A New Face
No one will argue that in the fairly recent past the mineral exploration and development sector in British Columbia went through the economic and political wringer. But, rather like the mythic Phoenix, the sector has risen from the ashes of those dark years and undergone some fundamental changes along the path to recovery.
Today, B.C. companies approach exploration and development programs with a new awareness of their social and environmental responsibilities. There is a solid core of relatively young exploration professionals who take a fresh approach to their work. As a result, more projects are entering the permitting process faster and meeting the criteria more smoothly. This article introduces the work being done by three such companies, based in Vancouver.
Western Keltic Mines is expertly guiding its Kutcho VMS project, east of Dease Lake, through the permitting process. A pre-feasibility study will be completed in late 2006, and the company has embarked on a bankable feasibility study, expected to be completed by the close of 2007. The mine would begin as an open pit operation, with the potential to go underground to access deeper deposits later on.
This property has a history of stop-and-go exploration dating back to 1968. The years of accumulated exploration programs have defined three copper-zinc massive sulphide deposits containing 850 million pounds of copper, 1.2 billion pounds of zinc and 20.2 million ounces of silver in measured, indicated and inferred resources.
The project is located in an area in which other high profile projects have drawn opposition from First Nations groups. The last thing the company wanted was to have Kutcho fall off the rails due to a failure on its part to adequately consult with local communities and First Nations.
To meet the need for an increasing commitment to First Nations and community consultation, the company recently added two permanent employees in the capacities of vice-president environmental & government affairs and manager of permitting. In addition, Western Keltic established an office in the nearby community and staffed it with a permanent employee as a presence in the community to answer questions, hold information sessions/ updates and discuss any emerging concerns. The technical development of the project is handled by a completely separate team of experts. This two-pronged approach to development recognizes that technical development takes different strengths than does community consultation.
“At Western Keltic our criteria for success include delivering solid financial performance for investors, and we think it is equally important to make a contribution to the local community, to solicit public input when planning our projects and to be proactive in responding to social and environmental concerns,” says John McConnell, president and CEO.
Great things emerge when there is a concentration of innovative, like-minded, team-oriented people. This is the philosophy behind Rimfire Minerals Corp., and the proof is in the reputation this young company has built since inception in 1999. The people who make up this company all share a similar approach to life, work and play. For example, Rimfire’s president and one of the founding partners, David Caulfield, does his scouting for personnel at the ice rink. As a regular at a drop-in hockey league open to all members of the exploration community, he watches how people conduct themselves during a game, looking for strong team players who show quick decision-making skills and who put in maximum effort regardless of their skill level.
Rimfire, which specializes in early stage precious metal exploration, is peopled by a relatively young group of exploration specialists. The average age of the technical team is 37, a fact that could lead some to assume that the company may lack the depth of experience required to develop a solid reputation. But this perception is unfounded, judging from the caliber of Rimfire’s past and present partners (Barrick Gold, AngloGold Ashanti, Newmont Mining and Northgate Minerals). Rimfire has assembled an exceptional portfolio of precious metals projects in the northern Cordilleran region of North America and an exceptional group of partners.
The company specializes in Western Canada and Alaska–regions they believe have the most prospective but least prospected ground. They also do not follow tried but tired exploration “scripts”. They engage in robust brainstorming sessions with each other and clients and then take those ideas to the field. This approach keeps the perspective fresh and vibrant. “We all eat lunch together, every day, and we throw ideas out, argue them and examine them,” says Jason Weber, manager, corporate communications. “We have derived some of our best exploration targets this way. We all work together so success comes to the team, not to the individual. Our people are our greatest asset,” he adds.
The Mount Milligan gold-copper deposit, northwest of Prince George, is on the verge of becoming the province’s newest mine and reflects the new face of mineral development in British Columbia. As Rob Pease, president and CEO of Terrane Metals Corp., says, “I am fully aware of what it takes to bring a project through the permitting process and all the attendant issues that go along with that process. Mt. Milligan will be as environmentally benign as any mine can be. We are completely committed to meeting all the environmental and design criteria, the project is in a region zoned for mine development, and we are building on the already existing good relations with the First Nations in the region.”
This project has an interesting background in that once before it was on the cusp of production but was dropped by then-owner Placer Dome due to low metal prices. Placer Dome did all the hard work–the drilling and engineering, met the permitting criteria, went through the land use processes and built positive relations with area First Nation–but Terrane is going to take the project to production.
The mine development certificate lapsed in 2003, so Terrane restarted the mine development certification process with the appropriate provincial and federal authorities. The feasibility study will be completed by the close of 2007. A key component of Terrane’s feasibility study will be completion of a revised, independent 43-101-compliant resource estimate. As part of the feasibility study, Terrane initiated a 16,200-m diamond drill program designed to upgrade inferred resources into the measured and indicated categories. Placer Dome calculated a measured and indicated resource totalling 205 million tonnes containing 3.7 million ounces of gold and 1.12 billion pounds of copper. “We have a very economically viable project that we hope will be in production by 2010,” says Pease.
Julie Domvile is a freelance writer based in Victoria, BC. She can be reached at [email protected]