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Metallic Minerals Corp. (TSX-V: MMG; FRA: A2ARTX) is out to prove that the history of the once important La Plata gold-silver-copper district in the U.S. state of Colorado can be revived. And, given the ever-increasing electrification of the world, copper demand is expected to soar and a new US source would provide welcome new supply. La Plata actually hosts a significant polymetallic treasure that was revealed during historic exploration by Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoRan in the 1950s and 1970s but ultimately abandoned.

The property features a porphyry system with an historical resource estimate surrounded by a halo of epithermal vein and replacement deposits which were produced extremely high-grade silver and gold from the 1870s into 1940s. The company did not specifically cite the historical resource numbers, likely due to compliance reasons, but an online search revealed La Plata to have had 200 million tonnes of copper grading 0.4% along with 5 g/t silver, with both silver and gold being less well-defined and sampled.

Metallic acquired the 33-square-kilometer project in 2019 and, after extensive preliminary work, is now ready to drill again at La Plata for the first time after a 50-year hiatus. The company says it has just commenced a diamond drilling campaign designed to cover a total length of 2,000 meters in what it refers to as the first phase of drilling, which seems to hint at a potential second phase. The objective of the drilling is to verify the historical resource in the central porphyry System, which Freeport-McMoRan (formerly Phelps Dodge) has identified through extensive drilling dating back to the 1970s, and to convert it to a 43-101 standard that is applicable today. Freeport-McMoRan had sold ownership of the claims in the district to a private owner in 2002, just at the lows of the last metal price cycle.

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Figure 1: At least 12,700 meters of drilling at La Plata are documented from the period between 1950 and 1970.

Individual results read spectacular from today's perspective, but may not have seemed high-grade enough to the owners at the time. At that time, they were looking for copper projects with at least 1 to 2 percent copper! In addition, the deposit was probably not primarily interpreted as a polymetallic deposit, as Metallic does today. Copper grades vary from 0.26 percent to 1.15 percent copper in some of the historical drill results, but copper equivalent values including silver and gold are often 1.2 percent CuEq and hardly ever worse than 0.5 percent CuEq. As an example, hole LP-03 intersected 395 meters of porphyry-style mineralization grading 0.57 percent copper equivalent (0.51 percent Cu, 6.3 g/t Ag and 0.017 g/t Au), including 108 meters grading 0.75 percent copper equivalent (0.65 percent Cu, 7.7 g/t Ag and 0.034 g/t Au), starting from surface and ending in mineralization.

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Figure 2: Longitudinal section through the La Plata project.

Previous drilling within the central porphyry system has defined a northeast-trending, near-vertical zone of copper-silver-gold mineralization covering an area of at least 3 km by 1 km, with vertical relief in excess of 1 km, open to extension along trend and to depth, with excellent potential for additional discoveries (see Figure 2). Surrounding the central porphyry system is an associated high-grade silver- and gold-bearing epithermal system measuring at least 8 km by 2 km that hosts 56 identified vein, displacement, and breccia structures. Historical production from some of these high-grade structures exceeded 1,000 grams per tonne ("g/t") silver and more than 15 g/t gold, with some of the richest deposits yielding true bonanza grades for silver and gold. 

Project history

La Plata County has a long and rich mining history; the first silver deposits were discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1700s.  High-grade silver and gold production was documented from the 1870s to the early 1940s from vein structures, displacement bodies and breccia zones in over 90 individual mines and prospects. From the 1950s to the 1970s, major mining companies, including Rio Tinto (Bear Creek) and Freeport-McMoRan (Phelps Dodge), explored the La Plata district. A total of 54 drill holes totaling 14,400 meters have been drilled on the property since the 1950s, confirming the presence of a large-scale, multiphase porphyry system with significant silver, gold and copper values. This large-scale mineralized system is associated with a 10 square kilometer, strongly magnetic signature of intense hydrothermal alteration. 

Metallic Minerals is the first company to conduct significant exploration work on the La Plata project in nearly 50 years using advanced deposit modeling technologies. The Company aims to rapidly expand the size of the known mineralized system and identify the higher-grade zones within the broader porphyry and epithermal mineralized zones. 

Fieldwork to date by Metallic Minerals at La Plata had focused on re-collection of drill core and underground samples, surface mapping and soil sampling. In addition, the Company has conducted airborne resistivity and magnetic surveys, completed a preliminary ground-based induced polarization survey, and analyzed multispectral remote sensing data to determine mineralized anomalies and domains for the various mineralization types. This work identified at least 25 anomalous targets within four broader target zones that have excellent potential for resource expansion outside of the main historically known mineralized areas.

Greg Johnson, President and CEO of Metallic Minerals, stated, "Metallic is the first company to conduct significant exploration work on the La Plata Silver-Gold-Copper Project in nearly 50 years, and we are very excited to begin this first drilling campaign. Our work to date has confirmed the several kilometer extent of the mineralized porphyry and epithermal system at La Plata through surface sampling, geophysics and satellite remote sensing. This initial work has shown that the La Plata system is much larger than previously thought and offers excellent potential for expanding zones of known mineralization and for new discoveries. We have begun 3D modeling of the drilling and geophysical data with the goal of completing a NI 43-101 compliant resource estimate for the project. We look forward to providing further updates on the drilling and modeling work at La Plata in the coming weeks and months, as well as updates on our ongoing work at the high-grade Keno Silver project and alluvial projects in the Klondike Gold District."

Bottom line: Metallic has been focused on their flagship high-grade Keno Silver project in Yukon, Canada, and is currently conducting a 10,000 meter drill program there aimed at advancing toward an inaugural resource estimate, new discoveries and further investigation of the exciting bulk tonnage mineralization on the eastern portion of the property. The company’s current market cap seems to be entirely based upon Keno Silver, with essentially no value attributed to La Plata despite it potentially yielding a significant resource estimate based on this season’s drilling. We believe that’s a mistake by the market and an opportunity for investors. 

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