Letters From the West

Geologist Dykes balances past and future in his CuMo vision (video)

Geologists’ sense of time isn’t the same as most of us.
They examine rocks and mineral formations millions of years old to determine if they contain marketable amounts of metals. When they are in the exploration business they often look years forward to the time when the ore body they have mapped is ready to be mined.
They have to be able to look at a place as it was when the earth’s conditions were right to collect the minerals they seek. At the same time they must consider society’s condition when those minerals will be removed.

Shaun Dykes, CEO of American CuMo Corp.

Shaun Dykes, CEO of American CuMo Corp.

That sets them apart from the investors on whom they depend, on the officials who will decide how and when they can move forward and the environmentalists who are at best skeptical of their quest. There time is now.
Shaun Dykes, the CEO of American CuMo Corp., is first and last an exploratory geologist. His vision is to carry the copper and molybdenum exploration project in the upper reaches of Grimes Creek near Idaho City to the construction phase sometime in the next three years.
Right now he’s trying to gather investors to come up with $100 million to pay for a mining feasibility study and the environmental impact statement process. CuMo will have to endure all that before giant mining front-end loaders lift tons of molybdenum ore in behemoth dump trucks in the mile-wide open pit. For investors the payoff could be $16 billion of ore from what would be the largest molybdenum mine in the world.
For Idaho and Boise County it could mean 1,000 long-term, high-paying jobs that would transform Idaho City into one of the most prosperous rural communities in the state. It also could produce enough riches to clean up the heavily contaminated piles of past mine tailings that occur throughout the Grimes Creek drainage.
But to get there Dykes has to convince environmentalists and regulators that the mine can be operated safely without degrading the water that eventually runs into the Boise River. Or if he can’t convince them, he will have to be able to defend in court that he can do it.
Dykes, who is the former CuMo project manager, got into this position because he defeated former CEO Brian McClay, a Canadian attorney, for control over Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Limited, CuMo’s parent company. McClay told Canadian financial website Stockhouse that he bought the claim from a Nevada geologist for $250,000.
Dykes pulled off his coup with the financial backing of Chinese mining executive Hongxue Fu, who didn’t like how McClay was spending his money. Now Dyke is looking for investors in Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom to keep it international.
Most of all he is opening up a Boise office and laying the groundwork for a long term relationship between CuMo and Idaho. Much of the $100 million will be spent in Idaho and run through Idaho banks, he said.
The next step is completing a supplemental environmental impact statement on CuMo’s expanded exploratory drilling program forced upon it and the Forest Service by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge. He ruled that the Forest Service had acted arbitrarily and capriciously by approving drilling without examining potential effects to groundwater afte a lawsuit by the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, the Golden Eagle Audubon Society and others.
Dykes hopes that will come later next month.
Dykes has a good story to tell investors. First of all he tells them not to worry about the price of moly, now so low that Idaho’s only operating molybdenum mine, Thompson Creek, has most of its miners laid off. CuMo would be making a three to four dollar profit at today’s price because it is so big and rich, he says.
Because he’s looking into the future he can see a mine that will operate for 100 years instead of 10 to 15. That will reshape the economic, social and cultural character of Boise County just as the pit will change its backcountry.
Since the deposit is not going away, if it is as big and rich as Dykes says, then there is a good chance that it will be mined someday. But whether it will be in Dykes’ future remains a geological mystery.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West