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Rockfire rejects battery hype for Queensland copper, gold

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Rockfire rejects battery hype for Queensland copper, gold

Rockfire Resources PLC CEO David Price revealed that he rejected a number of battery metals projects to stay true to the company's copper-gold focus, and traces of high grades at his new Queensland, Australia, projects give him confidence that it is the right move.

Price, appointed CEO in October 2017, said in an interview that then-Papua Mining, Rockfire's former name, went looking for new projects after about eight years of very little success in Papua New Guinea.

Price had already introduced the company to the Copperhead, Marengo and Lighthouse projects in central Queensland by acquiring BGM Investments Pty. Ltd., which held them before Michael Somerset-Leeke, Hugh McCullough and Kieran Harrington, who had been associated with Papua Mining since it started trading on the London Stock Exchange's AIM segment in March 2012, resigned in June 2018.

Perth, Australia-based Price said in an interview that projects were "thrust in front of us that are early-stage battery metals," and while there is "no question it's an exciting space to be in, it's not really the strategy Rockfire wants to adopt."

Papua mining shareholders approved the name change to Rockfire in June 2018, then in July, the company estimated a 56,000-tonne historical copper resource at Copperhead, about 50 kilometers north of the next project the company added to its portfolio, Copper Dome, by acquiring a six-month option over it.

Price said that although Copperhead's average grade is 0.25% copper, one assay from previous drilling registered 2.81% copper, which, while only early stage, suggests that higher grades are achievable there. At Copper Dome, the highest individual assay is about 5% copper.

This encouraged Price, considering operators globally can spend decades trying to find a high-grade core to a low-grade amorphous system, as was the case with Newcrest Mining Ltd.'s Namosi project in Fiji, he said.

Weighing risks

While gold miners started a campaign in 2018 to convince Queensland's government to lower its gold royalty, which they believe is among the highest in the world and threatens the future of the state's gold production, Price said it was still an attractive jurisdiction, and certainly less risky than Papua New Guinea in terms of cost.

"Papua New Guinea has accessibility risk as the ground was on very remote, steep terrain in dense jungle, at altitude," Price said.

So Rockfire relinquished two of its Mount Visi exploration licenses in Papua New Guinea in January. It retained the Tripela exploration license in New Britain, though Price said it will not be pursued if the relevant minister does not renew it.

Having failed to find any economic zones of mineralization in Papua New Guinea using costly helicopter-supported drilling, Rockfire has conducted four drilling campaigns over the past year.

Three of those were successful. One was not so: a blind geophysical target at Marango that ended up not being mineralized. Price is unfazed, however, as there are 36 other prospects there to target, all of which will be systematically tested.

Price said he still "has faith" in Marengo, an enormous historical gold field. Lighthouse, which has been drilled by majors, has "relatively good" mineralization down to about 150 meters but had a big gap in data until a single hole about 550 meters deep revealed that the system is present and mineralized with gold.

Copperhead, about 280 kilometers from Glencore PLC's copper refinery, is an old exploration target from the 1970s where previous drilling as deep as 300 meters revealed chalcopyrite and bornite throughout the core, and sampling done every 30 meters down returned an average grade of 2.5% copper.

Price said this told him it is "big, low-grade, very typical porphyry style," which he believes needs to be further probed as the surface expression in the soil anomaly is about 2.5 kilometers by 3 kilometers. This would be "ideal" for the majors, though they would likely want it progressed significantly first.