prosperity's feasibility study. I personally would place Prosperity's fair value somewhere near $4B at $900 gold and $2.75 Copper. Present market value of recoverable P&P gold and copper is well north of $20 billion, but I anticipate a lengthy continuation of this strong bull market cycle as gold marches toward $2,000 per ounce.

    Prosperity's permit from the Canadian government is something of a foregone conclusion after receiving the BC provincial permit.

    For the record, NG's Galore Creek was previously permitted, and will likely face only an abbreviated review process to update the permit to match any re-engineering of the mine plan.

    Hold the gold,

    Chris

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