Eclipse Metals listed on the ASX at the beginning of 2011 with a smorgasbord of highly prospective uranium tenements in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Just a few months later, however, the Fukushima disaster in Japan destroyed confidence in the nuclear energy industry and severely dented global uranium demand in the short to mid-term. In response to this, Eclipse focused on packages of alternative commodities across the NT and Queensland, including manganese, vanadium and precious metals like gold, platinum and palladium.
But, in recent years the rapidly expanding global anti-climate change movement has led to an increased understanding of the role of nuclear energy in a low carbon world and with it the return of palatable investor attitudes towards uranium exploration. As such, Eclipse recently reignited its interest in the uranium tenements in the NT and has made substantial progress in unlocking these for exploration access since 2018.
A geologist’s heaven
Eclipse’s current and primary focus is with several uranium, gold and palladium tenements in the West Arnhem Land region of the NT, East of Darwin. These prospects are located within the Alligator Rivers Uuranium Pprovince (ARUP), an area which Eclipse director Carl Popal describes as ‘a geologist’s heaven’.
“West Arnhem is a well sought-after area in the exploration mining world. 96% of past uranium production and 95% of known uranium resources in the NT comes from the ARUP.
“Most of our neighbours are big players such as Cameco and Rio Tinto. They and others have delineated some big uranium deposits like Ranger, which is the biggest uranium mine in the Southern Hemisphere and Nabarlek – the world class, high grade uranium and copper mine. But having said that, it’s still a very pristine area to explore.”
In the Alligator Rivers region, Eclipse entered into a joint venture (JV) with Rio Tinto in 2016 – a deal that gave the major access to Eclipse’s uranium tenements within an area it had christened the Liverpool Project.
However, during the ensuing two-year period Rio Tinto failed to secure project development consent from the local Traditional Owners in West Arnhem Land. Eclipse decided not to renew the agreement with Rio Tinto in late 2018, instead choosing to pursue the development rights independently.
West Arnhem Land resembles an interesting hotchpotch of natural wonders, large scale mineral deposits and ancient indigenous cultures, of which around 12,000 of the total population of 16,000 are aboriginal peoples.
Therefore, one of the biggest challenges faced by mining companies wanting to develop mineral resource projects in the region has been securing legal exploration agreements with first the Traditional Owners of the region and second the Northern Land Council (NLC).
Working with the Traditional Owners
Over the course of 2019 Eclipse worked closely with the Traditional Owners of the region and was delighted to announce the conclusion of negotiations on a long-awaited Aboriginal Land Right Agreement for its Devil’s Elbow prospect.
In December 2019, consent was granted by the Traditional Owners and ratified by the NLC Executive Council. The subsequent agreement allows the company to explore and mine within the prospect for its entire lifetime.
In this news release Popal said: “This bilateral agreement is certainly a great achievement for the company. The terms of the agreement are quite viable in the current market economy, allowing us to develop the Devil’s Elbow’s full potential, and perhaps turning it into a world-class mining project.”
The Devil’s Elbow prospect is situated near the shear zone on the Nnorthern side of MacAarthur Basin encroaching on the Pine Creek Oregon and on the Ranger Geological fault line between the Alligator River and Goomedeer river.
Devil’s Elbow was first discovered by Uranerz Australia back in the late 1970s and early 80s and subsequently further explored by uranium giant Cameco between 2002 and 2008. Samples from shallow trenching yielded high-grade uranium of up to 5.8%, plus precious metals assays including up to 31.8 g/t gold and 28.02 g/t palladium.
In search of the big monster
“Both Uranerz and Cameco could see there was something there [at Devil’s Elbow] and delineated the target zone but they were limited to access the ground for drilling. We were fortunate to pick it up from one of the local prospectors who was very close to the Traditional Owners.
“We’d been told that Cameco were challenged by the Traditional Owners and they were limited to access the ground to the South of Ranger Fault line,” Popal explains. The Ranger fault line is a 60 km line with five exploration licences to the North, but none to the South as Cameco were previously limited to land access to explore the targeted areas.
Since early 2013 Eclipse has conducted extensive and detailed historical data review over the Devil’s Elbow area and its surrounding tenements, and based on these results the company has delineated several new drill targets to the South of the Ranger Fault, which warrant significant follow-up exploration activity.
These anomalous structural zones to the South of the Devil’s Elbow tenement are displayed in red, yellow and green patches of a regional radiometrics map produced by Eclipse.
“Those anomalies were never explored because Cameco were not able to access that area. But, when we had the JV with Rio Tinto, we sat down with their geologist and geophysicist and discussed this particular area.
“Cameco and Rio Tinto both believe that somewhere within that area there is potential for a monster of a project – another Ranger or Nabarlek could be in that area. A conceptual target was delineated by Cameco but never drill tested.”
Rubbing shoulders with giants
The world class Ranger Uranium Mine is located within the Kakadu National Park, approximately 65 km from the Devil’s Elbow Prospect, and is operated by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, while the Nabarlek Uranium Mine is around 41 km from Eclipse’s tenement.
Nabarlek was a very successful project with close to US$1 billion of value extracted from the ground between the years of 1972-79 before the uranium ore was stockpiled for milling and processed in the early 80s.
“The Nabarlek and Ranger deposits are in fairly close proximity to Devil’s Elbow along the same geological system. Nabarlek in particular was a very rich deposit at surface, and there is potential that in Devil’s Elbow we could have something similar in size.”
Now that Eclipse has secured a lifetime agreement to explore and mine at the Devil’s Elbow prospect, the company aims to execute a work programme in 2020 which will include detailed exploration not just for uranium, but also for gold and palladium across the tenement area.
“One of the challenges in that area is the fact that it’s under the sea and the tides go up and down throughout the day, so it’s a tough place to work during the wet season. There are also massive crocodiles [not alligators as the name suggests! – ed] in the area. The window of opportunity is from about May-December.
“We hope to pick up on Cameco’s geophysical results and expand on the anomalies towards the South. Subsequent to that, also there are some clear target areas which we can go out and drill. The important thing for us is to expand on the geophysical mapping to delineate further targets.”
In addition, Eclipse recently received some additional geophysical data on the Devil’s Elbow prospect that was classified information until it was released by Cameco in February 2020. The extensive data reveals several untested targets which will be incorporated into Eclipse’s existing data and mapping over the course of this year.
Elsewhere, the company has a project further South in central NT called the Ngalia Basin, which is highly prospective for uranium and palladium mineralisation. Eclipse will work on the Ngalia Basin and the Devil’s Elbow prospect in 2020, albeit with a predominant focus on the project in West Arnhem Land.