A push to decarbonize the world’s economy, continued rapid development in Asia and a recovery from COVID-19 are green shoots of growth for mining, participants in the annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum say.
Executives for working mines and those in development agreed that while B.C.’s advantages include abundant hydro power, world-leading relations with Indigenous people and a skilled workforce, the investment climate needs improvement with more speed and certainty in securing permits to build.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, prices dropped into the tank, and now they’re starting to rise,” said Michael Goehring, CEO of the B.C. Mining Association, host of a mining discussion at the forum Jan. 26. And as the economy retools for a low-carbon future, “mining as an industry is being viewed as a solution.”
Speakers included Gil Clausen, CEO of Copper Mountain mine near Princeton; Jacques Perron, CEO of Pretivm Resources, operator of Brucejack, a gold mine north of Stewart in northeast B.C.; and Brian Sullivan, CEO of Conuma Resources, which restarted the Wolverine coal mine near Tumbler Ridge. Representing mines in development was Kelly Earle, a vice-president for Skeena Resources, which is working to restart the Eskay Creek gold and silver mine in northwest B.C., and Steven Dean of Artemis Gold, which is developing the Blackwater mine south of Vanderhoof.
Skeena bought Eskay Creek from Barrick Gold in 2018, and is converting it from an underground mine to open-pit with power from a nearby run-of-river hydro plant. Earle said the company spent $55 million on the mine last year, nearly half of it with companies in the Tahltan Nation, which has multiple mine partnerships. B.C. is “the birthplace of the impact benefit agreement” with Indigenous partners, but the province’s timeline of four to five years for a project that has already operated is “unacceptable” for the kind of investment needed to get it operating, she said.
Goehring noted that Premier John Horgan spoke to the recent Association of Mineral Exploration conference in Vancouver about a government-industry group working on the permit issue, which all speakers saw as important to making B.C. competitive enough to maintain and expand mining.
Dean said Blackwater would be the first new gold mine in B.C. in many years, with a target for starting production in the second quarter of 2022. It will provide 825 direct jobs in the construction phase and 450 once it is operating, an important lift for the central B.C. economy that has seen a decline in the forest industry.
B.C. has a reputation for slow and uncertain approvals, but “to the provincial government’s credit, that reputation is changing,” he said.
Clausen said Copper Mountain provides 500 well-paying jobs and is working on a transition to electric trolley haul trucks to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In partnership with the Upper Similkameen First Nation, it began a mine reclamation project in 2018 using biosolids from Metro Vancouver to restore broken rock areas from mining, and that is being scaled up, he said.
Clausen said the company adapted to COVID-19 to protect the nearby community, and provided money to its employees to help support local restaurants and other businesses under stress from the pandemic.
Sullivan said Conuma employs 950 people, many of whom make more than $100,000 a year, and supports the economies of Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd. Production of metallurgical coal is vital to the rapid growth of Asia, and the company is in the B.C. environmental assessment process to open a new pit to provide an additional 10 years of shipments through Prince Rupert and Tsawwassen coal terminals.