Introduce Libero as a company and share some of its key projects.
Libero Copper is a mineral exploration company that holds a collection of porphyry copper deposits throughout the Americas in prolific but stable jurisdictions. The portfolio includes Mocoa, Esperanza, Big Red, and Big Bulk.
Libero Copper assets are advanced by a highly disciplined and seasoned professional team with successful track records of discovery, resource development, and permitting in the Americas.
Let’s talk a little bit about copper. What are your thoughts on copper at the moment?
I’m a mining engineer with 25 years of experience in the industry, with most of those 15 years in Latin America. It’s still hard for me to get my head around when we hear deficits coming up in seven years of 8Mt of copper, and what does that mean? The 10 largest mines in the world produce 5Mt and 60% of the world’s copper is controlled by China. Over 40% is smelted, and an additional 20% from national and offtake agreements. We’re really going through a massive geopolitical shift around copper, and one of the reasons we like the focus on the Americas is for that implication.
You mentioned you are a mining engineer, can you let us know a little bit about your background and how this effects your approach to project development?
As a mining engineer, I look at projects in terms of whether they can become future mines. That is the whole purpose. The purpose is developing a strategy that we can get them down the line, not just the next drill result or a little flash in the pan. The idea is to have a sustainable project.
I was previously the senior vice president and country manager for Corriente Resources and led the team that took the Mirador project all the way through sales, stayed on board for a year afterwards, and started this construction of that project. It was the first large-scale industrial project in the history of Ecuador. One of the reasons that I joined the Libero team is that Ernie Mast is a director of the company who did almost the same thing in Cobre Panama as CEO of Inmet’s Cobra Panama, so sharing notes of what’s required to advance-large scale projects in the Americas, and it’s a lot more than technical or drilling. There’s a combination of social, political, and national reputation.
You mentioned your Mocoa Copper project, what stage of advancement is the project currently at in terms of infrastructure and access?
The Mocoa project is our flagship. It contains 2Mt of copper to date, open in all directions, and has lots of significant upside. It’s already a significant project. It also has a historical pre-feasibility study associated to it. Right now, we know it’s a bonafide project. We know it’s got the grades, the size, the scale, et cetera. It has the potential to be a game changer. We’re continuing to look at a lot of studies, expecting there to be future expansion. The important part is working locally, creating relationships, building a reputation nationally, and creating political will. That is our major focus right now in Colombia.
What is the environment like for working in Colombia right now?
Projects of this size and scale go through multiple presidencies. Colombia is a limit of a four-year term. We have a new president, who’s taken some radical shifts in Colombia. His shifts are especially focused on oil and coal, which, by the way, make up 60% of Colombia’s exports, so it’s a major component of the economy and there’s a push to move away from that and towards energy transition.
Colombia is now focused on the advancing and reindustrialization of the country based on strategic metals. That really creates a lot of a mixed conversations about Colombia. On the ground, I can tell you that it’s extremely focused on having some of these underpinning projects and advancing them to help industrialize the country. It’s not just about having a couple more exports, the country really needs new industries to fill in that hole that’s going to be created by oil, gas, and coal.
We know it’s got the grades, the size, the scale. It has the potential to be a game changer
You recently made quite a significant announcement regarding a partnership with the Colombian government, can you go into some detail about that?
For me, these, even as a mining engineer, are probably some of the most critical components of advancing projects like this. I remember in Ecuador, there were four projects that were mentioned at that time. The minister of mines says, “These are my priority projects.” By the way, on today’s dollars, every single one of them is worth or has been sold for over US$1B, so that part is really overlooked. Having those relationships creates political will because people don’t want to lose votes either. There’s a desire, but it’s also supported locally and nationally, so it has to be a popular concept too.
We have been working directly with the government, especially through the ministry of industry, to create an alliance to start building the backbone of a production chain. So that was the announcement, including national universities, which will be a huge part of this.
We’re in fairly advanced conversations with some staple public-private entities within the country, to make sure that there’s a combined desire to advance projects together.
Shift to geology, you recently completed a field programme at the project, did the results identify any anomalies?
Previously, we had some significant anomalies based on geophysics and then followed up with geochemistry. Mocoa is in the Jurassic Porphyry Belt, which is famous for clustered porphyries. You have Mirador, Mirador Norte, Panantza, San Carlos, and Warintza, probably went to north, south, east, west, northwest. A lot of this clustering happens on these types of projects. But another big part was following up on that information, mapping it on the ground, and finding a significant lithocap on the ground shows that it’s at 2Mt of copper and over 600Mt of resource at the project right now, that it’s still in its infancy that has lots of room to continue to grow.
What are the next steps now that you have identified the leached cap outcrops?
It’s an interesting question for us because obviously there’s still a massive amount of work that can go on the ground when you have six additional targets within the area, you’re doing mapping and following up on geochemistry, et cetera.
If you’re underpinning a production chain in the country based on future production, then getting into production is important, so it’s going to be, I think, a combination of continuing to advance it on a project development and at the same time, expansion. There are some significant step outs we’ll be doing and testing new targets, so really the next big steps are testing these targets through drilling.
Let’s also look at your Esperanza project in San Juan? How are things there?
We have followed a similar roadmap to Mocoa, where you develop relationships locally and you work on it in San Juan on a province level and develop real relationships also on the political side based on shared interests and alignment.
First, Esperanza is one of those geological dreams. It’s last drill hole, from surface, the first 200m were over a 1% equivalent copper and over 300m at a 0.75%, and it ended. That was as deep as the drill went, so lots of interesting geology.
But again, we’re building relationships locally, and we’ve been working with the minister on making sure when this project advances, it’s closer to its… While it’s not up in the high Andes, it’s not in glaciers or bordering two countries, and it’s a year-round drill programme, it’s closer to communities. We’re, right now, in the ultimate steps of permitting, so we have high expectations that we’ll be able to get it across those last bureaucratic administrative steps. The relationships are there, the barriers have been fast, and it’s now just checking, signing, and filling the last level reports out, so we do expect to be drilling Esperanza this year.
How well financed are you looking for 2023?
We’ve put the money in place to ensure that we can get across some of these key catalysts. What Colombia is more about is ensuring that when this project advances, that it’s on solid footing, that it has all the government supports in place. They want to work with us together, and Esperanza is getting the permit.
We also have an over-the-counter in place so that once we start moving and bigger money is needed for drilling, we’re prepared. So, I think we’re well positioned to get things across the finish line and then get into some key catalysts that create significant value for shareholders.
What can investors look out for in 2023 and key milestones?
I know I’m probably sounding like I’m beating a dead horse, but that little triangle of social, political, and national reputation creates more value and de-risks projects more than any drill result. So those are probably the key catalysts.
The two closest copper mines built and active in operating today, were put into production or the start of construction by the Libero team. We’ve done this before. A little bit of trust when that news continues to mature, it’s really important. Those are key catalysts. Then obviously the drilling. The nice thing about Mocoa, is it’s significantly de-risked geologically, it’s fun, and it’s got a massive resource, so we know it will continue to be putting out those numbers. I think it’s going to be a one-two punch on two separate projects that are going to be de-risking significantly and putting out significant, exciting results.