June/July 2012

Efficiencies of (small) scale

Why New Brunswick is looking so good this year

By Eavan Moore

When the Fraser Institute published its 2011/2012 Survey of Mining Companies in March, the results surprised some observers. The small province of New Brunswick had been named the world’s number one destination for mining investment, outranking even Alberta (last year’s number one) and Finland in the survey of 802 exploration, development and consulting firms. New Brunswick ranked only 23rd the year before.

The province was already known for its diverse geology and its decades of prior mining development, but conversations with those on the ground suggest there is more to its popularity. Newcomers remark that the people of New Brunswick – from local government to neighbours – are more than open to mining investment. A small and close-knit group, familiar with mining and hard-hit by the disappearance of forestry, New Brunswickers are ready to engage with potential developers.

Everything in one place

From a mineral point of view, New Brunswick’s value as an exploration site is long-established. Alongside potash, iron, gas and precious metals, volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits in the north have kept the Bathurst mining camp producing zinc and other base metals since the 1950s.

Geology was the first draw for Northcliff Resources, which recently took control of a tungsten-molybdenum deposit in central New Brunswick. Chris Zahovskis, president and CEO, explains that a large, near-surface deposit of tungsten in a time when China controls most exports of that commodity is valuable in itself.

“Fantastic infrastructure” sealed the deal, says Zahovskis, pointing out that a similar project in a different part of the world could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure development.

Sam McEwan, assistant deputy minister of natural resources in New Brunswick, agrees that existing amenities make development attractive. “Land is very accessible for exploration because of the forest industry,” he explains. “We have a labyrinth of roads throughout the province. We are on the coast with year-round ports available for the shipment of our mineral products. We are also directly adjacent to what is probably one of the largest consumers of mineral commodities in the world – New England, United States.”

Infrastructure was only one of the indicators putting New Brunswick ahead in the Fraser Institute survey: respondents reported clear regulations, political stability and good conditions for socio-economic agreements as well.

“Mining is a mature industry in New Brunswick, such that the regulatory regime that has evolved here is not only robust in terms of providing adequate protections for the environment, workers and communities, but also clear and consistent,” Zahovskis says. “Coming in to the province, you know the playing field, and the regulators work very hard to ensure that the rules are enforced in a stringent, but also consistent and predictable way. As a mine developer, you can’t ask for anything more than regulatory certainty.”

Prospective miners are encouraged to schedule an informal meeting with the Standing Committee on Mining and the Environment, composed of at least five members from the provincial Department of the Environment, Department of Natural Resources, and Environment Canada. Created in 1988 to avoid departmental overlap, this committee serves as a “one window” access to the mine approval process, offering feedback and ongoing access to the provincial reviewers that project proponents will be working with.

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