BC mining industry earned extra $2 billion in 2011 on strength of coal, silver

The mining industry in British Columbia produced some healthy numbers in 2011, buoyed by high commodity prices and continued growth in mineral exploration, according to PwC’s annual BC Mining Survey.

The survey of 41 participants included 17 operating metal and coal mines including the Teck smelter in Trail, 13 operations in the permitting stage, 8 advanced exploration properties, and 3 mines being reclaimed.

Mines currently permitted or under active permitting comprise Yellowjacket, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek, Table Mountain, Turnagain, Red Chris, Mount Klappan, Mount Milligan, Berg, Prosperity, Harper Creek, New Afton and Afton-Ajax.

Copper, coal, zinc, molybdenum, lead, gold and silver were the main commodities surveyed.

Coal, always a strong backbone of the BC mining industry, was again a catalyst for growth in 2011, according to PwC. The sector was responsible for over half (59%) of BC mining revenues, which rose 25% from $7.9 billion in 2010 to $9.9 billion last year. The $2 billion increase was almost completely attributable to higher metallurgical coal prices and increased coal shipments. Net income for the mining industry was also up last year, by $0.8 billion due to production increases in coal and higher coal, silver and lead prices.

Shipments of coal rose 10% while the average realized coal price was US$257/tonne compared to US$181/tonne in 2010. Total coal revenues jumped 53% to $5.2 billion.

Silver was the other big gainer besides coal. Net mining revenues from the white metal nearly doubled to $811 million in 2011, with the average price climbing a whopping 75%. BC silver miners in 2011 were able to sell the precious metal for $US35.31 an ounce compared to $20.22 the year earlier, although by the first quarter of 2012, the price had dropped to $32.62/oz.

Lead also did well last year, with shipments of lead and lead concentrates increasing 20% and average prices rising 12 cents a pound from the prior year.

Gold, copper and zinc didn’t fare so well. Net revenues from gold fell 31% to $154 million, while copper revenues declined slightly from $1.37 billion to $1.32 billion last year. Shipments of copper concentrate were also down, from 712,000  to 668,000 tonnes. Revenues and shipments from zinc fell a respective 8% and 13%.

Molybdenum was flat, with prices and revenues remaining consistent.

Mineral exploration was a bright spot in the BC mining sector last year, according to the PwC report. Exploration spending by survey participants, including greenfield and brownfield properties, more than doubled (+113%) to $431 million in 2011. Of this amount, the majority ($339 million) was spent on development properties, with $77 million spent on greenfield projects and $15 million on producing mines.

Mining continues to be a big employment generator in BC according to the report. Mining companies hired 1,115 more people in 2011, bringing the total number employed to 9,310. Workers are also earning more, with the average salary for a mining company employee now sitting at $115,700 per year, an increase of 7% compared to 2010.

Another notable statistic was the increase in capital expenditures which has a multiplier effect on mining and equipment suppliers. BC mining capex more than doubled in 2011 (+135%) to $2.9 billion, with the majority of expenditures, $1 billion, accredited to projects under construction.

Download the full report here