After completing 4,000 metres of exploration drilling along 50 km of strike length at the Samapleu, Bounta and Yepleu projects in the first half of 2020, Sama Resources was required to temporarily suspend its campaign due to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Côte d’Ivoire. The projects are part of a geological intrusion – which Sama discovered back in 2010 – called the Yacouba Complex, which shows potential for hosting high grade nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum group elements (PGE) mineralisation in massive sulphide reservoirs at depth. Over the last decade, Sama has undertaken extensive geophysical and exploration drilling work at the projects, but is yet to detect the host mineralisation at depth that the company is certain exists and is responsible for the veins and lenses of high-grade material near surface at numerous locations across the complex. Sama’s president and CEO Marc-Antoine Audet has been pursuing the exact geological characteristics of a new base metals complex in the Achaean craton of the Birimian Greenstone Belt for over 25 years, since first arriving in Côte d’Ivoire in 1994 as part of a nickel laterite exploration team for former Canadian natural resources firm Falconbridge. Taking a measured view, the experienced geologist is calm about the prospects of a final breakthrough at Sama’s projects.
“We have not yet touched the mother lode that we are looking at, but that’s okay,” Audet says. “We are in a long process of exploring on the property; it’s a new discovery and it takes time and determination, which we have.”
Patience is another quality that Sama has adopted during its time exploring Côte d’Ivoire, and it was required once again during the COVID-related pause to activities in the second half of last year. However, the company was able to restart in November 2020 with a downhole geophysics campaign in the holes that we drilled in the first part of the year.
The downhole geophysics were completed using the Typhoon™ exploration system provided by Sama’s equipment partner and Robert Friedland-affiliated technology firm HPX TechCo. Typhoon™ is a powerful IP and EM tool that provides depth penetration up to five times deeper than other equipment.
Turning on Typhoon™
Since partnering with HPX in October 2017, the technology has helped Sama identify a number of targets along the project strike length, with the latest downhole EM (DHTEM) survey delivering ‘extremely good results’ at the deep drill hole Yepleu and Bounta target zones, according to Audet.
“We defined the highest ever anomaly since we started exploring in this part of the world,” he says. “We intersected an extremely high intensity target, with a conductivity thickness [CT] of 20,000 and this is what we are now chasing with a 5,500 metres diamond drilling programme that has just started [in March 2021].
“We are currently drilling with two rigs for the first six months. So far, it’s going well and our partner HPX is also very happy with the programme. We are going to follow all of this up with additional downhole geophysics and further exploration.”
In March 2021, Sama also confirmed the execution of the earn-in and joint venture agreement that had been in place with HPX, whereby it would acquire up to 60% of Sama’s Ivorian project portfolio through funding exploration expenses up to C$30 million.
To date HPX has invested $12.2 million as equity in Sama Resources (giving them 23% of the company), with the balance of $18 million to be invested on a cash call basis at the project portfolio in Côte d’Ivoire; thus preventing any further dilution in the TSXV-listed firm’s shares.
“One of the particularities of the deal with HPX is that while they are investing in Sama Nickel Corporation [Sama’s Ivorian subsidiary], they are the only one that can invest in the company until they reach the $30 million.
“This is why Sama Resources – the top corporation – is also looking at other projects in Liberia and Canada. We are expanding our activities a little outside of Côte d’Ivoire, although those projects remain our absolute top priority.”
In Liberia, the company acquired three new gold exploration licences at the start of the year that have subsequently been farmed out to another exploration outfit called Seahawk Gold Corp, in a deal that entitles Sama to 20.8% of the Canadian company’s shares.
This kind of arrangement will allow Sama to plough its energies into detecting additional mineralisation at depth at the Ivorian projects, following the recent discovery of high intensity targets at Samapleu and Yepleu in particular.
Pausing the PEA
In May Last year, Sama published a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) for the Samapleu project, which outlined the potential to produce 3,900 tonnes of carbonyl nickel powder, 8,400 tonnes of carbonyl iron powder and 14,100 tonnes of copper concentrate on an annual basis over a 20-year mine life.
While being able to demonstrate the ability to produce nickel and iron powders plus copper concentrate for direct use in industrial applications was undoubtedly a big positive step on the metallurgical side, Sama has since paused activities on this aspect of the project in order to focus on drilling the high intensity signatures identified by the November 2020 DHTEM survey.
“We are really looking for those high-grade massive nickel, copper and PGM sulphides which we know should be there because we have them near surface. Our model predicts the accumulation of mineralised pods at depth, so we’ve decided that for the next six months we’re going to focus on that and then reassess other elements of the project later.”
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the urgent need for the decarbonisation of major industries around the world, metals prices have sharply increased in line with increasing demand projections. In particular, copper and nickel – two so-called ‘energy metals’ – prices have each rocketed to near-record highs in 2021.
Sama and its partner HPX are acutely aware of the current period of high prices for the base metals it is searching for in Côte d’Ivoire, and they are doing what they can to expedite the discovery rate at the projects in order to take advantage of the pricing environment.
But having said that, Audet is confident that the long-term fundamentals are in place for the likes of copper, nickel and PGEs, which will be required in large quantities for multiple industries tied to the global energy transition, including electric vehicles, renewable energy and energy storage.
A focus on the close management of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is something that has been entrenched in the genes of Sama, stretching right back to Audet’s first steps on Ivorian soil back in the mid-90s, when he was working as a geologist for Falconbridge.
“Falconbridge is a great example of how companies can work with the communities, listening and communicating with every stakeholder of a project like the one we have right now. This is something we do naturally and I have to say we enjoy very good relations with everybody; the governments, local people and all our employees in Côte d’Ivoire.”
The company does not use any expatriates in Côte d’Ivoire, as a result of the highly skilled and specialised labour force available in-country, from geologists to environmentalists and accounting clerks.
“Our Ivorian staff have a high range of responsibilities within the company, which is excellent. I think we enjoy strong relations with our people and they are very stimulated by the way we are operating in Côte d’Ivoire.”
Take Sama’s in-country exploration manager Bakayoko Bouaké. After obtaining his geological degree in Côte d’Ivoire, Bouaké was employed by Audet to work with Falconbridge’s nickel laterite exploration team in the 90s. So began a 25-year working relationship between the pair which has taken Bouaké to nickel laterite and sulphide exploration hotspots in Northern Québec, Dominican Republic, Brazil and New Caledonia.
“This is just one example of the very highly skilled team we have in Côte d’Ivoire. We also train our geologists and regularly send them to the University of Franche-Comté, where they can conduct field work in places such as the Pyrenees.
“We also funded one of our geologist’s PHD study with the University of Franche-Comté. That was a two-and-a-half years study, which issued four papers on the description of our very own Yacouba Complex discovery. We put a lot of energy into this kind of education because we strongly believe this is the key for a good integration in the country,” Audet proudly asserts.
On the brink of major discovery
When asked where he would like the company to be positioned in 12 months’ time, Sama’s president and CEO outlines a two-fold strategy; with the main focus on accessing new discoveries of high-grade material at depth, in addition to the eventual resumption of metallurgical testing for the next stage of the projects.
Patience continues to be the name of the game for Sama Resources, but the potential reward of those high-grade massive nickel, copper and PGE sulphides could well be the game-changer it has been waiting for over the last decade.