Western Copper refines Casino

Western Copper Corporation has refined production estimates for its massive Casino project, 380 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse.

Western Copper Corporation has refined production estimates for its massive Casino project, 380 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse.

The updated study boosts the proposed open-pit copper mine’s throughput to 120,000 tonnes per day, producing an average of 435,000 ounces of gold, 234 million pounds of copper, 13 million pounds of molybdenum, and 1.6 million ounces of silver per year over the first four years of production.

The Casino deposit is believed to contain nearly one billion tonnes of copper, gold and molybdenum. The low-grade ore must be processed at great volumes to be profitable.

Casino would employ 1,400 workers during the peak of construction and 650 workers during the mine’s operation. It would have a life of 30 years.

To put this in perspective, Yukon’s three operating hardrock mines are expected to employ 600 workers when they hit full steam later this year. Casino would more than double that.

It would cost more than $2 billion to build. That’s a problem for the Vancouver-based mining junior, which doesn’t have deep pockets.

Typically, a company in Western Copper’s position sells the project to a major copper producer or finds a partner. The company’s executives have said they may sell the project provided the price is right.

Otherwise, the company could continue to firm-up Casino’s potential and then submit a project proposal to Yukon’s regulators in 2012.

With China devouring much of the world’s copper supply, now’s a pretty good time to be sitting on a giant reserve of the stuff.

Western Copper aims to have a heap-leach mine open by 2015, and to have a mill fired up by 2016.

Casino is expected to need a whopping 100 megawatts of energy. The company envisions a mine powered by liquified natural gas.

It would require 20 trucks a day of this highly-explosive fuel. This could be trucked up from Fort Nelson. Or it could be shipped from Kenai, Alaska, or elsewhere, to Skagway, then trucked up.

If the Alaska Highway Pipeline is built, the mine could tap into it. Or, if Northern Cross succeeds in its plans to pump natural gas out of Eagle Plains, this could provide another fuel source.

Western Copper also hasn’t abandoned plans for a starter mine at its Carmacks deposit. But that project is opposed by First Nations and conservationists, who worry the proposed heap-leach operation would pollute the nearby Yukon River.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.