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Independence Group steps up nickel hunt with Apollo deal

Independence Group NL has grown its search for another Nova-style deposit by farming into Apollo Consolidated Ltd.'s Louisa nickel sulfide project in Western Australia's Kimberley region to drive exploration on a belt-scale basis.

Apollo announced Oct. 14 that Independence Group will spend at least A$350,000 within 24 months on Louisa, located in the western limb of Kimberley, after which it can spend an additional A$3 million in four years to earn 75% in the project.

Independence will use its own geophysical team to evaluate prospective mafic and ultramafic intrusions that have already been identified, with remote sensing work to start in the fourth quarter followed by field programs in the 2020 dry season. Apollo will retain 25% of Louisa if a discovery is made.

The deal helps Apollo prioritize its Lake Rebecca gold project near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Independence CEO Peter Bradford said on the sidelines of the Oct. 15 Australian Nickel Conference in Perth, Australia, that the move is one of about 30 to 40 such exploration deals it has done across the state, along with the 6,000 square kilometers it has pegged itself in the eastern limb of the Kimberley area.

Bradford said Independence has confidence that the Kimberley Craton has more Nova-style deposits given "proof of concept" already exists in Buxton Resources Ltd.'s 2015 discovery of high-grade primary magmatic sulfides at the Merlin prospect on the Double Magic property, which confirmed economic grades and thicknesses for the first time in the region.

Independence entered into a binding agreement in November 2018 to accelerate exploration at Double Magic, and Bradford told S&P Global Market Intelligence that his aim is to understand the Merlin prospect to turn it into a resource while outlining targets on the western limb of the Kimberley Apollo and east Kimberley belt.

Independence will then look to fast-track some of those targets to prospects and ultimately discoveries.

Bradford also said the Savannah North discovery made in 2014, which operator Panoramic Resources Ltd. called a "potential game changer" at the time, also aided that proof of concept.

Panoramic Managing Director Peter Harold told S&P Global Market Intelligence that Savannah has grown from being a small orebody when it was purchased 20 years ago to now proving that "it's an area with a lot more potential" following the discovery of Savannah North.

Harold said the market is talking about the Kimberley Craton's potential as a "new nickel province" with new technology, given that such orebodies could not have been found only four years ago.

Savannah North's orebody had no surface expression as it is 800 meters below surface, unlike the original Savannah deposit, which was outcropping at surface.

Having already mined about 100,000 tonnes of nickel at Savannah, Harold said the fact that Savannah North holds about another 170,000 tonnes means it is a "much bigger system" at close to 300,000 tonnes, compared to the 60,000-tonne resource it was estimated to contain in 2003.

In its joint exploration efforts, Bradford said Independence is open to either using its own team or that of the joint venture partner, as is the case with its partnership to explore for copper in Western Australia's Paterson region with Encounter Resources Ltd.