Major [mining] investments return to BC – by Gavin C. Dirom (Northern Miner – January 23-29, 2012)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

The author is president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME BC), which is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary with special activities planned during AME BC’s twenty-ninth Roundup in Vancouver from Jan. 23–26, 2012. Visit www.amebc.ca for more information.

B.C. is on the cusp of regaining its rightful position as one of the best jurisdictions in the world to explore and develop mineral resources.

Driven by record-breaking expenditures in 2011, encouraging commodity prices and increasingly progressive government policy, mineral exploration and development in B.C. represents a multi-generational, socio-economic opportunity that can be measured in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

In 2011, an estimated $450 million to $500 million was spent on mineral exploration in B.C. This is higher than the $322 million recorded in 2010 and illustrates spending not seen since the eighties. One million metres of rock was drilled in search of rare mineral deposits for developing into viable mines to produce critical raw materials, such as copper, gold, coal and zinc.

In 2011, the B.C. government took a number of coordinated and proactive measures to address the industry’s challenges.

The provincial government committed $24 million to improving the permitting process, $12 million to the industry-led, not-for-profit, applied geoscience organization Geoscience BC, maintained favourable tax incentives, added public geoscientist capacity and has begun to address human-resource challenges through joint initiatives with industry, aboriginal communities and educators.

The government is also moving towards fairly addressing and settling land-use disputes from the politically driven ban on uranium and thorium exploration in 2008, and the expropriation of mineral tenures in the Flathead Valley in southeast B.C. in 2010.

These measures are redefining B.C. as a mineral exploration and development jurisdiction for many major companies and international investors.

Last year, B.C.-based companies raised billion of dollars to finance junior mineral ventures here and around the globe, making this province one of the best locations in the world for start-up mining companies.

According to John McCoach, president of the TSX Venture Exchange, Canadian public mining companies raised over $12 billion in 2011, with almost half of that amount from mineral exploration and development-stage companies on the TSX Venture Exchange, and 60% of companies based in B.C.

There’s also a trend emerging with major mining companies returning to B.C. and making joint-venture agreements with the junior exploration and development companies.

This increase in investment translates into thousands of people working at more than 350 mineral exploration sites and 25 potential mine projects throughout the province.

Mineral exploration and mine development are economic drivers in B.C., and higher levels of investment and activity leads to new discoveries and mine developments that spur regional development, create jobs, improve infrastructure and increase government revenues for funding social programs, such as health care and education.

B.C. has a proud and strong tradition of being innovative, enterprising and industrious. This spirit is alive and well today. In fact, B.C. is world-renowned as the global centre for mineral exploration and mine-development expertise.
The progressive exploration and development of our public mineral resources over the last 100 years has created a highly skilled, world-class workforce.

B.C. is home to the largest concentration of professional geologists in the world. Worldwide, 1,200 B.C.-based companies are exploring and developing mineral resources with 2,400 service consultants and supplier companies supporting the sector, including technical, legal and financial and accounting firms. We also have academics researching and teaching new geoscience, engineering and technological methods in one of the world’s best education systems.

Through the decades the industry has matured and its perspective and approach has evolved.

Environmental stewardship and social responsibility affect a project’s success in the province, and B.C. has developed a health, safety and reclamation code that has been adopted in 35 countries. This industry’s safety record in the province is two times better than the average injury rate for all sectors in the province. As industry leaders, we engage and inform communities in a co-operative, accountable and transparent manner, recognizing mineral development as a shared opportunity and responsibility for everyone.

Mineral projects are being developed today by skilled people who are discovering commodities that support our modern society. These people live and work in the community and want to ensure their project adheres to world-class safety and environmental standards, while creating jobs with incomes that average more than $112,000 per year.

Despite the progress, important challenges still need be addressed — particularly in land access and use matters.

Exploration is the lifeblood for mining and its research and development. Yet while explorers require access to large areas to search for elusive new deposits, actual mining in B.C. has used much less than 1% of the provincial land base — or an area smaller than the 540-sq.-km Greater Victoria — and created over $600 billion in gross revenues.
We still have challenges to overcome if we are going to claim our rightful place as the best jurisdiction in the world for mineral exploration and development.

B.C. is vast and under-explored, covering over 944,700 sq. km, yet more than 40% of B.C is effectively off-limits to mineral exploration and development.

Minerals are a public resource. A mineable deposit is a rare and special gift, but increasing demands by special interest organizations to add even more protected area in B.C. is threatening land access for mineral exploration and development.

This is a serious public interest issue.

We must establish a deeper appreciation and a common understanding of the value of minerals and their development in our daily lives. We cannot move a mineral deposit to a different location. We can only work with what nature has provided and apply our best knowledge and experience to optimize the resource while being environmental stewards.

There is good fortune in B.C. We have rich geology and a proven track record, high environmental and safety standards and a lot of knowledge. If we work together and understand one another’s values, there is no reason why British Columbians cannot achieve a more reasonable land-use balance, share wisely and allow responsible mineral explorers to find special and valuable deposits.

It’s clear the return of major investment in B.C. mineral exploration and development is well underway, but we must work together to protect access to explore for the mineral resources our society needs, and carefully nurture this opportunity and realize its long-term potential. The world needs mineral resources more than ever, and I am confident that we can cooperatively develop smart solutions in B.C. to protect the environment, while not losing sight of the enormous benefits a mineral discovery can provide to all of our communities.

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