Log In

Reset Password
News Education Local News Nation & World New Mexico

Exploratory drilling to continue in La Plata Canyon

Any extraction would be years away, prospectors say
Metallic Minerals, a Canadian company, will continue exploratory drilling in La Plata Canyon this summer. (Courtesy of Metallic Minerals)

Metallic Minerals, the Canadian company that began exploratory drilling on old mining claims in La Plata Canyon in 2020, intends to continue drilling this summer following positive findings last year.

Although activity will continue, Metallic Minerals CEO and Chairman Greg Johnson said it would be years, if not decades, before extraction might occur.

The company is drilling on 17 square miles of mining claims, which it purchased in 2019, on the west side of La Plata Canyon, located 15 miles west of Durango.

MM is drilling at the site of the historic Allard and Copper Hill mines. The land was once the site of extensive mineral extraction. Mining there collapsed during World War II, Johnson said, and although some companies continued to explore it through the latter half of the twentieth century, mining never picked up again. The property has not been touched since 1995, when the last exploratory hole was drilled.

In 2022, MM completed drilling two holes, each over 2,500 feet deep. Samples from one hole indicated little mineralization of value, but the other revealed a potentially valuable trove of copper, silver, gold, platinum and palladium, especially toward the depths of the mountain.

“It's hard to find spots where you've got a concentration of metals like copper and these other critical minerals that occur in enough concentration, on a big enough scale that they're potentially economic,” Johnson said. “So we've got a great start with the resource that we have – it's right around a billion pounds of copper metal in the ground.”

But, Johnson says, significant exploration is still required before any extraction could occur.

Were the company to determine that mining is economically viable, it would partner with another entity to do so. But that would be many years away.

By the end of June, MM hopes to return a small crew and drill rig to the canyon to drill another five or six holes. According to the permit issued by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, the company estimates the drilling will be complete by Oct. 15.

The company is required to plug the holes upon completion, although no further remediation is required given that MM is drilling atop existing waste rock piles. The state holds a $5,000 bond to ensure remediation.

If things go well with exploratory drilling, mapping and sampling, Johnson said the company would pursue an engineering study to map out if and how extraction could occur. From there, the company would perform a preliminary economic assessment, followed by several more stages of feasibility studies before any permit applications were filed.

Each stage can take between one and three years, Johnson said.

To any concerned neighbors of the project, such as the owners of dozens of private water wells located immediately downstream of the project, Johnson says anxiety is preemptive and misplaced.

“Environmental standards are so high for mining in the United States – all water that's released has to be drinking water quality, no matter what the background quality of the water is,” Johnson said. “... That’s all a good thing.”

In terms of development in the canyon, Johnson said an operations center would likely be on the west side of the mountain, in Montezuma County due to existing development in the area and the topography of the site.

Although it is too early to plan extraction, he said an open pit mine would be unlikely. An extraction company would be more inclined to use a technique called “block caving,” which is almost entirely underground.

In a region riddled with abandoned mines dating back over a century, Johnson said the legacy of unregulated mining is an unfortunate one.

“It’s a very, very different world compared to the Wild West days of historic mining,” he said.


Reader Comments