Australia’s largest gold producer, Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM), has inked a A$60 million ($40m) deal with Antipa Minerals (ASX: AZY) to explore the southern portion of the junior’s ground in the Paterson Province, the country’s new copper-and-gold hot spot.
Under the farm-in agreement, Newcrest will spend A$6 million exploring Wilki within the first two years, and Antipa will manage activities.
Within five years of the deal, Newcrest can choose to spend a further $10 million on exploration, which will give it a 51% stake in the project, located close to its aging Telfer copper-gold mine.
The property is also close to numerous copper prospects discovered recently by juniors, including Rio Tinto’s (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) touted Winu project, said to have the potential to become the company’s next major copper mine.
Winu, expected to begin production in 2023, is not the only copper asset Rio is looking at. The world’s no. 2 miner is also working with Antipa Minerals in their joint Citadel project, located immediately next to Winu.
In January, Rio earned an initial 51% interest in the project after investing A$11 million and has now moved to the next stage, which will see spending an additional A$14 million to increase its stake to 65%.
The company has also applied for nearly 30 exploration licences in the Paterson province, known for its copper and gold reserves, but whose sandy soil and remote location has deterred explorers.
Rio’s move has sparked a stampede into adjacent lots by other explorers, who see the miner’s aggressive activity as an indicator of a highly promising find.
Newcrest’s initial exploration activity at Wilki is slated to start within the next four to six weeks, and will include a field reconnaissance program, aerial electromagnetic, induced polarization and reverse circulation, as well as diamond core drilling.
Analysts see Newcrest’s renewed interest in the area as a sign that its time at Telfer might be coming to a close, as the gold major has been boosting its ground holdings and exploration efforts in the region.