WA’s annual Diggers and Dealers Conference is widely recognised as one of the most important gatherings on the mining industry’s calendar. A celebration of mining achievements, technology progress and new mineral discoveries, Diggers and Dealers attracts a delegation of hundreds of mining and exploration companies, brokers, bankers, investors, financiers and mining service industries from across the Southern Hemisphere.
Beyond the traditional powerhouse companies and their acclaimed projects however, the forum gives the opportunity for junior explorers to display their own burgeoning projects, and to gain recognition within the wider Australian and international mining arenas.
Having won the Diggers and Dealers Best Emerging Company award at the 2013 conference gala dinner in Kalgoorlie, Sheffield Resources is one such company that has benefited from its appearance at the event.
Listed on the ASX on 15 December 2010, Sheffield is a rapidly emerging mineral sands company with significant additional nickel, potash, talc and iron ore assets. Although centred within WA territory, Sheffield’s prospective tenements are spread widely across the state, with its flagship Dampier heavy mineral sands (HMS) project on the state’s northern coast; its secondary Red Bull nickel project in WA’s south-eastern
Fraser Range; and an eclectic portfolio of other project developments dotted across the Wheatbelt and Perth surrounds.
The Dampier HMS project is Sheffield’s flagship venture, about 60km west of Derby in the Canning Basin region of WA’s far north coast and some 1000km northeast of the Pilbara town of Dampier.
The project contains two significant heavy mineral sands prospects: a large deposit named Thunderbird; and a smaller, deeper western target named Argo.
In December 2012, Sheffield announced a combined maiden indicated and inferred mineral resource for the Thunderbird prospect of 1.374 billion tonnes at 6.1 per cent heavy mineral sands. This was based on a 7517m drilling program completed in the third quarter of 2012, and were delivered 15 months after the grant of the tenement.
According to company reports, the initial study confirmed the large size and high grade of the Thunderbird resource, consolidating it as Sheffield’s flagship project.
The indicated and inferred resource includes a high grade zone of 517 million tonnes of ore at 10.1 per cent heavy minerals, containing 3.6mt of zircon, 0.8mt of rutile, 2.2mt of leucoxene and 15.2mt of ilmenite.
Mineralisation at Thunderbird currently remains open in all directions.
With the defined high in-situ valuable heavy mineral grades of 0.70 per cent zircon, 0.16 per cent rutile, 0.44 per cent leucoxene and 2.9 per cent ilmenite across an average thickness of 20m, the promising results of Thunderbird were arguably the main premise for Sheffield’s Best Emerging Company award at Diggers and Dealers earlier this year.
The deposit is further acknowledged to be the first major mineral sands deposit discovery in the Canning Basin, establishing the region as a new, under-explored mineral sands province. As an early mover, Sheffield
said it has worked to secure itself a strategic tenement position and planned to aggressively explore for further large scale deposits.
Red Bull
Beyond HMS, Sheffield maintains interests in copper and nickel, with a new prospect in the Fraser Range region in southeast WA. Lying within 20km of Sirius Resources’ Nova-Bollinger nickel  resource, the Red Bull copper-nickel project neighbours some of WA’s most highly prospective and under-explored ground.
Across its 1400 square kilometre area, Red Bull contains two exploration licenses, and three potential tenements.
Sheffield is particularly focussed on exploring a nickel, copper and cobalt trend layered within the northern area of the prospect.
From aircore drilling, the company defined three substantial nickel targets, which indicated up to 0.41 per cent nickel with significant copper at an 8m depth.
Further exploration is planned for the Red Bull project, following the company’s appraisal of its flagship.
Market outlook
With Sheffield’s current efforts focussed on its flagship project, the movements of the HMS market is of integral importance to the company’s economic health.
The valuable elements of HMS, including zircon and titanium minerals rutile, ilmenite and leucoxene, have historically fielded demand with steady GDP-related growth characteristics.
However, while the market has weakened across recent times, longer term trends show increasing demand for mineral sand products, particularly from developing countries.
Within this framework, Sheffield holds substantial potential for sound profits. With the funding boost the Diggers and Dealers award provided on the share market, and Thunderbird rumoured to be one of the largest and highest grade mineral sands deposits uncovered in the last decade, Sheffield intends to develop its flagship project into operation to maximise its benefit when the market re-stabilises.