Home / News / Gascoyne critical minerals hunt feeds battle of the titans

Gascoyne critical minerals hunt feeds battle of the titans

Apr 20, 2023Apr 20, 2023

There is a curious battle being quietly waged by three of Perth's most successful mineral explorers in the unlikely setting of WA's Gascoyne region.

That robust region is rapidly eking out a name for itself as the State's next and hottest critical minerals jurisdiction – and amongst it all, a $10m ASX-listed minnow also appears to be in there swinging.

The David Flanagan-led Delta Lithium (formally Red Dirt Metals) set the market alight mid-last year after picking up its Yinnetharra lithium project just north of Gascoyne Junction. The project, that takes in 575 square kilometres of what is looking increasingly like prime critical minerals ground, has since thrown up intersections such as 29m at 1.4 per cent lithium oxide and even a 90m hit going 0.95 per cent lithium oxide.

Immediately to the south-west and adjoining Delta's ground, a company associated with two of Perth's most prominent current lithium players – Tim Goyder and former Liontown managing director David Richards – has been quietly amassing its own slice of the Gascoyne. Minerals 260, which is headed up by Richards and counts Goyder as a director, has now put together 1700sq km of ground in the promising region.

While Delta and Minerals 260 have between them wrapped up what appears to be the region's prime ground, both of their maps show a glaring and curious anomaly. Closer inspection reveals that a reasonable chunk of ground, right in the middle of the two bigger players, is held by the $10m market-capped Reach Resources.

Since picking up Yinnetharra, Delta has sunk 101 holes for 21,150m and intends to complete a further 230 holes before the end of September. The first hole drilled at the site returned an impressive 55.6m intercept at 1.12 per cent lithium oxide from 94m, including 15m at 1.52 per cent lithium oxide from 95m.

The company has consistently delivered wide intercepts at the operation with another celebrated 35m drill hit coming in at 1 per cent lithium oxide from only 5m.

Back in March, Minerals 260 entered into an agreement to acquire the Nardoo project from eMetals Limited. The operation comprises seven exploration licences, including four licences that adjoin Delta's Yinnetharra tenements. The project covers about 789sq km, with limited historic exploration for lithium and rare earths.

Later that same month, Minerals 260 entered into an agreement with White Cliff Minerals to acquire the confusingly-named Yinnetharra lithium-rare earths project. The tenement package includes six exploration licences stretching 920sq km and is also within shouting distance of Delta's similarly-named operation.

Minerals 260 now has a sizeable holding across the border from Delta. In fact, the only thing separating the two companies from sharing a complete border is the presence of Reach Resources and its Morrissey Hill project that sits in the middle of the rival explorers like a referee between two heavyweight boxers.

Reach must feel like it has two pairs of big, beady eyes, peering at it from both sides of the fence in a similar fashion to the character Wilson, from the hit television series, Home Improvement.

The company revealed in February that it had picked up its Morrissey Hill lithium project, at the same time that it acquired two additional Gascoyne sites in the Camel Hill rare earths project and the White Castles manganese project. The three sites cover a total of four tenements and build on its two established operations, with the Skyline and Critical Elements projects also in the region.

Reach says Morrissey Hill is host to historical high-grade lithium, tantalum, rubidium, caesium and niobium and has returned rock-chip samples that included 1.32 per cent lithium oxide, 3.62 per cent tantalum oxide, 1936 parts per million rubidium, 2276ppm caesium and 1.55 per cent niobium oxide. The site also hosts widespread pegmatite outcrops with what it says is similar geology to Delta's lucrative Yinnetharra ground.

Camel Hill sits to the south-east of Morrissey Hill and boasts historical rock-chip samples with total rare earths oxide (TREO) results of up to 1357ppm. Of particular interest is a 3.5km rare earths soil anomaly that remains untested by drilling. Camel Hill also sits to the south of Delta's tenements in the area.

The Gascoyne has seen plenty of exploration over the years, but it has only relatively recently caught the attention of lithium and rare earths players. Hastings Technology Metals put the spotlight on the region in 2011 when it acquired the Yangibana rare earths project following a review of previous exploration results of the tenements.

Hastings has since completed 1500 holes for 80,000m during eight phases of drilling to establish a mineral resource of 21.0 million tonnes at 1.17 per cent TREO at the site. Just this month, the company entered into a binding term sheet with GR Engineering Services to construct its beneficiation plant and associated infrastructure. In March, Export Finance Australia sent the company a non-binding letter of support to participate in up to a $100 million facility to support the Yangibana project.

Several other rare earths companies have followed Hastings’ lead and pegged out sizeable tenements within the area. In 2020, Dreadnought Resources acquired its Mangaroon project that covers a massive 5200sq km directly west of Yangibana and followed up with a maiden drill campaign last year. The company sunk 117 RC holes across 11,907m to reveal an initial resource at the operation's Yin deposit of 14.36 million tonnes at 1.13 per cent TREO and is already working on an upgrade with three rigs currently on site.

Venus Metals Corporation also holds four tenements near both Dreadnought and Hastings that it has named Mangaroon North, where it has highlighted a raft of high-priority rare earths targets. Earlier this year the explorer collected 299 soil samples and 84 rock-chip samples, in addition to re-analysing 66 previous soil samples with results showing up to 2136ppm TREO and 232ppm neodymium oxide.

The company recently completed about 3000 line kilometres of high-resolution magnetic and radiometric surveys on a 50m line-spacing at the site. Eight magnetic anomalies were identified as potential ironstone-hosted targets considered prospective for rare earths-rich carbonatite rock bodies and it is game on now for Venus.

Interestingly, Reach Resources appears to have snuck in under the guard of the bigger players in the area with tenements on the eastern edge of Hastings’ Yangibana in the form of its Skyline project. The western edge of the project closest to Hastings has returned anomalous rare earths with a sampling program recording results of up to 3173ppm TREO.

Directly north and east of Skyline, Reach has its White Castles manganese project. While the site sits tantalisingly close to Hastings, the company is more excited about the potential for manganese mineralisation. The project straddles a 200km belt of manganese deposits within the Ullawarra formation of the Edmund Basin and the company says the acquisition of the project is a strategic play to provide additional critical minerals diversification.

Despite all the hefty attention, the Gascoyne – which consists of the local government areas of Carnarvon, Exmouth, Shark Bay and Upper Gascoyne – has the smallest population of any region in WA. And it is not just its ability to produce magnificent bananas, grapefruit, mangos and grapes that make it fruitful.

Generally considered one of the State's more underexplored areas, it is now gaining some serious attention as the global demand for critical minerals such as lithium and rare earths continues to grow.

It is always nice to see WA's mining heavyweights duking it out with fists full of fifties over the spoils of WA's lucrative exploration ground – and it is even nicer to see small players such as Reach managing to spirit ground away from right under their noses.

However, it remains to be seen just how long Reach's exquisitely-positioned Morrissey Hill project can escape the attention of Delta and Minerals 260. At last look, Minerals 260 had $18.5 million in the bank and Delta was sitting on a $52 million pile of cash.

Is your ASX-listed company doing something interesting? Contact: [email protected]

Sign up for our emails