Even the bad news was good.
Despite a drop of about 30 per cent in exploration in 2013 and the temporary shutdown of a number of coal mines, the message delivered at the 2014 Minerals North Conference in Vanderhoof last week was one of optimism.
Although $474 million was spent in exploration in the province in 2013 and of that $201 million in the Skeena (northwest B.C.) region, which was down approximately 30 per cent from 2012, delegates and presenters at the conference said, the number is misleading.
More than $600 million had been spent in 2012 and the 2013 numbers, while down, were still a record.
“We’ve been doing really well in B.C. Both 2012 and 2013 were records for B.C., we need to sustain that … we need not to rest on our laurels … we need to figure out ways to make sure that trajectory continues to go up and that we continue to see more exploration investment in B.C. every year,” Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, told delegates. “In 2001 … it was about $30 million.”
Bennett said lower commodity prices were to blame for the drop from 2012’s record levels. Regardless, despite the halt to some coal production due to low prices, the numbers were encouraging.
“I know the [mining] industry is going through one of the typical tough times or difficult times … because of commodity prices right now,” he said.
“Surprisingly, the number of jobs in the industry were actually up three per cent over last year because of the new mines … we also produced and shipped more coal and ore this past year even though prices were down.”
Bennett also added that the dip from 2012 levels were not necessarily a harbinger of things to come.
“Typically, when commodity prices go down, you see, especially after you come out of, what you might call a supercycle, you had a bunch of small, new companies get started, you do see a fair number of [those] companies disappear during the downcycle … there hasn’t been as many disappear as typically there would be,” he said.
“In fact, just over the last three months or four months, junior companies have been finding funding easier than what they were a year ago … not to suggest everything is peachy because I know it’s not … but it is getting better, it is getting stronger.”
Northwest B.C. over the past decade has benefitted from a major increase in mineral exploration and it’s something Bennett said needs to continue.
“The exploration side of the industry is really important. You can’t have mines unless you have that lonely person out there kickin’ over rocks and finding something that makes it worthwhile to go out and raise some money and put a drill program on and take it from there,” he said.
Bennett pointed to the opening of three new mines including Thompson Creek’s Mount Milligan northwest of Prince George and Giant Yellow on Banks Island south of Prince Rupert as proof that the tide had turned in mine start-ups. He also added that the Northwest Transmission Line should be up and running this summer to power the $500 million Red Chris Mine, which is also slated to begin operation in June.
But for Vanderhoof the questions were all about the Blackwater project.
Tim Bekhuys, environment and sustainability director for New Gold, owner of Blackwater, said the project is right on schedule.
“In about two or three weeks, we’re going to file a 20,000-page environmental impact statement … that’s a real focus for us to make sure we have this project shovel-ready by this time next year,” Bekhuys told delegates.
Bekhuys added that Vanderhoof continues to be key in the company’s plans.
“We know without continuing to work with local people, local First Nations … whether it’s on training or just understanding community goals, there is no point for us moving ahead on this project. We have to continue that and we will continue that with our office here in Vanderhoof,” he said.
Houston’s Huckleberry Mine also took centre stage at the conference.
Bennett used Huckleberry as the classic success story while announcing $3 million in funding for Geoscience B.C.
“The Huckleberry Mine is … a really good example of how Geoscience B.C. benefits all of us, the industry, communities, everyone. They did some work close to the Huckleberry Mine and located something that was worth looking at. The company went in and drilled it off and found a very promising deposit. It added 10 years to the life of the mine. That means that several hundred people, a few hundred families … if you look at indirect jobs, it’s probably more than that, have 10 more years of good employment because of this program,” Bennett said at the close of Day 2 on the conference’s main stage.
“That $3 million of your tax money that we’re putting into Geoscience B.C. is one of the best investments we can make.”
The three-day conference opened with an announcement by Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation of four economic and community development agreements (ECDA) coming from mineral tax revenues collected by the province from the expansion of the Huckleberry Mine.
The Cheslatta Carrier First Nation, Nee-Tahi-Buhn Band, Skin Tyee Nation and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation all signed onto the revenue sharing agreement.
In his welcoming comments, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said he was proud of the community’s ability to host Minerals North and vowed to complete a hotel study to remedy the lack of accommodations that forced some delegates to be bussed in from Prince George.
Thiessen also made special mention of Kathy LaForge, who is battling cancer. Thiessen said LaForge, who worked for the District office before moving over to work for New Gold as its community manager, was integral in Vanderhoof hosting Minerals North.
“Kathy is getting better … I wish she was here today. She’s been a huge asset to our community.”
Thiessen also told delegates that mining will be a golden opportunity for Vanderhoof.
“We’re really excited. We’ve been known as an agricultural community but [mining] gives us diversity … a freshness for our community,” he said.
“I’m really excited to see where our community will be in the next five years.”
Minerals North 2014 was hailed a success by chairman Brian Frankel, who made special mention of the Vanderhoof committee.
“I’d like to thank each member of the organizational team for the dedication and hard work. You are truly our town’s greatest asset,” he said.