HALIFAX, NS – It’s been a long time coming for some of Canada Fluorspar’s (TSX-V: CFI) founding investors, but persistence appears to have paid-off. Arkema and Canada Fluorspar announced they signed a definitive agreement worth $84 million to fully fund and give a past-producing fluorspar mine in Newfoundland, Canada, a second life.
Since Alcan closed up shop at the Blue Beach-Tarefare fluorspar mine just outside the town of St. Lawrence in 1978, various operators have taken a crack at bringing operations back online to produce acidspar, which is used for a variety of industrial purposes such as in hydrofluoric acid production.
The last to try was a crew of British investors in the late 1980s. It wasn’t to be. According to Lindsay Gorrill, Canada Fluorspar president and CEO, because the group was underfunded and suffered low acidspar prices, they ultimately failed and dropped claims to the fluorspar deposit.
Having languished for some years, Canada Fluorpar’s predecessor company, Burin Minerals, picked the concessions up in the mid-1990s. Burin was a private company founded by Canada Fluorspar’s now top shareholder, Gordon Stollery, and it has been pushing the project forward ever since.
“Gordon Stollery knew its time was going to come one day,” Gorrill said. Though, admittedly, he added, “It took longer than he thought.”
Over the past three years, since Gorrill, a specialist in industrial minerals, joined in 2007, Canada Fluorspar has been looking for a partner to get the mine back up and running. He said seven potential partners were initially identified three years ago and then, having whittled that number down to one – Arkema – in the past nine months Canada Fluorpar’s directors and management – owners of some 40 percent of the company – mulled over the details of what kind of partnership would work best.
“As we whittled down the number of partners from seven to one, I believe we made the best deal,” Gorrill said.
The deal rolls the two principal fluorspar bearing veins of the project, the mill site, legacy infrastructure, and the tailings pond into a limited partnership in which both Canada Fluorspar and Arkema will hold 50-percent stakes. Arkema has promised to fund the partnership to the tune of $68 million, as well as buy $15 million worth of Canada Fluorspar’s shares in a private placement. Arkema also gets a 10-year right to buy 20 percent of Canada Fluorspar’s share of production at a price with a fixed margin over the cost to make the concentrate.
Meanwhile, Gorrill stressed, Canada Fluorspar gets to keep its other mineral assets, including additional fluorspar targets near the mine, which it is currently exploring for additional resources.
For Gorrill the partnership with Arkema is the “best deal” as it fully funds the projected $98 million in preproduction capital costs needed to get the mine back into production. (As Gorrill broke it down: $84 million from Arkema, $10 million from the government to build a wharf and $5 million or so from Canada Fluorspar’s own pockets.) Construction is set to start in August, with planned commercial production beginning in the second quarter 2013 at an annual rate of 126,000 tonnes acidspar, Gorrill said.
“This finances it, with no debt, and legitimizes the project mineral,” he said, noting that Canada Fluorspar will then benefit from its share of revenues from the producing fluorspar mine. With no debt payments to worry about, he said Canada Fluorspar will be able to compete at low prices.
Fluorspar is a market Gorrill is fairly bullish on, an industrial mineral whose future is underpinned by growing Asian markets. He noted China, once a net exporter of the stuff, “is becoming a net importer of the mineral.”
What attracted Arkema to the project, he said, were three things: longevity, cost of production and logistics. Gorrill said the mine could produce fluorspar at “any price, forever.”
Hyperbole aside, in Canada Fluorspar’s 2011 prefeasibility study, the project did deliver a strong economic justification. In it Canada Fluorspar pegged production costs at $70.62 per milled tonne of concentrate over a 15-year mine life, and projected an $89 million net present value for the project, discounted at 8% and based on a $425 per tonne acidspar price.
Also, the prefeasibility study only used 68% of indicated resources identified so far, which stand at 9.1 million tonnes @ 42 percent CaF2.
In terms of logistics Gorrill singled out Canada Fluorspar’s shipping advantage. The town of St. Lawrence is near the southern end extent of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula that juts out into major trans-Atlantic shipping lanes on the North Atlantic. While other fluorspar mines around the world might have to charter a special ship to haul concentrate, Gorrill said, Canada Fluorspar can take advantage of shipping traffic in transit already, perhaps getting discounted rates.
Indeed, sometimes ships, having dropped cargo off in Montreal or New York for example, end up carrying little more than water in their ballasts on subsequent trips overseas, and as such, are generally on the look-out to find a paying customer, often at lower prices. Canada Fluorspar could fit the bill as an easy port of call for such ships.
“Arkema can call us up and say, ‘load it up,'” Gorrill said, imagining production days yet to come. “And we’ll ship it…getting back-haul freight rates.”
Gorrill called Arkema a forward looking company that wanted to guarantee access to what is a strategic mineral for it. He also added Arkema did extensive due diligence of the project and Canada Fluorspar.
“I can tell you they’ve looked at my socks and my underwear,” Gorrill said, sounding almost serious.