JSE- and ASX-listed diversified metals explorer and developer Orion Minerals has exercised its exclusive option to acquire a controlling interest in the majority of the properties comprising the Okiep copper project (OCP), in the Northern Cape.
In addition to the OCP option acquisition, Orion has also applied for additional prospecting rights to supplement the OCP mineral rights.
The mineral rights holding of OCP is intended to be held by two newly formed Orion companies – the New Okiep Exploration Company, which will initially be 100%-owned by Orion; and the New Okiep Mining Company, which will initially be held 56.3% by Orion and 43.7% by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC).
Both of these entities will, in future, include empowerment partners in compliance with Mining Charter 2018.
The OCP option has been restructured since the initial OCP option agreement was announced on February 2, with Orion now directly acquiring the assets held by Southern African Tantalum Mining, Nababeep Copper Company and Bulletrap Copper Company, rather than the entities themselves.
These entities hold the majority of the large, historical mines in this significant copper-producing district, which, up until 2003, produced more than two-million tonnes of copper metal over a 150-year period.
The mineral rights include numerous existing drilled copper orebodies with decline mine access and services in place.
In addition, Orion has also exercised its option to acquire the database owned by the O’Okiep Copper Company and its affiliates, including all historical mining and exploration records for the OCP covering more than 60 years of production history.
Orion MD and CEO Errol Smart says the acquisition is another pivotal moment in Orion’s journey to become a major base metals producer in South Africa, with two production hubs in the “world-class” Northern Cape province and, in the process, a key supplier of metals that are critical for global energy transformation.
Orion notes that the OCP provides a significant growth opportunity as it could become a second base metal production hub for Orion in the Northern Cape alongside its flagship Prieska copper/zinc project, located 450 km east of the OCP.
Since signing the OCP option agreement, Orion has undertaken extensive due diligence work at the OCP, including the completion of Joint Ore Reserves Committee-compliant mineral resource estimates for an initial six deposits, totalling 11.5-million tonnes with a grade of 1.4% copper for 159 000 t of contained copper.
In addition, Orion also completed a positive scoping study, which demonstrated the economic merit of developing a foundation phase mining operation at the OCP, while Orion conducts the required work and engineering studies to support its aspiration for achieving a larger mining operation.
In this regard, Orion is eyeing production at a similar scale to past owners Newmont and Gold Fields which produced copper in the range of 30 000 t/y to 40 000 t/y.
“Our recently-completed scoping study demonstrates positive economics from a smaller-scale proof-of-concept mining operation, with the potential for first production within 16 months of the start of construction,” Smart says.
On that basis, he adds, Orion has exercised the option to complete the OCP acquisition, paving the way for it to start more detailed feasibility studies on a near-term production opportunity.
Orion’s objective of rapidly expanding the mineral resource base at the OCP is supported by the exercise of a separate option agreement to acquire the extensive historical mining and exploration database held by the O’Okiep Copper Company and its affiliates, covering more than 60 years of production and exploration history.
Drilling and geological information within this database has already supported the completion of the initial mineral resource estimates, as well as enabled Orion to define a series of high-priority initial drill targets within the OCP, particularly along the Carolusberg – Koperberg line.
Targeting for discovery of new mineralisation at the OCP is further supported by a recent agreement with the Council for Geoscience to collaborate on exploration initiatives across the Northern Cape.
In this regard, a major regional SkyTEM aerial survey is currently being conducted under this collaboration agreement, targeting copper sulphide mineralisation hosted in mafic intrusive bodies within the OCP area.
“These programmes are squarely aimed at growing our resource base at the OCP to support a larger-scale, longer-term mining operation – an objective that will be significantly fast-tracked by our exercise of a second option to acquire a vast historical database of more than 60 years of mining and exploration records,” says Smart.
He adds that Orion’s objective is for future production from OCP to supplement Prieska’s forecast production of 22 000 t/y of copper and 70 000 t/y of zinc, transforming Orion into a substantial base metals mining house with two operating hubs in Tier 1 mining districts in the Northern Cape.