KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Speaking at this year’s Kamloops Exploration Group (KEG) conference in Kamloops, B.C., the province’s Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett encouraged junior explorers to keep their chin up.
“I know it’s tough times right now for most of you,” he said at a dinner speech. “But look at what’s been achieved over the past five years and the improvements we’ve made. It makes for a real success story.”
According to Bennett, the opening of six mines across the province since 2011 showcases B.C. as a “pro-mining district,” backed by a growing infrastructure base and “top-notch” geoscience initiatives.
The new operations include Copper Mountain, New Afton, Mount Milligan, Bonanza Ledge, Yellow Giant and Red Chris. Bennett added that Pretium Resources’ (TSX: PVG; NYSE: PVG) Brucejack and JDS Silver’s Silvertip deposits may also have “shovels in the ground” by next year.
“All of this doesn’t happen by accident,” Bennett declared. “We have a ministry that’s committed to those who operate here, and we plan to continue with that support.”
To back his statement, the minister mentioned the $716-million Northwest Transmission Line that was energized last year. The 287-kilovolt line stretches 344 km north near Terrace towards a growing epicentre of giant porphyry copper-gold deposits.
“Some opponents said that it was a power line to nowhere. Well, it turns out that it’s a power line to a whole bunch of mines,” he added. “Red Chris wouldn’t have opened if it wasn’t for that, and KSM or Brucejack wouldn’t have the opportunity, either.”
The KEG conference has been attracting B.C. explorers into the province’s interior for over 28 years. Most say it’s the second most anticipated event of the year, next to the Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver.
“It’s an opportunity to connect with each other in a relaxed setting,” Colin Russell, president of KEG, said during an interview with The Northern Miner. “Especially in hard times like these it’s beneficial to meet new people, generate new ideas and have stimulating conversations. It’s moves us forward with more energy, and sustains us in the long run.”
Behind the scenes of the three-day event were many discussions over last year’s Supreme Court of Canada declaration of aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in. The decision marks the first time in Canadian history that a First Nation group has been awarded land title outside a reserve.
Many junior explorers questioned whether the decision would increase the uncertainty for gaining land access, and if it would deter investment in the province.
“The new mines are testament of a larger First Nation support for projects,” Bennett said. “There are anti-development groups anywhere you go, and it’s our responsibility to provide their share, and ensure we operate in ways that meet their traditional and ecological values. It’s just ethical business, and we should see it as an opportunity to educate the public on our activities, and get more people involved.”
He also emphasized his support for smaller companies with early stage exploration plays.
“Companies who are just poking a few holes in the ground struggle with funding their own projects, and just don’t have the capital to invest heavily in the local First Nations. There should be a distinction between small-scale projects and larger-scale ones, and that’s something I’ll be speaking to groups about this year.”
The minister also gave the nod to Geoscience BC for delivering quality data, which he referred to as a “major advantage” for companies exploring in B.C.
The non-profit, government-funded organization is involved with large-scale, multi-disciplinary projects aimed at attracting mineral and oil and gas investment. Since its inception a decade ago, Geoscience BC has executed 10 major projects, covering nearly half of B.C.’s landmass.
“Look at our policies: take a look at what we say and what we do.” Bennett added. “Even in the hard times we must keep our eye on the ball, keep doing what we’re doing and aim to do it even better.”
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