February 2012

Go west!

AME BC Roundup buoyed by mining sector confidence

By Mike Chisholm

British Columbia, bolstered by record high gold prices and a well-established mining infrastructure, is on track to open or expand 17 mines by 2015. And the provincial government, faced with rising education and health costs, is keen to support a healthy mining industry. “Without you,” BC Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman told delegates at the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME BC) 2012 Roundup, “we’re sunk.”

In the past century, mining in British Columbia, along with forestry, has been an important economic driver. But with the downturn in the forestry industry, coupled with a rise in commodity prices, the province’s mineral potential has attracted a lot of attention and spending. “In the year 2000, mineral exploration was $20 million,” said Coleman. “In 2011, [it] rose to over $460 million.”

At Roundup, 8,000 delegates crammed meeting rooms, hallways and the trade show, where investors and executives mingled with prospectors and geologists. This year’s technical conference attracted hundreds of companies in mineral exploration and development, among them, one of the province’s latest stars, the Copper Mountain Mining Corporation. Last summer, the company opened the first large-scale base metal mine in British Columbia in more than a decade, an 18,000-acre copper operation near Princeton. The company worked through difficult economic times to develop the $438 million project and in late 2011, shipped its first load of 11,200 wet metric tonnes of concentrate to Japan.

In British Columbia, the government is focused on ensuring the mining industry’s needs are accommodated. “It’s important to our future, and we have to be able to deliver,” Coleman told delegates. As part of their 2011 BC Jobs Plan, the government is focusing on the mining industry. It is streamlining the mine permitting process in an attempt to cut waiting times and turn investments into actual worksites and jobs. The government calls it “One Project; One Process.”

A company in the middle of that process is Vancouver’s Imperial Metals Corporation, one of the exhibitors on the conference trade show floor. Imperial is coinciding the completion of its 30,000 tonne per day Red Chris copper/gold mine in west central BC with the planned opening of the BC Hydro Northwest Transmission Line in early 2014.

With both federal and provincial environmental permits in hand, the company is now working through the BC Mines Act permitting process. Also in central BC, construction is underway on Thompson Creek Metals’ Mount Milligan open pit copper-gold mine, with production expected in 2013. Company general manager Wes Carson addressed Roundup delegates on his company’s efforts to build a sustainable mine in the 21st century, including First Nations, current and future employees, local residents, politicians and suppliers.

Even though British Columbia has definitely felt the North American and European economic setbacks, its proximity to China has helped ease the struggle. Companies are reaping the benefits of delivering materials to the Asia- Pacific region. “China just announced their GDP growth for the last quarter and it was 8.9 per cent, which is much higher than people expected it to be”, said Don Lindsay, president and CEO of Teck Resources Limited, after his Roundup presentation. “In Canada, the U.S. and Western Europe, we wouldn’t know what to do with 8.9 per cent growth. These numbers are very, very impressive.”

With two major mines in construction, six more in advanced development and 18 mining projects in the early stages of environmental assessment, British Columbia will continue to be one of the top mining development jurisdictions in Canada for years.
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