March/April 2013

Information to bring investment

Northern Vancouver Island communities use geoscience project to promote local resources

By Herb Mathisen

Last summer, Geoscience BC conducted an extensive moss-mat and stream sediments geochemical survey on northern Vancouver Island and flew an aerial survey over 4,204 square kilometres of the northwestern portion of the island. The aeromagnetic results were released in February, while the geochemical results are expected sometime in April | Courtesy of Geoscience BC

A new survey project from Geoscience BC, funded in part by northern Vancouver Island communities, is aimed at boosting investments in the region’s once-flourishing mining in­dustry. Geoscience BC, a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging exploration investment in the province, recently released high-resolution aeromagnetic survey results for 4,204 square kilometres of the northwestern portion of Vancouver Island.

The airborne survey was the first of two datasets Geoscience BC will make public as part of the Northern Vancouver Island Exploration Geoscience project. Findings from an extensive geochemical survey are expected to be released in April, according to ’Lyn Anglin, the organization’s CEO. “When we looked at the statistics, Vancouver Island was underrepresented in terms of exploration expenditures when you compare it to other parts of B.C.,” she said.

In 2010, Anglin met Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham and some of the town’s councillors over lunch at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference in Powell River. The town council became interested in collaborating with Geoscience BC to renew mining interest in the region. Parnham sits on the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) board, a group that invests in economic opportunities on the north island, and it pitched in $400,000 for the project, with Geoscience BC adding $530,000.

“We really wanted to try to dispel any kind of perception that we’re not open for business here on Vancouver Island,” said Parnham. The sparsely-populated northern part of the island is home to forestry and fishing sectors, quarry mining operations and Hillsborough Resources’ Quinsam coal mine. The Myra Falls copper-zinc mine, located southwest of Campbell River, has been operating since 1966 and, not so long ago, BHP’s Island Copper mine was a major economic engine in the region. The open pit mine produced more than 1.3 million tonnes of copper over 24 years, closing in 1995. “We know the benefits of mines to communities,” said Parnham. “We’ve lived it. We have a legacy of that and we wanted to get that message out there.”

Dallas Smith, chairman of the Nanwakolas Council Society, which directly represents 10 of the 16 First Nations with land in the survey area, said with the forestry and fishing industries declining, a reinvigorated mining sector would provide opportunities for residents. “First Nations in the area particularly are looking for some environmentally and culturally sustainable economic options going into the future,” he said.

The aeromagnetic data was collected by Laval, Quebec’s Geo Data Solutions, last summer at an elevation of 80 metres, and a line-spacing of 250 metres. This new survey provides higher-resolution data, compared with previously conducted surveys from 1962 and 1971 that used an 805-metre line-spacing. Prior to this work, Geoscience BC had reanalyzed 480 till samples taken in the 1990s to look for 53 different elements using an ultratrace aqua-regia digestion ICP mass spectrometry package. This reanalysis project, Anglin said, sparked some claim-staking activity in the area. Geochemists also took more than 700 new moss-mat and stream sediments samples to analyze for 51 metals.

Combined, the new data could make it easier for prospective explorers to pinpoint anomalies in an area known for its thick brush and unforgiving terrain. Del Ferguson, earth sciences instructor at Vancouver Island University and president of Aztec Geoscience, said the island boasts several interesting exploration targets, including massive sulphides and copper porphyry, coal, and gold and magnetite-rich skarn deposits.

NorthIsle Copper and Gold is a junior exploration company with claims near the old Island Copper mine, including its Hushamu site with an Indicated Resource of 1.4 billion pounds of copper, 2.8 million ounces of gold and 65.7 million pounds of molybdenum. CEO Jack McClintock said NorthIsle has already flown its own aeromagnetic survey but added the company that previously owned the properties conducted geochemical stream samples in the early 1970s that only looked for “copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc and silver” anomalies. He is interested to see what other elements the new geochemical survey will reveal.

McClintock said Geoscience BC’s project has brought attention to the area and to his company. “At least here in B.C., there has always been the perception on Vancouver Island that it’s a tough place to explore,” he said. “But the fact that even the municipalities are involved in this gives people the correct understanding that the north end of Vancouver Island is quite different from the south in that it’s a resource-based economy.”

Geoscience BC will soon announce a new survey initiative in B.C.’s Interior, but if the Vancouver Island data is well-received, the organization could return to the island. While Parnham admitted it is tough to measure the immediate success of the project, Anglin knows the true barometer will be whether it converts interest into investment. “The real test of how influential it’s been is if we do see more money being spent on the island in the next couple of years,” she said.

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