Questions and Answers on the ‘Big Think’ with John Barry, Vice President Exploration Strategy, and the technical team at Group Eleven
Why should we be interested in zinc?
Zinc is the fourth most consumed metal after iron, aluminum and copper. Presently, global zinc inventories equate to less than nine (9) days of global consumption (according to Scotiabank) – a multi-year low. New economically viable zinc deposits are very hard to find. However, we have a competitive advantage relative to our global peers given we have a very large strategic land position in Ireland – a jurisdiction known to be rich in zinc.
Why look for zinc in Ireland?
It might be surprising to know that Ireland is ranked number one in the world for zinc found per square kilometre1. For example, the largest deposit in Ireland is Boliden’s Navan zinc mine which is the largest in Europe and believed to be about the fifth largest in the world. This world ranking reflects the large amount of zinc tonnage discovered to date in this relatively small area. Remember, the Irish Zinc District, located in Ireland’s ‘Midlands’ (or geologically speaking - the Central Ireland Basin), is only about the size of Belgium.
Figure 1 The Central Ireland Basin – Irish Zinc District
(Source: Exploration and Mining Division of DCCAE, 2016)
Besides the geology, Ireland also has very attractive infrastructure (roads, power, year-round and nearby tidewater), skilled people (geologists, drillers, assay laboratories, etc), favourable mining regulations (Ireland is ranked number one by Fraser Institute in terms of ‘Policy Perception Index’) and last but not least, stable and mining friendly political environment.
Why is it important to think ‘Big’?
Mineral exploration in inherently risky, so to justify taking this risk, one needs to have a huge potential reward.
Why is Group Eleven different?
The ‘Big Think’ sets Group Eleven apart from the majority of its peers which are solely focused on incrementally adding to historic resources and trying to boot strap old zinc projects. Instead, we are looking for new ‘tier-one’ zinc projects which are in the lowest production cost quartile of zinc mines.
Why do you think Group Eleven can succeed?
Our high-calibre international team has a strong track record of successful discoveries worldwide and understands what it takes to make a major discovery: the right timing, the right concept, the right ground, perseverance/grit and funding. Group Eleven’s management is a ‘home team’ based in Ireland and has deep knowledge of Irish-type deposits. We also have direct experience with global capital markets which has enabled us to find supportive, long term investors.
What are you trying to achieve with ‘Big Think’?
Discover a large and high-grade zinc deposit which would rank in the top tier when compared against all other zinc deposits in the world.
What do you need for ‘Big Think’ to work?
For ‘Big Think’ to be worthwhile, it is important to not only be in a very prospective jurisdiction like Ireland, but you also need to have a large strategic land position and a highly motivated and energetic team with talent and experience. We have that covered.
How were you able to acquire such a large ground position?
During the most recent mining downturn in 2015, a lot of ground in Ireland, held by cash-strapped majors and juniors, was finally starting to come open. We saw this opportunity and were able to raise initial seed capital. Instead of doing what is more typical in Ireland by staking small and fragmented ground positions – we decided to start acquiring strategically large and contiguous holdings. In all, we were able to secure over 3,200 square kilometres of highly prospective ground – the largest land position by any company currently in Ireland (and one of the largest property parcels ever put together over the last 70 years). Notice that many of our predecessors wouldn’t have had enough ground to make a ‘Big Think’ approach viable. Group Eleven, however, now has a real opportunity to make a large impact by combining all historic work and building a detailed new picture at a basin-scale.
Can you elaborate more on ‘Big Think’?
I like the wisdom of Daniel J. Boorstein: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge”. The first step of ‘Big Think’ is admitting that no one knows what is really happening underground – geologists only have theories based on imperfect and noisy information. This leads one to realize that an ‘open mind’ is of paramount importance. With that framework in place, we can then move forward with the day-to-day work which involves innovative collaboration by expert multi-disciplinary teams, skilled interpretation of historical data and the right blend of geological insight, technology and innovation. All that applied on a regional, basin-wide, scale. This approach is what we believe sets Group Eleven apart from its peers.
What does a top tier deposit look like?
These deposits are big, often the largest in their class, and support long-life mining operations. Their life span is measured in decades not years, which means the operator can capture at least a few mining cycles where metal prices are high. These deposits are high-quality which means not only attractive grade and tonnage, but also simple geometry and clean metallurgy - which typically translates into lowest quartile production costs.
So where do these zinc deposits occur?
Irish-type deposits tend to be associated northeast ‘Caledonide’ regional trends or ‘corridors’ (see the green stripes below) which were active during the sequential pulses of mineralizing fluids.
Figure 2 – Major Zinc Mineralised Corridors or “Main Streets” across the “Irish Zinc District”
(Source: Group Eleven Resources Corp.)
What do these Irish type Deposits look like?
In Ireland, most zinc deposits occur within the Waulsortian limestone (see generalized schematic below). In the north of the country, however, the Navan Beds are dominant and host the giant Navan deposit (owned and operated by Boliden). Notice that, when going from north to south, the Navan Beds fade and conversely, the Waulsortian limestones gets thicker. This is why the Ballinalack occurrence is so special – it sits right at the ‘overlap’ zone where both prospective horizons are well developed. In fact, Ballinalack is the only known occurrence in Ireland with significant mineralization occurs in both horizons.
Figure 3 – Regional Schematic of the Irish Zinc-Lead Province
(Source: Dr. John Kelly, SLR Consulting, 2018)
Irish-Type Zinc-Lead Deposits occur when metal-bearing fluids expelled from basins ascend along ‘feeders’ (deep penetrating faults related to the formation and evolution of the basin) and encounter reactive and permeable limestone host units. These limestone horizons contain sulphur-bearing fluids, which when mixed with metal-bearing fluids, tend to precipitate zinc and lead sulphide minerals (sphalerite and galena), plus a bit of silver. This ‘fluid-mixing’ is a key distinguishing feature of these types of zinc deposits.
What’s nice about most Irish-Type Zinc-Lead deposits is that they commonly have a wide ‘halo’ around the zinc mineralization called Black-Matrix Breccia (‘BMB’). ‘Breccia’ means broken-up rock. If you’re drilling a new target and intersect BMB – you should be fairly close to zinc.
Figure 4 – Generalized cross-section of a typical Irish-type zinc-lead deposit
(Source: Group Eleven Resources Corp., modified after Unicorn Mineral Resources Ltd)
The following are a few specific examples from Lisheen and Silvermines (Cooleen zone).
Figure 5 – Generalized cross-section of a typical Irish-type zinc-lead deposit
(Source: Group Eleven modified after Wilkinson, 2005)
What is all this about basins and basin-scale?
Irish-style zinc deposits are formed by large volumes of circulating mineralizing fluids. The larger the basin – the more circulating fluids (and hence, the best chance of finding large deposits). A basin – like a bathtub - is a large, circular area of ground which subsided below sea level because of faulting around its edges. Over many millions of years, this area filled up with water and collect hundreds of metres of sediment from corals, shelly critters and nearby rivers. These faulted edges, as well as, major structures within the basins or smaller basins within larger basins, are where circulating fluids were often channelled – and hence that is why these areas are most prospective. For example, the really big deposits, like Boliden’s Navan deposit, occur along a large collapsed basin margin. This is one of the key areas you want to be.
Figure 6 – Group Eleven’s Strategic Ground Position in the Context of the Geology, Main Basins, Zinc Mines and Undeveloped Zinc Deposits
(Source: Group Eleven Resources Corp.)
Why is ‘Basin Evolution’ important?
To find where the key basin faults are located – we need to understand how the basin evolved through time. This is what we call ‘Basin Evolution’ analysis. Geologists who are very experienced in Irish stratigraphy are required to decipher the latest geological information in order to piece together how and where and when a basin collapsed and in turn, determine where to look for zinc.
Below is an example from our Silvermines property. Work by one of our key consultants shows a number of large fault zones (grey swathes) running across the property. The area highlighted in yellow, called the Birr Shelf, was found to host stratigraphy and fault architecture similar to the Rathdowney Trend which hosts the Lisheen and Galmoy zinc deposits. The Birr Shelf is now a priority regional target for us and the current Tellus airborne survey should help us generate high-quality, near-term drill targets.
Figure 7 – Example of Target Reduction at Silvermines using Basin Evolution Analysis
(Source: Dr. John Kelly, SLR Consulting, 2018)
What concrete steps are you taking towards ‘Big Think’?
Another quote that I often refer to is by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi who said, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought”. In order to see differently, one has to see through the noise. This means one has to pull together a clean and comprehensive picture of what is currently known.
Let’s start with the geological model of a typical Irish style zinc deposit. As per above, we are keeping an open mind and interrogating the conventional wisdom with our leading expert advisers and research partners iCRAG2. Specifically, we are working hard to unravel the details of critical elements of basin evolution, recent advances in understanding of basin architecture and growth faults which were active during the key mineralizing epochs.
The recent ‘game-changer’ in Ireland, as exemplified by Boliden’s recent discovery of Tara Deeps at the Navan mine, is the use of seismic data. Seismic surveys have been used in petroleum industry for many decades. Over the last few years, however, cost have dropped significantly due Wi-Fi-enabled receivers and other technological enhancements. Concurrently, computing power has drastically shot up, enabling much better precision and interpretation. In effect, seismics is a huge help in being able to visualize in 3D where the large faults are and where they cut across the two prospective horizons in Ireland – the Waulsortian limestone and the Navan Beds. These intersection lines are where we want to start looking to drill.
Is there anything else that can help you hone in on drill targets?
Group Eleven’s team has spent the last three years conducting data compilation. This involves trawling through government archives consisting of thousands of reports, megabytes of exploration data, hundreds of drill-holes, etc. The first iteration of this work is largely completed, and more iterations are ongoing in our specific areas of focus to further distill prospective corridors and specific drill target areas.
Other tools we are using include satellite imagery, which help us see the locations and orientations of major faults by analyzing lineaments on the Earth’s surface. We are using geophysics, including the ongoing Tellus airborne survey and ground geophysics such as gravity. These surveys help us to also determine where the major faults are, among other geological information. We are using soil geochemistry to provide clues as to whether the ‘plumbing system’ is fertile or not. In other words, if the soil on top of a fault contains elevated zinc, whereas, soils on top of another fault do not have elevated zinc, then we know the first fault is a lot more prospective. Lastly, we are relogging some of the key historic drill core to ensure key information that we now know is critical in finding zinc deposits was not overlooked in the past.
All the above tools are allowing us much greater precision on the location and orientation on the most prospective faults. This precision should lead us to the best drill targets. Overall, we believe no one else is currently attempting this level of breadth and depth in terms of zinc exploration in Ireland.
In recent months we have seen some initial drilling results from Ballinalack and Stonepark and a maiden resource estimate. How do these projects fit into the ‘Big Think’?
Even though the historic estimate at Ballinalack and the maiden inferred resource at Stonepark already represent the second and third largest undeveloped zinc occurrences in Ireland (after Glencore’s Pallas Green deposit), they are merely ‘stepping stones’ towards much larger discovery potential. Our recent drilling at these two properties has verified the presence of high-grade zinc mineralization, but more importantly, has given us a much better understanding on the geological setting and orientation of the local feeder faults. What we learned from the local scale has large implications on where we explore on the rest of the property and rest of the country – hence very much a part of ‘Big Think’.
How would you summarize your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)?
Our ‘Strengths’ are definitely the team, the jurisdiction, the ground, and general timing. Our ‘Weaknesses’ are the challenges we face. The ‘Big Think’ is a large-scale effort - so a lot of work is required to process all the data. Thankfully, most of this effort is now behind us and we can focus on analysis, regional fieldwork and further drilling. Globally, the challenge is that discovery of major mineral deposits is getting deeper and increasingly beyond detection limits of conventional geochemistry and geophysics. Luckily in Ireland, a lot of new territory (for example Stonepark) and new ideas are not yet systematically explored.
Let’s take ‘Threats’ next. Here, I’d say we are like most junior explorers right now. On a macro-level, we are negatively affected by the prospect of a global trade war and attractive opportunities in other sectors – specifically the marijuana industry in Canada. I strongly suspect, however, that increasingly strong underlying zinc fundamentals (multi-year low global inventories, continued growth in demand) will eventually shine through and be recognized. As with any mineral exploration company, safety, as well as, national and local community relations are always a top priority for us.
In terms of ‘Opportunities’ – we believe it is inevitable that someone makes a new tier-one zinc discovery in Ireland over the next few years. Whether its Group Eleven or someone else remains to be seen. However, as a company holding the largest ground position of some of the most prospective licenses in the country - we are trying to be the first!
2 Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geoscience (iCRAG) is a well-funded initiative between government, academia and industry which aims to aid in the discovery of mineral deposits, among other research initiatives.