The COVID-19 pandemic was a curveball and its impact will be felt for the foreseeable future. Faced with an unrelenting surge of new COVID-19 cases in late November, the new B.C. government is faced with a lot of hard questions: how can we financially support a continued strong response? What does our economic recovery look like? Are we able to look past recovery to innovate and move toward a greener future?
For every challenge this global pandemic has created, there are just as many opportunities to lead through the change, which is the theme of this January’s AME Remote Roundup conference. Now more than ever, it is critical our mineral exploration sector remains globally competitive.
This past year proved something we in the mineral exploration industry already knew: mineral exploration is a resilient and essential industry. While other sectors saw lockdowns and layoffs, exploration projects proceeded with relative ease because the very essence of mineral exploration is remote and physically distant. Health and safety are paramount at every exploration camp, so pandemic protocols became just another important layer in protecting everyone’s health and safety in the field.
Discovery and the development of mineral and metal projects are essential to supporting the supply of critical materials needed for everyday life, helping us stay healthy and connected. For example, copper – a mineral found in abundance in B.C. – is being used to reduce unwanted microbes on surfaces. Scientific studies have found that the COVID-19 virus survives for less than four hours on copper surfaces, compared to up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. As a result, copper-coated handrails are becoming increasingly prevalent. Vancouver General Hospital installed copper-infused countertops and Teck recently conducted a copper surface pilot project with TransLink, installing copper surfaces at high-touch points on board SkyTrains and buses. Furthermore, as governments and the public place emphasis on a greener future, copper will play a more significant role. A low-carbon future with electric vehicles and green power makes copper an increasingly more important critical metal.
Copper and gold have been the most important metals for B.C. throughout the past century and they continue to be today. Now is absolutely our time to realize the immense opportunity to support a prosperous future by actively exploring in all corners of this well-endowed province, welcome innovative and sustainable development and deliver to meet local and global demand.
In 2020, copper hit a seven-year high, rising roughly 25% in the first leg of a bull market that could carry prices to record highs. It was boosted by supply disruptions and hopes for a wave of “green” economic stimulus. Gold investment vehicles also experienced robust inflows over the year as a safe haven asset. After years of gold explorers struggling to raise capital, B.C. explorers are now poised to benefit on the renewed interest in gold by investors.
These companies are raising capital from around the world, to spend in our province. B.C. mineral explorers have raised nearly $350 million in 2020 – one of the highest years on record in real dollars raised for mineral exploration. Almost all of this is being spent within the province, employing people in labs, accounting, legal and engineering firms, and in various local service and supply companies in all regions of the province, benefiting the economies of all 215 local communities throughout B.C.
B.C. is a centre of excellence for mineral exploration. And we’re looking forward to working closely with Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, Bruce Ralston and the government led by Premier John Horgan. In particular, we look forward to working collaboratively to achieve our objectives for Budget 2021, including: fiscal incentives; creating an investment fund with a mandate of investing in homegrown mineral exploration companies that are operating in B.C.; funding for public geoscience, and; encouraging a regulatory regime that safely expedites the issuance of permits for low-impact exploration. We are also eager to facilitate conversations between government officials and the mineral exploration industry at our upcoming Remote Roundup conference this January, where we will set the mining trends for the year ahead.
Our must-attend conference, happening January 18th to 22nd, is also leading through change. We’re presenting content in a virtual format that is relevant to the on-the-ground realities of today, delivered by high-calibre speakers, with engaging exhibitors and interactive short courses. We look forward to welcoming you, along with over 6,000 geoscientists, technical experts, prospectors, suppliers, governments and Indigenous partners from around the world. We’ll virtually gather to network, share knowledge, and stay on the forefront of the innovative advancements in mineral exploration that will define 2021.
Kendra Johnson is the president and CEO of the B.C.-based Association for Mineral Exploration (AME).