Mineral exploration growing in BC – Survey

The high-grade Brucejack gold mine in B.C.’s Golden Triangle. Photo by Pretium Resources.

For the second year in a row, mineral and coal exploration expenditure in British Columbia increased in 2018.

This is according to the British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey carried out by the provincial Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Association for Mineral Exploration and Ernst & Young.

After collecting insights from nearly 300 exploration projects across BC, the study found that there was a 34% year-over-year growth in 2018 in exploration across all major commodities and geographic regions. Such a growth implies exploration expenditures of approximately $330.2 million.

According to the organizations involved in the survey, the resurgence in exploration activity is focused in BC’s northwest, particularly in the so-called Golden Triangle. The area saw $165 million spent in exploration last year — a 66% increase over the $98.9 million spent in 2017 and nearly double the $85.8 million spent in 2016. The northwest also accounted for half of the total exploration spend in the province in 2018.

“Over the last year we’ve seen continued revitalization of grassroots and early-stage exploration in the province, which accounted for 44% of total exploration in 2018, compared to just 14% five years prior,” Iain Thompson, EY Canada Mining & Metals Advisory Leader, said in a press release.

The examination also found that there were 26 exploration projects in the northwest with investment in excess of $1 million. This is more than twice as many as the number of such projects located in other regions in the province.

The survey states that the renewed interest in the Golden Triangle was triggered higher gold prices, by the discovery of high-grade, potentially economically viable deposits, and by the ramping up of operations at two mines, Imperial Metals’ Red Chris mine and Pretium Resources’ Brucejack mine.

The report says that miners’ enthusiasm in the region was also fueled by the fact that many local First Nations seemed to be gained to the idea of sustainable resource development, and by government efforts to build new infrastructure, including the paving of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, the opening of ocean port facilities for export of concentrate at Stewart and the completion of a $700-million high-voltage transmission line.

In terms of specific commodities, the analysis detected a rebound in coal exploration in 2018, following five years of stagnation. The data show that such activities increased by 58% to $50 million, accounting for nearly a quarter of growth in total exploration spend across the province last year.

Gold, on the other hand, did not generate as much interest. From accounting for 90% of the increase in exploration spending in 2017, the yellow metal’s share dropped to 15%. The experts conducting the study say the reason behind the fall is investors focusing more on copper, silver, and nickel as investments made exploring for these three commodities more than doubled from $49 million in 2017 to $102 million in 2018.