British Columbia had record spending on mineral exploration in 2022 and there are eight new mines or mine expansions in the queue, Premier David Eby said Monday at the opening of the Association of Mineral Exploration (AME) Roundup conference in Vancouver.
Eby said there was $740 million spent in mineral exploration in B.C. in 2022 – a record – and mineral production in B.C. is also expected to be a record: $18.2 billion.
That's a $4.3 billion increase over 2021. That increase in value over 2021 was largely due to high metallurgical coal prices, said Gordon Clarke of the BC Geological Survey's development office. Steelmaking coal prices hit a high of US$670 per tonne last year, and remains relatively high at close to US$300 per tonne.
B.C. has seven operating metallurgical coal mines.
Eby said there was an 84% increase in copper exploration in 2022, much of that concentrated in northwest B.C. in the so-called Golden Triangle.
Copper is among the critical minerals identified in Canada’s new federal Critical Minerals Strategy as key to both the digital economy and the energy transition, and it's one mineral B.C. has in relative abundance. B.C. is Canada's biggest copper producer.
Jonathan Price, new CEO for Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B), which operates the Highland Valley Copper mine, said the estimated global demand for copper will grow by 4.7 million tonnes by 2030, thanks to the increased demand from the energy transition and greater urbanization.
"To put that into perspective, Teck's Highland Valley Copper mine here in B.C. is Canada's largest copper mine," Price said. "Four-point-seven million tonnes would be the equivalent of building another 35 Highland Valley Copper mines in just seven years."
But it can take a decade or two to take a new mine from discovery to production. Eby said a commitment he has made to speed up permitting for housing should also speed things up for resource industries like exploration and mining as well.
“For decades, our province has had a slow and complicated permitting process system,” Eby said.
The province is investing in new staff to work in permitting and to streamline the system.
“I want you to know these same investments have impacts on your industry as well,” Eby said.
Eby also said he has asked his new energy and mines minister, Josie Osborne, to expedite a provincial critical minerals strategy.
Eby warned that the political landscape is changing, as a result of government commitments to reconciliation with First Nations. For one thing, the Mineral Tenure Act is likely going to have to be amended as a result of what Eby called “a very serious legal challenge” by First Nations.
First Nations pressing for changes to the act want to be notified when anyone files a mineral claim in their traditional territory. That has created some concerns for prospectors who consider mineral claims a form of intellectual property, and therefore like to keep claims secret.
“I want to assure you that our government is committed to finding a way forward to address this issue,” Eby said. “We will be engaging with you as an industry to make sure that the regime works for you. But we will also be doing it in partnership with First Nations in our province.”
The NDP government has recently struck agreements with First Nations that essentially make them co-regulators. A consent based decision making framework developed with the Tahltan First Nation last year is one example. Expect to see more such agreements going forward, Eby said.
He urged prospectors and exploration companies to work with First Nations to gain their consent when doing exploration and prospecting in their traditional territories.
“The very first contact that nations have around economic development or a particular proposal in their community is your industry,” Eby said. “You set the tone. So if it’s a constructive and collaborative tone at the beginning, that leads to greater success down the road with mine development.”