British Columbia records banner year for exploration

The Cariboo gold project is located in the historic Wells-Barkerville mining camp in British Columbia. (Image courtesy of Osisko Gold Royalties.)

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, British Columbia recorded one of its best years in nearly a decade in terms of mineral exploration spending in 2020.

It was a year that also saw several acquisitions, the advancement of what promises to be one of the largest gold mining districts in Canada (the Barkerville-Cariboo Gold project), and most mines continuing to operate and keep thousands of workers employed, despite a pandemic.

“Obviously we’re assisted and aided by high commodity prices here in British Columbia,” Premier John Horgan said Monday at the opening of the Association of Mineral Exploration’s (AME) Roundup conference, which is being held virtually this year.

“And we had the highest investment in mineral exploration last year since 2012.”

In March 2020, the B.C. government declared mining and exploration essential, and provided the sector some incentives, including a rate reduction on power, the elimination of the PST on equipment and machinery and the extension of permits.

“We had the highest investment in mineral exploration last year since 2012”

BC Premier John Horgan

While metallurgical coal prices fell in 2020, resulting in the temporary shutdown of one mine – Conuma Coal’s Willow Creek mine – prices for all other mined commodities in B.C., notably gold and copper, went up in 2020.

The Silvertip mine also shut down in February 2020, but could restart later this year, according to Gordon Clark, director of mineral development for the BC Geological Survey. Otherwise, eight mines in B.C. continued operating throughout 2020.

Clark said spending was down in early stage exploration in 2020, but up in advanced stage exploration and development projects. The total spend was $422 million, he said, with more than half of the exploration spending focused in the northwest – the so-called Golden Triangle.

Horgan pointed to a number of acquisitions, divestments and investments in B.C. that suggest interest in B.C. for mining is strong.

In 2020, New Gold Inc. (TSX,NYSE:NGD)announced the sale of its Blackwater property south of Prince George to Artemis Gold Inc. (TSX-V:ARTG)for $190 million, and Seabridge Gold Inc. (TSX: SEA ) bought the Snowfield project from Pretium Resources (TSX:PVG) for $100 million.

Horgan also pointed to “the revitalization of Barkerville” as one of the mine development projects in B.C. “that I’m pretty excited about.”

In October 2020, Osisko Gold Royalties Ltd. (TSX,NYSE:OR) spun out a new company, Osisko Development, which will assume the development of the Cariboo Gold project.

Horgan pledged to work with the exploration and mining sector, saying “my government will be focused like a laser” on aiding the sector and “listening to you about your challenges when it comes to permitting, your challenges when it comes to land use planning, and, of course, working with you on one of the most important areas that I believe we can all work on together, and that is reconciliation with indigenous peoples.”

At the national level, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan touted Canada’s geological potential, and the role mining can play in the energy transition.

“We’re one of the only western nations with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel – all essential to create the batteries of the future,” O’Regan said.

“One of the hard lessons of the pandemic has been the fragility of these supply chains, which is why we need to build on the Canada-U.S. joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration, which we finalized one year ago.”

O’Regan said the federal government has earmarked $135 million towards two new initiatives. One is the Geoscience for Energy and Minerals program, which will focus on the “untapped resources of Canada’s north.”

The other is the Targeted Geoscience Initiative, which will develop techniques for targeting deep deposits. Every dollar invested in geoscience leads to $5 in investment from the private sector, O’Regan said.

(This article first appeared in Business in Vancouver)

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