Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits are major sources of copper and zinc, and contain significant quantities of gold, silver, lead, selenium, cadmium, bismuth, tin and more.
Volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits are as impressive as they sound. Formed as far back as 3 billion years, these geological marvels represent a large portion of the world’s most in-demand minerals and metal commodities.
This article will outline why VMS deposits are so sought after and how the most significant mineral exploration players with VMS deposit assets present exceptional long-term exploration opportunities, high yield and economic upside to potential investors.
What is a VMS deposit?
VMS deposits make up some of the world’s most prosperous base metal and precious metal deposits. These VMS deposits occur worldwide, often formed in clusters around tectonic plate boundaries in areas with ancient underwater volcanic activity that can date back to around 3 billion years.
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These deposits are usually underlain by mineralized vein or stringer sulfide footwall stockwork and hydrothermal alteration. The unique geological processes that form VMS deposits occur at the depths of the ocean and are associated with volcanic and/or sedimentary rocks as the name suggests. Likewise, they can exist in any rock type, but the typical environments include volcanic rocks and fine-grained, clay-rich sediments.
VMS deposits tend to cluster in districts (or camps) and locally within districts. The average massive sulfide camp in Canada has about nine deposits but ranges from four to 21, as seen in the Noranda camp in Quebec.
Most impressively, VMS deposits are major sources of copper and zinc and contain significant quantities of gold, silver, lead, selenium, cadmium, bismuth, tin and more. Currently, global metal production from VMS deposits accounts for 22 percent of zinc and 9.7 percent of lead, 8.7 percent of silver and less than 7 percent of the world’s copper and gold.
Only 2.2 percent of world gold production and six percent of copper production is from VMS deposits. With such impressive mineralization, mining companies with VMS deposit-based assets present exceptional production potential and high grading, which can be very rare and just as special.
Where are major VMS deposits found?
The search for a buried sulfide deposit often begins with an airborne geophysical survey.
Some sulfide minerals are magnetic and can cause measurable deviations in the Earth’s magnetic field surrounding the deposit, while others are good electrical conductors and can measurably affect the strength and direction of electromagnetic fields close by. Using this method of tracking, geologists can discover new emerging VMS deposits and study more mature and well-established regions in parts of the western hemisphere.
For example, several large and prolific VMS camps occur in Canada, including the Noranda camp in Quebec. The Normétal mine, located in Quebec, produced ~10.1 million tonnes of 2.15 percent copper, 5.12 percent zinc, 0.549 grams per tonne (g/t) gold and 45.25 g/t silver and ran for more than 40 years. Today there are several major exploration players in the Chicobi belt along the Normétal mine horizon, where the past-producing Normétal mine operated near the town of Normétal. These include:
Amex Exploration (TSXV:AMX,OTCQX:AMXEF,FWB:MX0) is a junior mining exploration company focused on acquiring, exploring and developing viable gold exploration opportunities in the prolific mining district of Quebec, Canada. Amex is focused on its 100 percent owned Perron gold project located 110 kilometers north of Rouyn Noranda, Quebec, consisting of 117 contiguous claims covering 4,518 hectares.
The company has focused primarily on its high-grade gold assets at Perron, primarily the Eastern and Gratien gold zones, Grey Cat zone. The company is currently in the middle of a massive fully funded 300,000 meter drill program. Recently, as part of their regional exploration work, they made a copper-rich VMS discovery on the same property in August 2021. The Amex team has long believed the property had the potential to host a VMS style deposit and with this discovery they believe they have found one. Results from a small drill program to test for base metal potential highlighted grades of 2.4 percent copper, 0.72 percent zinc, 0.27 g/t gold and 22.15 g/t silver over 7.8 meters, with more exploration still left to be conducted. With this discovery Amex Exploration looks to dedicate one of its 10 drills to further define the VMS potential in conjunction with a high-grade gold deposit on the same property. Either asset has the potential to be a company maker on its own merit.
Also in the same greenstone belt and in the Normétal Mine horizon is Starr Peak (TSXV:STE), which recently made a VMS discovery on their Newmétal property which neighbours Amex Exploration’s Perron project. The Newmétal project actually hosts the past producing Normétal mine. Starr Peak has been able to interpret historic data combined with new data from modern surveys and geophysics to make a brand new VMS discovery. The company is currently following up with a 60,000 meter drill program.
Next to Starr Peak and in the same belt is Generic Gold (CSE:GGC). Generic is the largest landholder in the Chicobi belt with four properties covering 12, 563 hectares proximal to the town of Normétal. Generic Gold is actively exploring for VMS-style mineralization with a planned fully funded 7,500 meter drill program that will be drilled in two phases and will target both orogenic gold and gold-rich VMS targets. The company has assays pending from the current drill program. A VMS discovery is quite possible given the vast amount of land they control, much of which host the Normétal mine horizon.
All this exploration actively is making the previously underexplored Chicobi belt one of the hottest VMS and gold exploration districts in the Quebec Abitibi and Canada.
VMS deposits: The potential for long-term production
The mature age of some VMS deposits is not only a geological marvel but also means the potential for long-term production because of its unique close cluster structures. The formation of clusters of deposits or ore lenses in close proximity and the polymetallic nature of the ore present large-scale operational potential for individual mining players to leverage over a significant exploration, development and production period.
Typically, several deposits feed a central mill, which can create economies of scale in a specific area. Additionally, metal by-products generated from production also enhance the case cost profile for operating mining companies and can boost economic upside and exposure to different commodity markets.
Analysts project that current resource and historical production figures from 904 VMS deposits around the world average roughly 17 million tonnes, of which is approximately 1.7 percent copper, 3.1 percent zinc and 0.7 percent lead. Knowing the versatility, high-yield and widespread mineralized nature of VMS deposits, seeking out these operations and projects can present tremendous benefit to prospective investors considering the growing demand for precious and base metal commodities across various industrial and technological sectors.
VMS deposits are unique geological marvels that are primary sources for many of the materials, metals and minerals that make up the modern world. Known for their high-yield and high-grade copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold mineralization, prolific VMS deposits in mining districts like Quebec, Saskatchewan and parts of Latin America present mining companies and investors exceptional discovery and economic opportunities. Due to their unique close cluster structure and historic formation, VMS-deposit-based projects and prospects also present long-term production potential and exciting exploration possibilities.
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