The first day of the Association for Mineral Exploration’s (AME) Remote Roundup featured a government industry forum that brought together industry experts from across Canada and, for the first time, overseas, to discuss unlocking the potential of metals critical to the economy and a greener future and the challenges of permitting and engagement with First Nations.
Moderated by Kendra Johnston, the AME’s president and CEO, the panel featured Fazil Mihlar, B.C.’s Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, Rohan Cobcroft, director at the Department for Energy and Mining, South Australia, and Ben Wither, general manager at Newcrest Red Chris Mining.
“Mining is inherently a risky activity, and the word risk comes from the Italian phrase ‘rischiare,’ which means ‘to dare,’” Deputy Minister Mihlar said. “Miners need to dare if they are going to succeed because that’s the only way a mining project gets done over a period of 10 to 15 years.”
Mining activities in B.C. employ around 30,000 people and generate around $9 billion in production value, he noted, and to support investments in new projects and drive investment in exploration, the B.C. government has made several targeted investments. It has also made permanent the mining flow-through share tax credit and the B.C. mining exploration credit.
Mihlar also drew attention to the ministry’s name change, which now reflects the provincial government’s focus on providing the base metals that the world needs to power the green economy.
He also noted that the government in B.C. allows companies to switch from using fossil fuels to hydroelectricity by providing a 20% lower industrial rate over five years, which, he said, supports the economic case for switching to hydroelectricity.
The government has also eliminated the northwest transmission line’s tariff, which reduces the cost for companies to connect to the electricity grid, he said.
Joining the discussion from Adelaide in Australia, Cobcroft from the Department for Energy and Mining, South Australia said the state was a leader in clean energy technologies that require an abundance of copper and specialty minerals.
“South Australia has in place an energy and mining strategy that sets out our road map to achieve ambitious targets for the supply of critical minerals for the renewable energy technology sector,” he said.
He noted that the state is a significant exporter of copper, iron ore, lead, zircon, and uranium, and has set targets to grow these exports from A$5 billion to A$8 billion (US$3.8 billion to US$6.2 billion) over the next few years and to A$13 billion (US$10 billion) by 2030. He said South Australia also recognises the exploration industry’s foundational role in expanding the energy and mining sector and supply chain, which is a vital part of the state’s economic recovery and future growth.
South Australia is uniquely placed to be a catalyst for the transition to a low-carbon global economy, with mining companies operating there among some of the most sustainably managed and innovative in the world, he said. Around 200 mining and exploration operations are active in the state with more than 700 exploration licenses covering multiple commodities.
Newcrest Red Chris Mining’s Wither said that the company, a joint venture between Imperial Metals (TSX: III) and Newcrest Mining (TSX: NCM; ASX: NCM), is leveraging Newcrest’s global experience to conduct “smarter and faster exploration” at its Red Chris gold and copper project in B.C., 1,700 km north of Vancouver.
“Since taking over Red Chris in August 2019, we’ve invested heavily in the camp’s facilities and implemented our safety transformation program, critical control program, and process safety program,” he said.
The company is also implementing Newcrest’s Edge program to transform the current operations at Red Chris by applying its mining technologies, processing technologies, and approach to tailings management at the project.
AME’s Johnston noted that both B.C. and South Australia are considered centres of excellence for mining, noting that permitting is one of the issues that makes a jurisdiction competitive.
Mihlar said that the B.C. government had undertaken a process to better coordinate government ministries to create a much more streamlined permitting process.
“Because you will never have all the information to make a perfect decision, we are now using a risk-based approach to making decisions,” he said. “We are currently wrapping our heads around the process to make better decisions and incrementally reduce the amount of time submissions take to be processed.”
Mihlar added that the government is also looking to increase its capacity to better facilitate consultation with First Nations during permitting.
The South Australia government, Cobcroft said, has recently undertaken an extensive review of its permitting process, including consultation with the mining industry, indigenous communities, and the farming sector.
He said the review aims to simplify the permitting process and provide the exploration industry with security around tenure and provide a clear pathway to transition from an exploration licence to a mining operation.
“We’re reinforcing our online systems and simplifying our submission processes to prevent delays for companies and provide a one-stop-shop for companies looking to explore in South Australia,” he said. “It’s about streamlining the process and making the system clearer and more transparent for mineral explorers.”
The state, he noted, is also providing enhanced guidelines around the social impacts that also form an integral part of the permitting process.
Commenting on the relations between the First Nations and mining operations in B.C., Mihlar said that the consultation process is moving away from a transaction-based approach to more of a partnership-based relationship. Noting that this collaborative approach is providing better permitting outcomes in terms of working with the First Nations.
Early and often engagement with First Nation partners is also key to a successful partnership, he noted.
Wither also recognised that the move away from a transactional approach is paying off, noting that the company’s relationship with the local Tahltan Nation at Red Chris in B.C. had allowed it to develop a more open and transparent relationship based on trust and certainty.