Vancouver - British Columbia's new premiere, Christy Clark, unveiled a new jobs plan for the province on Sept. 22. Long on rhetoric and short on details, the plan is titled, "Canada Starts Here," a coy reference to how B.C. is both Canada's westernmost province and potentially the best when it comes to creating and keeping jobs throughout Canada.
Pushing aside the province's dismal record of facilitating the development of new mines in B.C. over the past 20 years, Clark's plan emphatically states: "The Province is committed to eight new mines and the expansion of another nine mines currently operating in British Columbia by 2015. This growth is anticipated to generate an increase of $1.6 billion of additional revenue per year to government once these projects are fully operational. This will also create approximately 1,800 new and sustain more than 5,000 direct-mining jobs in the province."
But which projects are the chosen 8? A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Energy & Mines would not disclose their names or locations, and acknowledged there were no binding agreements in place for the mines to be built by 2015 or at all. "New and expanding mining projects are lead by private [sector] companies that have confidentially agreements in place which preclude us from releasing information until companies have had a chance to publicly release their plans," stated the spokesperson in an e-mail to The Northern Miner.
Gavin Dirom, president of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia, told The Miner in a recent telephone interview he was pleased with the jobs plan announcement and the focus it puts on B.C.'s mining industry. "We know in the industry that there are upwards of 20 advanced projects in the pipeline; the majority of new [mining] projects in Canada are located in B.C., we know that and we've all been talking about that for quite some time. Which are the immediate 8 that are going to go forward in short order? Well, that's a little bit tricky of course."
The provincial government provided only a few other details about what it plans to do to advance mining interests in the province. It has agreed to spend an extra $24 million over the next year to reduce the major backlog of applications for permits and approvals in the natural resource sector. After the backlog is reduced, the target for turnaround on new notices of work will be 60 days. A Major Investments Office will also be created to "work with investors proposing significant projects in B.C. to co-ordinate and accelerate government's activities to support them," as will a new BC Jobs and Investment Board with a similar mandate to "promote economic development by promoting investment opportunities." Lastly, the jobs plan further allows for the creation of an Aboriginal Business and Investment Council, which will "enhance Aboriginal people's capacity for economic participation, transcend traditional Aboriginal and industry silos in project planning and development and provide investors with the tools they need to engage and partner with B.C. First Nations."
Still, the planned construction of 8 new mines and the expansion of 9 others seemingly have more to do with higher metals prices than another set of government-backed boards, offices and councils. This, combined with the highly anticipated construction of the Northwest Transmission Line, likely accounts for most of Clark's lofty promise of eight new mines to be built in B.C. over the next four years. To help put things in perspective, when Copper Mountain Mining (cum-t) reopened its Copper Mountain mine near Princeton in August, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Rich Coleman, noted that the last major metals mine in B.C. opened in 1998.
Though not directly included in the jobs plan, the province announced in September it had selected contractors to start construction of the Northwest Transmission Line shortly. The $404-million project will extend power 344 km north from the existing Skeena substation just south of Terrace to a new substation near Bob Quinn Lake. The federal government has agreed to chip in approximately $130 million for the transmission line, which is expected to be in service by December 2013.
And while the government has been quiet so far about which companies it might help fast-track to development, there are some clues, like a map drawn by B.C.'s Ministry of Energy and Mines entitled, "Operating Mines and Mine Development Projects in British Columbia 2011."
The map lists five mining projects which are already fully permitted, including Thompson Creek Metals' (tcm-t, tc-n) Mount Milligan open-pit copper-gold project 150 km northwest of Prince George, scheduled to begin operations in 2013. The others are: New Gold's (ngd-t, ngd-n) New Afton underground gold-copper mine near Kamloops, currently under construction and expected to begin operations in mid-2012 with annual production of 85,000 oz. gold and 75 million lbs. copper; Polaris Minerals' (pls-t) Eagle Rock project, a proposed granite quarry about 15 km south of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island in which local First Nations groups own a 30% interest (Polaris has not yet started construction and needs to raise significant funds to do so; it had negative $2.7 million in working capital as of June 30); Chieftain Metals' (cfb-t) Tulsequah Chief polymetallic project in Northern BC near Atlin, which last saw production in the 1950s and for which a feasibility study was completed in 2007 (the company is now revamping the study using higher metals prices and hopes to make a construction decision next year); and lastly, Adanac's (aua-v) Ruby Creek open-pit molybdenum project, also near Atlin in Northern BC, which has been stuck on stand-by mode since the company entered bankruptcy protection in 2008. (Adanac started construction of the mine in late 2007 but hit hard times during the financial crisis; it emerged from creditor protection in February 2011 after a 1:150 share rollback.)
Three other mining projects are in the Mines Act permitting process, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines. The most advanced of the three is Imperial Metals' (iii-t) Red Chris copper-gold project, located 80 km south of Dease Lake in northwest B.C. Imperial is looking to build a 30,000-tonne-per-day open-pit mine there by early 2014, after bringing power another 120 km north of the Northwest Transmission Line to its proposed mill site. Provincial and federal environmental approvals for the project have been received, and the final Mines Act permitting is now underway. The others are Barkerville Gold Mines' (bgm-v) small Cariboo Gold Quartz gold project near Queznel and Huldra Silver's (hda-v) Treasure Mountain underground silver project near Hope.
Twelve other projects are currently going through the environmental certification process while 13 more have applications that are being compiled, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Energy and Mines. The province has 10 metal mines, 10 coal mines and 36 industrial mineral mines currently in production.
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