Where will Mexico's next big silver mines come from?
Project generator Prospero Silver believes it has the answer
|Prospero President Tawn Albinson examines silver-lead-zinc-rich veins at the Beunavista project.|
By Jason Smith
According to the World Silver Survey 2018, Mexico led the world in silver production in 2017, generating 196 million ounces of the precious metal. That was a 10 million ounce increase over 2016.
The country has a long history of silver mining, with some mines in continuous production for over 400 years. However, there’s a growing belief in the silver mining industry that the easy deposits of silver (and gold) have been discovered in Mexico.
In order to find the next generation of silver mines in the country, explorers will have to employ modern deposit-hunting techniques in their search for increasingly elusive orebodies.
One explorer, Prospero Silver Corp. (TSX.V: PSL), is laser-focused on finding those hidden deposits within the Altiplano region that has played host to many of Mexico’s biggest precious metal mines. The company is taking a scientific approach to finding deposits in this part of the world. The company’s Executive Vice President of Business Development Ralph Rushton noted, “We believe you need to take this kind of approach to find the next generation of orebodies, which are likely to be totally buried, or blind, as we say.”
On the Hunt for Blind Discoveries in Mexico’s Altiplano
In its search for those blind deposits, Prospero is employing a variety of techniques, including trace element geochemistry, clay mineralogy, and fluid inclusion chemistry.
That’s a mouthful of terms for a non-geologist, but the gist is that the company is using these techniques to identify the thumbprint at surface that may indicate there is a precious metal orebody somewhere below.
|Outcropping veins at Prospero’s Matorral project in Durango State, Mexico.|
The company relies on its technical team’s deep knowledge of Mexican precious metal deposits to identify potential deposits. Rushton comments, “Once we identify the thumbprint, we look for similar traces elsewhere in the Altiplano, and in some cases, if we’re sufficiently convinced by the evidence we’re seeing, we’ll put down a few drill holes where other companies might not, in the hopes of making a discovery.”
The Right Team for the Job
Led by respected geologist and company President, Tawn Albinson, Prospero’s team of geologists know the Altiplano like the backs of their hands.
Dr. Neil Adshead, an industry consultant with Cupel advisory notes, “Over the last 10–20 years, the Mexican mining industry’s grown quite a bit. Tawn has seen all that through his own work and through his network. He has a good understanding of what prospects are worth a look.”
Albinson and his team have visited as many of the existing mines in the Altiplano as they can — looking at the rocks that are typically hundreds of feet above the veins being mined. The end result has been to give the Prospero team a good sense of what the surface expression of buried silver veins might look like elsewhere.
A Project Generator Model of Exploration
In identifying projects for further exploration, Prospero employs the project generator model. Under that model, a company uses its geologic expertise and early-stage exploration techniques to identify projects of merit. It then looks for larger players in the industry to finance the more expensive aspects of exploration, particularly drilling.
Prospero is training that model on the Altiplano. According to Rushton, that’s very intentional. “Project generators that are widely scattered geographically can make it difficult for investors to discern their overall strategy,” says Rushton. “If you’re investing in us, you’re investing in exploration in the Altiplano. It’s as simple as that.”
Believing that there’s no reason to spread itself too thin geographically, the company is confident in its ability to explore for Mexican orebodies. Rushton notes, “There are plenty left to be found, if you know how to explore for them.”
Fortuna Takes a Direct Share of Prospero
One key endorsement the Prospero team has received has come in the form of $2 million of equity investment by mid-tier silver producer Fortuna Silver, which has provided Prospero with the funds to drill test several of its projects.
Dr. Adshead notes that Fortuna’s willingness to take an equity stake in the smaller company is part of an industrywide trend. “It’s becoming more common to see majors take equity stakes in juniors, rather than financing projects directly,” says Adshead. “Majors are making the decision to outsource the exploration function for the junior.”
Both the junior explorer and the mid-tier or major player benefit from this arrangement. The juniors get the funding that they need to drive their exploration programs, and the senior partner gets to look at many early-stage projects relatively cheaply.
With Fortuna’s money supporting its drilling efforts, Prospero has drill-tested three projects so far. Next up is its Buenavista property in Durango State. Rushton notes, “We’re drilling a few holes into as many of our projects as we can, so we can go back to the ‘hits’ and drill more extensively at a later date. Our aim is not to get into major drill programs just yet, but to identify those targets that merit follow up programs.”
Will Prospero (TSXV: PSL) be able to leverage its understanding of Mexican silver mines to discover Mexico’s next big deposit? Time and the drill bit will tell, but if there’s a team tailor-made for the job, it’s this one.