Copper mine in development near Shafter
By STERRY BUTCHER
PRESIDIO COUNTY – A Canadian outfit has announced its intention to mine copper and molybdenum from a site 11 miles northwest of Presidio, not far from the Shafter silver mine.
Tosca Mining, of Vancouver, British Columbia, is in the process of acquiring a 2,880-acre site called Red Hills.
“We’re mining copper,” Ron Shenton, Tosca’s president, said on Wednesday. “It’s a copper-molybdenum deposit. We’re hoping the price of molybdenum – or moly, for short – continues to go higher and if it does, we’ll mine moly too.”
Tosca plans a town hall meeting, perhaps in April, to talk with local folks about the project. It’s very early in a long process, explained Tosca CEO Sadek El-Alfy.
“We just signed the deal a week ago,” he said.
Red Hills has already undergone significant exploration. From 1955 until the early 1970s, Asarco, Phelps Dodge, Amax and Duval drilled 88 holes. Later, the Rio Grande Mining Company conducted pre-feasibility studies to determine the viability of extracting copper from the area. According to a Tosca release, “a copper blanket with an historic resource estimated at 17.1 million tons, averaging 0.35 percent Cu with associated molybdenum credits” exists at the site, along with a high-grade shallow copper zone.”
Tosca’s initial work begins this spring, with a sampling of some of the earlier holes that were drilled.
“We want to confirm the exploration in the past,” said El-Alfy. “Then there’s intellectual work to do, creating a physical model and then a financial model. We’ll move a diamond drill to do exploration drilling this summer.”
Full production on the $100 million project, he said, would not come for three or four years.
Copper mining is done in an open pit. Shenton has not been to the site and could not say whether it’s visible from Hwy. 67, though he added that the company is working with an environmental consultant.
“Mining isn’t very pretty,” he acknowledged, “but when you’re done, you put it back. We like to put the property back in as natural a state as possible. We’ll follow whatever rules and regulations are associated with that.”
Tosca is buying the property from the Red Hills Copper Corporation for $10.9 million over five years, plus 2.1 million in common shares. El-Alfy believes this may be the first copper mine in Texas. If everything comes together, construction of the mine will take several hundred people about 18 months to build. Once it is in production, 200 people would work at the site, requiring everything from drivers to mechanics to chemical engineers.
“We believe that the towns surrounding area are sufficient and we won’t have to build a town site,” said El-Alfy.
Tosca has been in contact with Aurcana, who is developing the silver mine in Shafter. Shenton believes there may be some cooperation between the two companies.
“We may do work with them, share equipment,” he said. “We’ll see when we get there. It would make sense we’d do something with them.”
The difference between Tosca’s present effort and the companies of the past has to do with strong metal prices. On March 8 copper was going for $4.24 per pound. Back in 1997, when the feasibility study was done, copper hovered around $1 per pound. Today’s price for moly, which is used in hardening steel, is $18 a pound.
El-Alfy emphasized that the mining project has phases and the company has obligations to the surrounding communities.
“We want to be friendly neighbors and have a mutually beneficial relationship, providing a good employment base,” he said. “We have a social responsibility to make sure that we don’t upset the community and that the community benefits from our presence.”
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