Geoscience

Platinum Group Elements (PGE) in Manitoba

Varitextured gabbro, Mayville Intrusion, southeastern ManitobaStrong growth in global demand for platinum group elements (PGE), a group of physicochemically similar elements that include platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd) and rhodium (Rh), and Manitoba’s favourable geology for PGE makes the province an attractive exploration target for these metals. To assist and stimulate exploration for PGE in the province, the Manitoba Geological Survey has

  1. released a preliminary exploration database for PGE (Open File Report OF2000-5) containing a compilation of geological and geochemical data for more than 200 mafic and ultramafic intrusions in Manitoba;
     
  2. supported exploration companies searching for PGE in the province by providing geological expertise and hands-on assistance through joint mapping and research projects in several PGE “hotspots” (Figure 1); and
     
  3. provided financial support to approved PGE exploration projects through the Mineral Exploration Assistance Program.

Figure 1: Schematic geology of Manitoba showing PGE “hotspots”.

Figure 1: Schematic geology of Manitoba showing PGE “hotspots”.


Prices for PGE (averaging Pt US$ 873/oz.; Pd US$ 187/oz.; Rh US$ 1679/oz. from May 20 to June 20, 2005) reflect the strong demand for these elements, especially platinum and rhodium. Industrial use of PGE, primarily for their catalytic properties and extreme heat and corrosion resistance, is crucial to sustaining our technology-dependent society and lifestyle. The catalytic properties of platinum and palladium are used in many applications; some of the most important are: a) the production of nitric acid using airborne nitrogen to manufacture nitrate fertilizer essential to grow grain; b) to enhance the production of gasoline from heavy crude, and c) automotive catalytic converters that reduce vehicle exhaust emissions. PGE, especially palladium, may also play a role in zero-emission vehicles of the future as they are used in the manufacture of the fuel cells that power these vehicles. If fuel-cell technology is embraced and no substitutes for PGE are identified, there will be significant opportunities for new PGE mining outside of South Africa and Russia, where most of the world’s PGE are currently mined.

Geoscientific investigations indicate that PGE are primarily concentrated in ancient magma chambers that are now preserved as layered intrusions. The Canadian Shield hosts thousands of mafic and ultramafic intrusions that have either never been explored or are underexplored for PGE.

One of these intrusions, the Bird River Sill, is approximately 24 km long and 1 km thick. It is located approximately 150 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba and is accessible by paved road (Figure 2). This Archean mafic-ultramafic intrusion is known for its chromite resources and supported nickel (Ni) and copper (Cu) mining from 1969 to 1976.
 

Figure 2: Schematic geology of the Bird River Sill showing mineral property names and sulphide occurrence types.

Figure 2: Schematic geology of the Bird River Sill showing mineral property names and sulphide occurrence types.
 

The search for PGE in the Bird River Sill was initiated in the 1980s by federal and provincial surveys and followed up by industry, most notably Falconbridge Ltd., Gossan Resources and more recently by Mustang Minerals Corporation and North American Palladium Ltd.

Mustang Minerals acquired the Maskwa-Dumbarton Ni-Cu-PGE property in 2004. The company demonstrated economically significant Ni-Cu-PGE mineralization in several geological environments: 1) sulphide layers at the base of the Bird River Sill, and 2) an exhalative zinc-rich sulphide iron-formation underlying the Bird River Sill. Fragments from the Maskwa open-pit waste-rock pile contain high concentrations of Ni and PGE (Table 1).

Table 1: Concentrations of gold (Au), platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), silver (Ag), copper (Cu) and nickel (Ni) in sulphide-rich fragments from the Maskwa open-pit waste-rock pile.

Au
ppb
Pt
ppb
Pd
ppb
Ag
ppm
Cu
ppm
Ni
%
91 312 3702 1.1 1323 2.95
52 1790 4524 3.8 469 8.4
57 2616 4402 4 298 7.42
50 1972 4960 4 306 9.02
36 1918 4724 4.2 251 7.82
66 2274 6202 4.1 352 8.52
37 2168 5358 4 511 8.4
46 1798 4878 4.4 361 7.88
80 48 176 3.3   1.33
41 260 616 0.8 5650 1.41
37 1392 2210 3.3 895 8.16
41 2322 5054 3.9 565 7.24
36 1720 4818 4.4 606 6.98
39 1598 4206 4.2 553 7.5


The origin of these sulphide-rich fragments is controversial. They may have been magmatic sulphides within the ultramafic rocks of the Bird River Sill, or, sulphides that were remobilized into the mafic volcanic footwall. The distinction between these two depositional environments is of critical importance to exploration modelling and target selection.

The Mayville intrusion is another PGE occurrence in southeastern Manitoba located northeast of Powerview. The intrusion contains copper-rich sulphide mineralization near its base. Assay results have shown that these sulphides have significant PGE content —in one case reaching 8 g/t of combined Pd, Pt and Au over 0.3 m. A recent airborne geophysical survey defined a 1.2-km long and 100-m wide anomaly; drilling results indicate an approximately 40-m wide heavily mineralized Ni-Cu-PGE sulphide zone.

The Fox River Belt is a major, underexplored PGE exploration-target in northeastern Manitoba (Figure 1). It hosts the Fox River Sill, an ultramafic intrusion at least 140 km long and up to 2 km wide. According to recent exploration and research, samples collected produced the highest known PGE content ever obtained from the Fox River Sill—up to 5 g/t combined Pd, Pt and Au and up to 2% Cu in a sulphide-rich band near the base of the sill.

PGE discoveries in the Flin Flon greenstone belt (Figure 3) opened a variety of new PGE exploration prospects in the province. The McBratney PGE occurrence located approximately 7 km east of Flin Flon hosts Pd (up to 15.4 g/t) and Pt (up to 1.9 g/t) concentrations in a drillcore intersection 7.3 m long.
 

Figure 3: Schematic geology of the Flin Flon greenstone belt showing PGE-bearing properties.

Figure 3: Schematic geology of the Flin Flon greenstone belt showing PGE-bearing properties.
 

Additional anomalous PGE concentrations discovered in the vicinity of the McBratney Lake prospect, in geologically comparable locations, indicate that certain gabbroic rocks in the Bear Lake Block of the Flin Flon Belt are also prospective for PGE exploration. However, there are other underexplored PGE prospects in the Flin Flon Belt, for instance: a) recently defined shear-hosted PGE occurrence near the south end of the Mikanagan Lake sill, and b) significant Ni-Cu-PGE concentrations in mafic to intermediate sulphide-rich intrusions near Radar Lake north of the Reed Lake mafic-ultramafic intrusion.

The “Selected References” below provide additional information on these and other PGE properties in Manitoba.

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Selected References

Olivo, G., Theyer, P. and Bursztyn, N. 2002: Platinum group element investigations in the Flin Flon greenstone belt: petrography and mineralogy of the McBratney Lake PGE-Au Occurrence (NTS 63K13), Manitoba; in Report of Activities 2002, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 94-99.

Peck, D.C., Scoates, R.F.J., Theyer, P., Desharnais, G., Hulbert, L.J. and Huminicki, M.A.E. 2002: Stratiform and contact-type PGE-Cu-Ni mineralization in the Fox River Sill and the Bird River Belt, Manitoba; in The geology, geochemistry, mineralogy and mineral beneficiation of platinum-group elements, ed(s). Cabri, Louis J.; Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Special Volume 54, p. 367-387.

Peck, D.C. and Theyer, P. 1998: PGE-copper-nickel potential of mafic-ultramafic intrusions in the Bird River greenstone belt (parts of NTS 52L); in Report of Activities 1998, Manitoba Energy and Mines, Geological Services, p. 151-160.

Theyer, P. 1982: Mineral deposit investigations: Superior Province I) Island Lake area, II) Bird River Sill (southeastern Manitoba); in Report of Field Activities 1982, Manitoba Department of Energy and Mines; Mineral Resources Division, p. 55-57.

Theyer, P. 1985: Platinum-palladium distribution in ultramafic rocks of the Bird River complex, southeastern Manitoba; Manitoba Energy and Mines; Geological Services, Open File Report 85-4, 46 p.

Theyer, P. 1985: Platinum-group elements in the Bird River Sill (abs.); in 4th International Platinum Symposium, Toronto, Canadian Mineralogist, v. 23, pt. 2, p. 316-317.

Theyer, P. 1986: Platinum group elements in southeastern Manitoba; in Report of Field Activities 1986, Manitoba Energy and Mines; Minerals Division, p. 125-130.

Theyer, P. 1987: Platinum group elements in southeastern Manitoba; in Report of Field Activities 1987, Manitoba Energy and Mines; Minerals Division, p. 115-118.

Theyer, P. 1988: Platinum group element investigations; in Report of Field Activities 1988, Manitoba Energy and Mines; Minerals Division, p. 158-160.

Theyer, P. 1991: Petrography, chemistry and distribution of platinum and palladium in ultramafic rocks of the Bird River Sill, SE Manitoba, Canada; Springer-Verlag, Mineralium Deposita, v. 26, no. 3, p. 165-174.

Theyer, P. 2000: New PGE-related results of studies on the Chrome and Page properties, Bird River Sill (NTS 52L/5); in Report of Activities 2000, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 175-178.

Theyer, P. 2000: Exploration for Platinum group elements in southeastern Manitoba; Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Mining & Minerals Convention 2000, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 16-18, 2000, Program, p. 37.

Theyer, P. 2001: Platinum-group element investigations in the Flin Flon greenstone belt: McBratney Lake occurrence and Josland Lake intrusion (parts of NTS 63K/9, /13); in Report of Activities 2001, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 33-39.

Theyer, P. 2001: Platinum group elements in Manitoba - progress report for 2001; Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Mining & Minerals Convention 2001, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 15-17, 2001, Program, p. 45.

Theyer, P. 2002: Platinum group element investigations in the Peterson Block of the Bird River Sill (NTS 52L5NE), Manitoba; in Report of Activities 2002, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 250-254.

Theyer, P. 2002: PGE in Manitoba: McBratney Lake, Bird River Sill and other "Hotspots"; Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Mining & Minerals Convention 2002, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 14-16, 2002, Program, p. 45-46.

Theyer, P. 2003: Platinum group element investigations in the Mayville igneous complex, southeastern Manitoba (NTS 52L12); in Report of Activities 2003, Manitoba Industry, Economic Development and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 196-199.

Theyer, P. 2004: Platinum group element investigations in the area of the Mayville igneous complex, Manitoba (NTS 52L12): exploiting palladium’s mobility using humus samples; in Report of Activities 2004, Manitoba Industry, Economic Development and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 232-235.

Theyer, P. 2004: PGE in Manitoba: What’s New for 2004; Manitoba Industry, Economic Development and Mines, Manitoba Mining & Minerals Convention 2004, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 18-20, 2004, Program, p. 47.

Theyer, P., Bruni, E. and Sundell, C. 2001: Stratigraphy, geology and mineralization of selected parts of the Page Property, Bird River Sill (part of NTS 52L/5); in Report of Activities 2001, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 126-132.

Theyer, P. and Heine, T.H. 2002: Platinum group element investigations in the Flin Flon greenstone belt: regional geology of the McBratney Lake PGE-Au occurrence and part of the Mikanagan Lake Sill (NTS 63K13), Manitoba; in Report of Activities 2002, Manitoba Industry, Trade and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 87-93.

Theyer, P. and Heine, T.H. 2003: Platinum group element investigations in the Flin Flon greenstone belt: Mikanagan Lake and Tartan Lake gabbroic complexes, Manitoba (NTS 63K13); in Report of Activities 2003, Manitoba Industry, Economic Development and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 25-28.

Theyer, P. and Stansell, A.E. 2004: Geological investigations of the platinum group element potential of the Chisel Lake ma.c-ultrama.c intrusion and other targets in the Flin Flon Belt, Manitoba (parts of NTS 63K16); in Report of Activities 2004, Manitoba Industry, Economic Development and Mines, Manitoba Geological Survey, p. 36-42.

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