Helix: hitting home runs in Rochford Copper Trend

Teams of analysts forecast a copper surplus for 2024 although ‘large’ deficits are estimated from 2025 through to 2027 as concentrates production weakens and planned smelter production strengthens. 

The world needs more copper as without it reaching net zero carbon emissions is nigh impossible.        

In such a climate, the only question on the minds of most investors, explorers, developers, and experts is this – where is this copper going to come from?

If one were to ask copper explorer and developer Helix Resources (ASX:HLX) Chairman Mike Rosenstreich, he would tell you he plans for it to be coming from the Cobar-Nyngan region of central New South Wales. 

When this news service spoke to Rosenstreich back in July 2023, the Chairman made one thing plainly clear, and that was — “You can talk about as many anomalies as you like, but until you get a drill intercept, you haven’t made a discovery.”

Now, Helix has set the foundations for a ‘major’ 15,000m to 25,000m drilling program designed to, as Rosenstreich puts it, ‘drill or kill’ prospective targets uncovered across its Eastern and Western Group tenements in the Cobar-Nyngan region.

With shared sentiments echoing amongst the copper market that the price of copper is more likely to respond to economic sentiment than the long-term supply and demand balance, what better time to potentially uncover New South Wales’ next copper deposit. 

Based on the technical work that I’m seeing our team producing, we really are becoming Cobar experts. That puts us in a very prime position to find new copper prospects, as well as identify opportunities on other people’s ground and look for collaborative opportunities.”

To ensure the plan goes off without a hitch, the company has been busy drafting star players to its team to fulfil one very simple goal that has been at the forefront of Helix’s exploration activities over recent months and into 2024. 

“Very simplistically, it is just about finding more copper by working with talented people, innovative use of technology, generating large regional data sets, underpinned by old-fashioned but increasingly rare boots on the ground geological mapping,” Rosenstreich tells Mining.com.au.

The company holds a ‘large’ 3,000km-square ground position, comprising the Canbelego Joint Venture, Rochford Copper Trend, and Collerina projects into what it calls the Western and Eastern Group tenements, respectively. 

It is here Helix is focused on “loading the bases” by building up a large number of copper (and gold) discoveries to potentially “score some runs” for shareholders. 

Hitting a homerun

Helix’s decision to establish its suite of copper assets in the Cobar-Nyngan area was not a spur of the moment decision, nor was it off base. 

For context, the region hosts the CSA Copper Mine — one of the ‘highest grade’ copper mines in the world only 11km north-west from the township of Cobar, with reported ore reserve grades of 4% copper. 

The mine produced 36,147 tonnes of copper and 429,259 ounces of silver in 2023 from just shy of 1.1 million tonnes processed on site and has been operating for almost 60 years. 

Metals Acquisition (NYSE:MTAL) purchased the CSA Copper Mine from Glencore (LON:GLEN) in June 2023.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Helix’s strategy is to be “all-in on Cobar copper”, positioned around its Canbelego resource and associated Rochford Copper Trend and Collerina projects in this historically copper-rich region. 

“In early 2021, with a new management team, we had a concept that Canbelego was host to Cobar-style mineralisation, which is a very attractive exploration target. So we restarted exploration there after a 8-year hiatus,” says Rosenstreich. 

“CSA extends vertically down for over 2km, so the obvious place to drill was down deeper. And lo and behold, in the second drill hole we got 18 metres at 3.4% Cu. Our share price went up five times and we confirmed the exploration model.”   

Rosenstreich, being an avid baseball fan, considered the aforementioned result a direct hit. 

“Sometimes you can get lucky and drill a home run like 18m at 3.4% Cu. More often you have to run the bases, if you don’t strike-out

“Sometimes you can get lucky and drill a home run like 18m at 3.4% Cu. More often you have to run the bases, if you don’t strike-out.”

Looking to repeat history, Rosenstreich has unveiled the company’s game plan which he hopes will launch Helix from the bush league to the major league. 

The idea is to test 20 individual targets across all of our tenements in one ongoing campaign. That is meaningful for us – because we either advance or kill targets and [that is] exciting for shareholders because to line-up say 20 to 30 targets and then work through them is positive in terms of ‘chances of hitting something’ as opposed to testing one or two targets every few months, which, news-wise, is pretty dull.”

The “one ongoing campaign” Rosenstreich alludes to is the 15,000m to 25,000m drilling program scheduled to begin in late March 2024. 

Keeping its eyes on the ball, Helix spent 2023 building up its bench with priority and prospective targets. One promising target the company has had its eyes on for a while is its Bijoux prospect. 

Sitting in the Rochford Trend the prospect is proving its worth of copper, with 7 of 9 drillholes completed at the back end of 2023 hitting ‘significant’ oxide and sulphide copper mineralisation, such as 36m at 1% copper with 6m at 2% copper, and 10m at 1.5% copper. 

This new drilling is outlining a 200m NNW-trending mineralised zone that dips steeply to the north-northeast and is open to the north and at depth. 

What’s more, being on the Rochford Trend — a 30km corridor of ‘high-grade’ copper potential — the company noted these results put a fresh sparkle into a historic prospect. 

“We have clearly got a great start by follow-up at Bijoux where a new discovery is emerging and also around Canbelego where recent work is highlighting early potential to expand the mineral resource,” notes Rosenstreich.   

Needless to say, the opportunity for this prospective target to potentially hit another desired home run has been noted by Helix.  

Another target on Helix’s hitlist is the recently discovered Black Range prospect, where maiden RC drilling highlighted ‘broad’ intervals of sulphide mineralisation with anomalous copper just shy of 1.5% near two historic shallow shafts. 

However, the results threw a curve ball for Helix, which believed it was on the trail towards uncovering a different style of mineralisation to what has been delineated at the Canbelego Main Lode – as part of its flagship Canbelego Project — delivering potential for the company to unearth ‘larger-scale’ mineralisation. 

Other notable targets flagged across the Cobar-Nyngan playing field include the Mount Lewis Trend, as well as additional prospective zones for extending the Canbelego mineral resource of 1.83 million tonnes at 1.74% copper containing 31,800 tonnes of copper. 

Given the range and sheer amount of targets flagged thus far, the management at Helix have begun the culling process as to which targets will be drafted and which ones will be struck out.

Helix’s newly inaugurated Executive Technical Director Dr Kylie Prendergast provides some insight as to what the culling process will look like. 

“We’re doing more work at these emerging targets like Bijoux and Black Range. We are deploying some geophysical methods not applied here before to better define targets for drilling, and we are planning to follow up with another round of drilling very soon. The volume of new, valuable geological data we have been gathering over the past few years is amazing and is really opening up the potential of all our ground holdings. 

The culmination of this regional work is identification of about 100 copper-gold targets spread out across our tenements. We’re working very hard right now to prioritise that down to the best 20 or 40.

We are moving into an exciting phase for our shareholders and these results demand to be followed up with a major drilling campaign. We know we’ve got fantastic copper geochemical anomalies. It’s now about whether we can turn them into discoveries and then into resources. That’s what drilling is about.

Our goal is to grow our resource inventory and that’s why we’ll go to the biggest and the best and start drilling them.”

When asked if there is scope for the upcoming drilling program to be expanded, Rosenstreich told this news service that 15,000 to 25,000m is a pretty good start and assumes success and sufficient funding, but he would very much like to see his players pick up the pace with drilling and follow-up on mineralisation. 

“Demonstrable success creates opportunities to be followed up. My preference is to broaden our work front, perhaps with extra drill rigs to maintain a ‘target-testing’ workflow and with success a more of a drill-out strategy working towards new Mineral Resource Estimates. 

Other work, such as the generative work, can’t be hurried and our shareholders have been very patient with us in that regard. But with some major regional work completed and some ongoing, we are really gaining momentum in terms of new targets and needing to drill them – hence the major program plans.” 

However, following Rosenstreich’s ascension to Chairman, the company has unveiled its newest star in the likes of Prendergast who is ready to step up to the plate and swing for the fences at what is one of Helix’s biggest exploration campaigns to date. 

Batter up!

Behind every successful sporting season, there was a coach behind the scenes ensuring the plan that had been developed for so long was being executed perfectly by their players. 

For Major League Baseball that man was Hall of Famer Tony La Russa — who coached his teams to first place in their respective divisions 12 times, winning 6 pennants and 3 World Series. But for Helix Resources that person is Kylie Prendergast. Batter up!

Who then is Kylie Prendergast? Newly inaugurated Executive Technical Director of Helix Resources — sure, but to end the assessment there could be considered an insult to a person who has been instrumental in making significant copper discoveries across the globe. 

Prendergast is a woman who knows her copper. Heralding from Queensland, she began her career on home soil gathering experience from various roles across Australia’s mining industry before heading overseas to hone her skills amongst private entities within the Middle East and Asia.  

Having held roles in national and foreign mining jurisdictions, Prendergast says her expertise lies in exploration and discovery, as highlighted through her achievements over the years in the field. 

More notably, the aspiring geologist garnered experience at the Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, West Papua — the single largest known gold reserve and second largest copper reserves in the world. 

“I’m a Queenslander, which hopefully is not a problem for New South Wales, and I’ve been in the industry my entire career. I’ve worked all around Australia and I did spend a proportion [of time] working overseas in Mongolia and the Middle East. In Oman, we discovered 4 new copper deposits, 2 of them were open pit mined and now the third one is being mined underground.

I also have a PhD in geology, which I did at the Grasberg deposit in West Papua — one of the biggest copper gold deposits in the world. 

More recently I’ve had almost 9 years running a boutique mining consultancy in Brisbane. 

I did spend all that time consulting and working with a lot of multidisciplinary consultants. But I am very passionate about exploration and discovery. And obviously, given all that time in mining consultancy, very realistic about what’s economic as well.”

“It’s that breadth and depth of exploration experience which I think really pushes this management change that we’re going through

It is this “breadth and depth” of exploration which has Rosenstreich confident that Prendergast is the woman for the job amid this transition in management. 

“It’s that breadth and depth of exploration experience which I think really pushes this management change that we’re going through.”

Adding on, when asked what Prendergast brings to the table for Helix ahead of its drilling program, Rosenstreich says her detailed exploration approach and global experience, coupled with her leveraging off the in-house expertise established over the past few years and floating of new concepts, is what makes her a star player for hitting a potential home run in the Cobar-Nyngan area.

2024 game plan 

Looking forward, the Chairman says there is one thing which remains on his mind as 2024 gets into full swing, and that is ‘drill, drill, drill’.

Our objective is to get onto several new discoveries across our tenements and then gear up further for major drill outs and ongoing target testing, subject to success and funding…and the weather.

We want Helix and its team to stay focused on finding new deposits.”

The Chairman’s sentiments are shared by Prendergast, who adds Helix will remain fixated on copper in the Cobar-Nyngan region of New South Wales. 

With all players in position out on the field and an almost bullet-proof plan in motion, Helix is well on its way to hitting one out of the park.

Write to Adam Drought at Mining.com.au

Images: Helix Resources
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Written By Adam Drought
Born and raised in the UK, Adam is a sports fanatic with an interest in Rugby League and UFC/MMA. When not training in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Adam attends Griffith University where he is completing his final year of a Communication & Journalism degree.