Alexco Resource Corp. (TSX:AXR)(NYSE Amex:AXU) has provided an interim update of operations performance at its newly-commissioned Bellekeno mine and outline 2011 plans for primary and advanced exploration in the Keno Hill Silver District, Yukon Territory.
On the exploration front, Alexco plans to invest a minimum of $8 million in surface exploration work, including drilling at least 15,000 meters at a number of targets across the district. In addition, the Company plans to invest $10 million in advanced exploration at its Onek, Lucky Queen and Silver King properties, including 1,500 meters of underground development and 5,000 meters of definition drilling. Initial resource calculations for Onek and Lucky Queen are currently in progress, incorporating all prior exploration work including the results of the 2010 exploration program, and are expected to be released during the second quarter of calendar 2011.
Interim Bellekeno Operations Update
Since achieving commercial production effective January 1, 2011, and through the end of February, approximately 12,000 tonnes of ore have been processed at the Company's newly-commissioned conventional flotation mill, producing 1,600 tonnes of lead concentrate and 620 tonnes of zinc concentrate. During the first two months of commercial production, mill heads have been blended by design to an average of 10% lead, 6% zinc and 900 grams per tonne silver to assist in fine-tuning metallurgical balance and recovery in the mill. Recoveries and concentrate grades for lead concentrate, which comprises approximately 85% of Bellekeno's net revenue stream, are generally consistent with pre-production estimates, with lead and silver recoveries averaging approximately 93% and lead concentrate grades of approximately 68% lead and 6,000 grams per tonne silver. As originally planned, mill throughput has been steadily increased from an initial 200 tonnes per day in early January to approximately 260 tonnes per day in late February as mill availability improves, and a total of approximately 20,000 tonnes of throughput remains anticipated for the first quarter of calendar 2011. Under the Company's calendar 2011 operating plan, mine output and mill throughput is scheduled to incrementally increase beyond 250 tonnes per day to achieve a minimum 2.8 million ounces of silver production in 2011. Underground exploration work comprising 140 meters of underground development and approximately 5,000 meters of diamond drilling is also expected to be completed at Bellekeno in calendar 2011.
Advanced Exploration Plans, 2011
Subject to receiving appropriate permits, Alexco anticipates initiating advanced exploration work at the Onek, Lucky Queen and Silver King Mine areas. This work, scheduled to begin in March, includes 1,500 meters of surface definition drilling in the vicinity of the historical Onek mine; approximately 1,500 meters of underground rehabilitation and development work at the historical Lucky Queen mine, in advance of approximately 2,500 meters of underground definition drilling; and a review of underground ore definition and mining options at the historical Silver King mine.
In each of these cases, the advanced exploration work is expected to extend through the balance of calendar 2011, with the objective of positioning the Company to make production decisions for each property either in later 2011 or early 2012. Initial resource estimates are expected to be completed for the Onek and Lucky Queen silver–lead–zinc deposits in the second quarter of calendar 2011, and will be updated following advanced exploration work either late in calendar 2011 or early in 2012. At Silver King, a historical "reserve" estimate comprising 117,514 short tons of 43.6 ounces per ton silver and 1.4% lead was prepared in 1997 by the staff of the property's former owner, United Keno Hill Mines Limited. Although believed by Alexco management to be relevant and reliable, this historical reserve estimate pre-dates National Instrument 43-101 - Standards of Disclosure for Mineral Projects ("NI 43-101") and is not compliant with NI 43-101 resource categories. In addition, engineering and feasibility related work is continuing on the Company's tailings project, where approximately 9.5 million ounces of silver have been defined within approximately 2.5 million tonnes of historical Elsa tailings (see news release dated May 6, 2010 entitled "Alexco Announces Initial Elsa Tailings Resource Estimate, Keno Hill").
2011 Keno Hill Surface Exploration Highlights
- A 15,000 meter surface drill program, scheduled to begin in March, is planned for the Keno Hill Silver District, where the Company's land holdings exceed 23,000 hectares. Surface exploration work will focus in a number of areas, including the new discoveries in the Bermingham and Flame & Moth areas, where the aim will be to define additional mineable silver resources.
- In addition to the systematic exploration and definition of new silver deposits as outlined above, the Company will continue its "blind target" exploration program, initiated in 2009 and designed to test targets where extrapolated stratigraphic, structural and geochemical patterns are similar to those associated with the larger and higher-grade historical silver deposits in the district. Typical of this work will be the numerous untested targets related to the historical Elsa – Husky silver deposits, centrally located within the Galena Hill mineralizing system.
- In the Bermingham area, drilling in 2010 southwest of the historical Bermingham underground workings and open pit intersected significant widths of silver-bearing mineralization in numerous drill holes, including 689 grams per tonne silver over 8.08 meters (see news release dated January 24, 2011 entitled "Alexco Identifies New 6.4 to 8.9 Meter Wide Silver Mineralized Zone at Bermingham, Keno Hill, Yukon"). This newly-discovered zone of mineralization occurs along the southwest extension of the structural zone that hosted the historical Hector Calumet mine, the largest silver producer in the Keno Hill district.
- Similarly, in the Flame & Moth area located adjacent to the new Keno Hill District mill, drilling in 2010 discovered a zone of mineralization occurring within a broad, regional-scale structural zone. Previously-reported drill results include intercepts up to 1,712 grams per tonne silver over 4.26 meters (see news release dated February 16, 2011 entitled "New Keno Hill Silver Discovery: 4.26 Meters of 49.9 Oz Per Ton Silver Intersected at Flame & Moth"). As at Bermingham, drilling in 2011 at Flame & Moth will be targeted to define and expand this new zone of mineralization. Assuming success, the Company aims to produce initial resource estimates for both Bermingham and Flame & Moth over the calendar 2011/2012 period.
From June 2006 through calendar 2010, Alexco has drilled 256 diamond drill holes totaling approximately 57,350 meters within the broad Keno Hill Silver District, over and above a further 255 holes and 32,400 meters drilled from surface and underground specifically in the Bellekeno mine area. In addition to this diamond drilling, Alexco completed 34 reverse circulation drill holes totaling approximately 1,150 meters in the McQuesten Valley area and 283 sonic drill holes totaling 910 meters in the area of the historical Elsa tailings. Over this period, the Company has also flown 2,016 line-kilometers of airborne geophysics, and has compiled approximately 35,000 historical production and exploration documents and digital data into a 300 gigabyte digital database.
To date, only 17 of the approximately 35 known historical mine areas occurring within Alexco's Keno Hill district land holdings have been drill tested by Alexco. In addition to silver, and largely apart from the historical mines, the Company has also identified areas of gold mineralization requiring additional work.
The scientific and technical information about mine development and operations at the Bellekeno project on which this news release has been based was prepared by or under the supervision of Thomas Fudge, P.E., Senior Vice President, Engineering and Corporate Development for Alexco, while scientific and technical information regarding exploration projects on Alexco's mineral properties has been prepared by or under the supervision Alan McOnie, FAusIMM, Vice President, Exploration for Alexco. Mr. Fudge and Mr. McOnie have both reviewed this news release, and both are Qualified Persons as defined by NI 43-101.
Keno Hill Silver District History
Between 1921 and 1988, the Keno Hill Silver District produced more than 217 million ounces of silver with average grades of 40.5 ounces per ton silver, 5.6% lead and 3.1% zinc (Yukon Government's Minfile database). The historical production grades would rank Keno Hill in the top 3% by grade of today's global silver producers. The Keno Hill district is the second-largest historical silver producer in Canada.
Source: Alexco Resource Corp.