Thomas has greater than 25 years of expertise within the mining business centered on diamonds (Aber Diamond, Stornoway Diamond and Lucara) and gold (Kaminak Gold and Tectonic Metals). Along with being a part of the exploration group that found the Diavik diamond mine, she was named one of many World Financial Discussion board’s “Younger World Leaders” in 2008.
Canadian Mining Journal spoke with Thomas about innovation within the diamond market, Lucara’s pandemic response in Botswana, and the way the mining sector can appeal to a extra various workforce.
CMJ We’ve seen a strong recovery within the diamond market this 12 months after a reasonably darkish interval final 12 months in the beginning of the pandemic. How are you feeling about demand for mined diamonds as you put together to speculate $534 million in an underground growth of Karowe?
Thomas: We’re feeling actually good about it, we expect it’s a good time to be trying on the diamonds area normally. We’ve seen a powerful, V-shaped restoration in tough diamond costs and that optimistic development has continued via the primary half of the 12 months and it seems to be like these costs will proceed to be sustained. We’ve spent greater than C$45 million on the undertaking so far so we’re busy sinking shafts on the website and we’ll be seeking to make investments greater than $534 million over the course of the subsequent 5 years. Most of that may come from money stream from our current open pit operations. The rest of that capital has come from a debt financing that we introduced just lately that may give us an extra $220 million.
When it comes to the restoration of diamond costs, we’re seeing energy now all throughout the board. There have been sure pockets of products (similar to massive stones) that have been trending favourably early, however now we’ve seen first rate demand enhancements throughout all colors and qualities and sizes. That’s encouraging as a result of it speaks to the general market depth having actually improved. And we’re seeing good costs for bigger items as properly.
CMJ: The growth is anticipated to increase Karowe’s mine life to 2040 not less than. Contemplating that Lucara is a single-asset firm, longer-term, how are you planning so as to add worth for shareholders?
Thomas: Karowe is our flagship asset, however we’ve one other enterprise in Lucara and that’s Clara, our safe, web-based digital market for the transaction of tough diamonds. Clara actually has finished very properly all through the pandemic, significantly as there have been so many journey restrictions the diamantaire neighborhood haven’t been in a position to journey to purchase diamonds. Clara has actually crammed an essential hole and we noticed our buyer base enhance from below 20 members previous to the pandemic to greater than 88 patrons on the platform as we speak. So we undoubtedly see the demand for an revolutionary, extra environment friendly and clear market for the transaction of tough diamonds.
Demand has now outstripped the availability that we will present from simply Karowe alone so we’re opening up the platform to gross sales of third-party items. Our actual ambition is to signal on with a bigger producer with extra of a dedicated long-term, bigger provide of tough diamonds and we’re actively negotiating with numerous totally different gamers on that entrance. We’re hopeful that we’ll make progress on that earlier than the top of the 12 months. Within the meantime, we’re including incremental third-party provide every month, principally from the secondary market. Nowadays, we don’t get a number of credit score for Clara, however as we begin to enhance third celebration provide, the worth of that for Lucara will begin to be evidenced.
We see Karowe and Clara as our major two platforms, however now that the underground is financed and totally sanctioned, we actually are turning our minds to the chance of M&A. We proceed to have a look at that universe very rigorously and we’d love so as to add one other diamond mine into the portfolio. We might solely accomplish that whether it is accretive to our current operations, however that’s now one thing we’ve extra time to have a look at.
CMJ: Inform us about Lucara’s covid-19 response and the way the corporate has responded to native wants across the Karowe mine website.
Thomas: Mining was declared a vital service early on so we’ve remained totally operational all through the pandemic, however we moved shortly to implement some very strict controls to make sure we may hold our folks on the bottom protected. It has been a difficult time period. The federal government of Botswana has solely just lately come out of a state of emergency and the supply of vaccines in-country remains to be low. So we proceed to be very very vigilant. Fortunately, the roll-out of vaccines is beginning to occur. Round 50% of our workforce is now vaccinated with not less than one dose and we’re hoping by the top of November everybody may have obtained not less than one dose. We’ll be feeling quite a bit higher about issues at that time, however within the meantime, we’ve been in a position to show that our working protocols (distancing, hygiene, minimizing folks onsite) have labored.
As well as, we labored laborious to complement the federal government’s efforts – they arrange a Covid fund and we contributed to that. We additionally labored immediately with our communities of curiosity to handle their main issues across the disaster – whether or not or not it’s delivering meals hampers to these in want or organising services to react and reply to the rise in gender-based violence, which was an actual subject in among the communities surrounding the mine website.
CMJ: What are the closest communities to Karowe and may you inform us a bit extra in regards to the firm’s response to home violence?
Thomas: The closest neighborhood to us is the city of Lethlekane which is greater than 20,000 folks. Most individuals dwelling there both work for us or they’re working on the Orapa diamond mine which is one other 40 minutes down the street, operated by Debswana. What we’ve seen and this has been noticed in lots of locations the place you’ve folks required to do business from home, individuals who merely can not work as a result of their enterprise or place of business has been shut down, or folks have misplaced their jobs, there’s a rise in stress. There have been many incidents of elevated gender-based violence because of this, so we’ve been concerned in constructing shelters for ladies and youngsters. We’ve additionally actually been working laborious as a management group our group in Botswana travelling round to our communities to extend consciousness round gender-based violence. We expect that’s a very essential piece to all of this – getting these conversations going to start out tackling this downside, which has actually been exacerbated by the stresses of the pandemic. Lucara is concerned with 19 totally different communities in and across the mine website so we maintain common kgotla (neighborhood) conferences with every neighborhood, and we’ve a sustainability group primarily based in Lethlakane that travels round and engages with them to know their particular wants.
One of many methods Lucara has been profitable with this engagement is thru these kgotla conferences and simply being there to hear and listen to the particular wants which have emerged on account of the Covid disaster and in any other case. All of our neighborhood primarily based sustainability packages are run out of Botswana: 99% of our workforce is from Botswana and the sustainability group is 100% from Botswana.
CMJ: Talking of the workforce, we needed to ask you particularly in regards to the problem of attracting a extra various expertise to the mining business normally. The mining sector of the long run must compete for expertise with different industries which are seen as extra technologically superior and which are extra various. How do you suppose that mining can turn into a extra welcoming place and appeal to the sensible younger tech-savvy folks it wants?
Thomas: I feel the business is painted in a lightweight of being fairly antiquated and backward and reliant on previous programs and applied sciences but it surely has lengthy been within the course of of fixing. On the contrary, mining is a really technologically intensive and we’ve been working to innovate and incorporate new applied sciences into our enterprise plans and techniques. There’s enormous alternative for younger innovators and for folks of all expertise and pursuits throughout the mining area. There’s an outdated view that this business remains to be about picks and shovels and we have to do a greater job of explaining that we’re utilizing among the most technologically superior gear and programs on the planet to drive down prices and create longer-term sustainable companies. Lucara for instance was the very first diamond mining co to include XRT know-how as our main diamond restoration methodology, which has been a sport changer for our enterprise. It’s allowed us to get better our largest, highest-value diamonds with out damaging them. We have been then the primary diamond mining firm to launch a safe, web-based digital market for the transaction of tough diamonds. So I feel the mining business as an entire is seeking to know-how to make their enterprise extra environment friendly, extra dependable and extra sustainable.
Relating to variety, there’s no query that the business has lagged. We’ve made some progress, however to make this business extra enticing to youthful generations and extra various expertise swimming pools, we have to do a greater job of demonstrating our willingness and our need so as to add these components as a part of our enterprise priorities. I typically get requested how is it that Lucara has an government group that’s 85% feminine and a normal workforce that’s 36% feminine, which is properly above the typical for mining. Numerous it’s round creating that inclusive atmosphere the place folks really feel like they’ve choices and alternatives throughout the group — not solely within the job they’ve as we speak, however creating expertise and offering some kind of sightline into future alternatives.
CMJ: Inform us about your involvement with Tectonic Metals (TSXV: TECT), an Alaska-focused gold junior that you just based along with your colleague from Kaminak Gold, Tony Reda.
Thomas: We’re actually enthusiastic about Alaska as a result of we expect that a number of the learnings that this group gained from working within the Yukon will be immediately utilized to Alaska. We really feel that there’s an identical geological alternative that’s comparatively underexplored in comparison with the efforts which were made within the Yukon in the identical belt of rocks. The second actual alternative has emerged across the alternative to accomplice in Alaska with native First Nations. I feel it was our time within the Yukon and our interactions with our native communities of curiosity there together with a number of First Nations teams that basically galvanized our dedication round creating an organization that the important thing to success was going to be round collaboration and partnering with native stakeholders to set out that widespread goal. The Doyon are our largest shareholder and so they’ve been a terrific accomplice. We simply introduced the acquisition of the Flat gold undertaking which we’re tremendous enthusiastic about – it is a large, early stage exploration alternative in a very thrilling space with a powerful geological endowment and as soon as once more we’ll be partnering with our largest shareholder.
CMJ: The pandemic has been the last word disrupter for companies and for folks of their private lives. In what methods has it modified your life for the higher?
Thomas: For me it’s actually been about making an attempt to get a greater stability. That sounds a bit odd after we’ve all been locked up in our homes and nothing in regards to the pandemic is basically screaming stability. However while you’re a busy government, single mom of two children, dwell half your life on a airplane, it’s an actual problem to get the stability proper. Sure, we have been pressured right into a lockdown scenario the place we weren’t in a position to transfer round freely however we have been fairly darn fortunate in Canada right here that these restrictions have been fairly short-lived and not less than had the chance to get exterior. I used to spend an enormous period of time as an exploration geologist out within the area and out within the wilderness and it’s one thing that I’ve at all times actually cherished to do. For me getting exterior into the native panorama right here and the mountains with my canine and with the ability to hike a number of occasions per week versus as soon as a month if I used to be fortunate, spend extra face time with my youngsters – albeit difficult face time when it got here to highschool and among the different points that we’ve needed to deal with – that has been fairly particular and improbable and it’s given me some perception that maybe I don’t must be on as many planes and that there are methods to work successfully remotely.
(This text first appeared within the Canadian Mining Journal)