Shares in Auroch Minerals Limited (ASX:AOU) have soared roughly 300% in the last six months, but there could be more upside to come.

Today, the company announced that it has commenced diamond drilling at its Leinster Nickel Project in Western Australia.

This nickel sulphide focused base-metal resource company, is building value through targeted high-impact exploration in Western Australia.

AOU has three nickel projects in Western Australia and all sit in the Norseman-Wiluna Greenstone Belt, home to some of the best nickel projects globally including Leinster, Mt Keith, Kambalda and Widgiemooltha.

All of AOU’s projects, including Leinster, Saints and Nepean are highly prospective for near surface, high grade nickel sulphide mineralisation.

High-grade nickel is a feature of the Leinster region and today’s results show that the second hole (HNDD002) has confirmed thick shallow high-grade nickel-copper-PGE sulphide mineralisation, with the logged massive sulphides interval reporting 7.3 metres at 2.2% nickel, 0.53% copper from 143 metres.

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The first hole accepted 4.1 metres of high-grade nickel-copper sulphide mineralisation grading 2.4% nickel and 0.61% copper from 119 metres.

Both the quality of the grades and the near-surface nature of the mineralisation suggest that this could be a highly economical project.

The drill programme at Leinster consists of four diamond drill-holes and will be followed by reverse-circulation (RC) drilling to test strike potential and some of the more-advanced regional targets across the Leinster tenure.

The combined diamond and RC drill programmes will consist of approximately 1200 metres of diamond drilling and 1800 metres of RC drilling.

Drilling success at Leinster would be highly material given that BHP has expressed a desire to ramp up its nickel production to meet growing global demand fuelled by the shift to electric vehicles.

Mining giant BHP could boost production on commercially viable terms and has commenced trying to source contracts with Nickel Sulphide deposits to feed into its Nickel West refineries.

Nepean could be the game changer

AOU is also expecting the delivery of assay results from its maiden drilling program at the Nepean Nickel Project.

The Nepean Nickel Project contains the historic high-grade Nepean nickel sulphide mine and was the second producing nickel mine in Australia, producing just over 1.1 million tonnes of ore between 1970 and 1987.

The ore was treated by Western Mining Corporation (WMC, now BHP Group Ltd) at its Kambalda processing facilities.

The Nepean mine closed in 1987 due to low nickel prices, leaving significant nickel sulphide resources unmined.

At the end of 1986 when a fight or flight decision had to be made, the nickel price was hovering in the vicinity of US$1.60 per pound, about 80% below current levels.

Today, the nickel price is over US$7.00 per pound.

The Nepean nickel mine has a remnant high-grade JORC (2004)-compliant resource: 13,250t contained nickel @ 2.20% Ni. (It should be noted that the resource is JORC(2004) only (i.e. historic estimate) and not compliant with the JORC (2012) code required now.)

There is high potential at Nepean to build on the existing remnant resources with drill targets along strike and at depth.

Nepean is just 70km from BHP’s Kambalda Nickel Concentrator and Smelter and again the presence of nearby processing facilities operated by third parties, including BHP’s Kambalda smelter, is a substantial benefit for AOU as BHP looks for more nickel supply.

AOU has identified several high-priority areas at Nepean, and a 3,500 metre reverse-circulation (RC) drill programme has already yielded some extremely promising results including 3 metres at 3.7% nickel, including 2 metres at 5.1% nickel, as well as one metre at 5.6% nickel.

With plenty more drilling results to filter through in the coming weeks, there are plenty of catalysts investors can look forward to.

Looking beyond this drilling program, AOU expects to complete a resource estimate by year-end, enabling it to fast track Nepean to production.

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