Roundup 2013: BC’s mining and exploration scene in 2012

VANCOUVER – To kick off a conference celebrating exploration and mining in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska, the first morning at Roundup 2013 was dedicated to overviews of all things geological in those three regions. And while...

VANCOUVER – To kick off a conference celebrating exploration and mining in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska, the first morning at Roundup 2013 was dedicated to overviews of all things geological in those three regions. And while the details differed, all three speakers bore a similar message: 2012 could not meet the high bar set in 2011, when exploration dollars spent and claims staked both hit records highs, but it was a good year nonetheless.

Bruce Madu, director of the Mineral Development Office within BC’s Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Resources, started things off with a sprint through his province’s year in minerals.

British Columbia remains Canada’s largest producer of copper, the country’s only producer of molybdenum, and its largest exporter of coal. Mineral and coal production was down slightly relative to 2011, but the total value of mine production still came in at $7.4 billion. Coal contributes roughly two-thirds of that value, while copper contributes approximately one-sixth.

Twelve mines are in production in the province, ranging from large operations like Teck Resources' Highland Valley copper-moly mine to seasonal producers that exploit small, high grade resources. One mine was added to the roster over the year: the New Afton gold-copper mine entered production in June. It is still ramping up to its full capacity of 11,000 tonnes per day, but even in start-up it is notable for its use of block caving to mine a large, deep resource. Other BC projects with high grade resources at depth are watching New Afton with interest.

The roster is set to expand again soon, as two mines are under construction in British Columbia: Thompson Creek Metals is building the Mt Milligan copper-gold mine near Prince George and Imperial Metals is developing the copper-gold Red Chris mine near Dease Lake.

Seventeen other projects worked through various parts of the mine evaluation process, including two projects that saw some of the biggest exploration programs in the country in 2012. Almost 70 earlier stage projects saw exploration programs of some sort.

Unfortunately, at the other end of the scale lots of juniors were unable to access funding in 2012 because of the depressed equity markets, so many small or early stage projects sat unattended through the year.

The exploration program at New Gold’s Blackwater project was the largest in the province – in fact, Madu thinks it may have been the largest program in the world, with 236,600 metres of drilling in more than 800 holes. Those holes confirmed the continuity of mineralization in the main zone, extended that zone to the north, and identified a new silver zone to the northwest. New Gold completed a preliminary economic assessment of the project in September based on a 60,000-t/d open pit mine, which means the company can now start the permitting process.

The province’s second largest exploration program took place not far away, at Pretium Resources’ Brucejack gold-silver project. More than 100,000 metres of drilling increased Pretium’s confidence in the resource at Brucejack, especially since 41 intercepts returned grades better than 1,000 g/t Au. In 2013 the company aims to complete a feasibility study and take an underground bulk sample.

As for the dozens of smaller exploration efforts in British Columbia in 2012, here are a few highlights.

At the Ootsa project Gold Reach Resources completed 45,000 metres of drilling and hit into some very prospective geology, promoting Madu to describe the project as “a great geographic play.”

Galore Creek, the massive project joint ventured between Teck Resources and NovaGold Resources, saw a very large drilling campaign in 2012. NovaGold is actively seeking a buyer for its 50% stake in the property.

Seabridge Gold and Pretium Resources are investigating their options to combine their adjacent KSM and Snowfield projects. Manu said he wouldn’t be surprised to see some “significant shifts in terms of development and resources at those projects” in the coming year.

Spanish Mountain Gold advanced its namesake project, which is the first recognized occurrence of a sediment hosted gold deposit in British Columbia. A PEA of the project’s 3.2 million measured and indicated ounces and 3.7 million inferred ounces produced positive results.

It was a good year for polymetallic projects in the province, with four mines working through the mine evaluation process. One is at Harper Creek, where Yellowhead Mining completed a feasibility study contemplating a 70,000-t/d operation; another is Imperial Metal’s Ruddock Creek zinc-lead project, where a PEA is expected soon.

And on the nickel front, First Point Minerals advanced its Wale, Orca, and Decar project, the latter of which is a joint venture with Cliffs Natural Resources. First Point focuses on a particular nickel-iron alloy that can be mechanically separated, eliminating the need for smelting.

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