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Mining industry sees gold with Clark's plan to speed up approvals
Published Sunday, September 25, 2011 12:38PM PDT
There's gold in them thar hills -- and copper and coal -- and Premier Christy Clark wants to help industry dig in.
But environmentalists are already voicing concerns about the pitfalls of her government moving towards open-door mining policies.
Clark's $300-million jobs plan, which she introduced last week after a provincewide tour, includes promises of eight new B.C. mines by 2015 and nine upgrades to existing mining operations.
She didn't name any of the new mines, but spoke glowingly of the economic rewards and family-supporting jobs mines bring to B.C. communities, citing the recently reopened Copper Mountain copper mine at Princeton in the B.C. Interior.
"We need more Princetons," said Clark about the mine that now employs 10 per cent of the community's workers.
But Sierra Club spokeswoman Susan Howatt said environmental groups and some residents living near mine proposals fear Clark's plans to open more mines could result in looser approval standards.
She said the Sierra Club is concerned Clark didn't provide any information about the locations of the eight new mines or what they will be mining.
"We're not really well designed to be bringing along a lot of new mines on line without watching for the bigger picture of what it will mean for communities and what it will mean for our environment," said Howatt.
"We have a Mineral Tenure Act that dates back to the Gold Rush."
The mining industry agrees the standards are antiquated. It wants changes to speed approval processes, not bog them down.
Clark's jobs plan, which focuses on chasing new markets in Asia and cutting business red tape to allow entrepreneurs to create jobs, was music to the ears of mining companies.
"Attracting global investment, building capacity and reducing red tape during economically challenging times," was the title of the brief the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia recently submitted to the government's select standing committee on finance.
The association, which represents the mining industry and mining professionals, said B.C.'s mining approval process does not give the province a competitive edge.
"Today, even with soaring commodity prices, favourable geology, highly qualified people and a number of positive policy measures introduced by government since 2001, B.C. is being out-competed for mineral exploration and development investment by most other Canadian mining jurisdictions, not to mention, internationally," said the association's Sept. 15 submission.
The mineral exploration association said that in 2006, Natural Resource Canada statistics showed B.C. and Ontario were tied at 18 per cent each for mineral exploration investment, but that has now changed, with B.C. now at 15.5 per cent and Ontario at 29.4 per cent.
The association said the reasons for B.C.'s decline in mineral exploration investments were: "permitting challenges, uncertainty of mineral tenure and weak investor confidence in B.C."
The association said mining contributes $7 billion annually to the B.C. economy, supports 14,000 direct jobs and 35 indirect jobs.
It said there are 20 major mines in the province, 30 industrial mineral producers and two smelters. There are nine mine projects in major development or near completion stages and 18 mines in the early stages for environmental assessment.
A spokesman for Vancouver's NovaGold Resources Inc. (TSX:NG) said while he supports efforts to speed up approvals, even the premier's fast-tracking can't ensure the proposed $5.2 billion joint venture with Teck Resources Ltd.(TSX: TCK.A and TCK.B) at Galore Creek in northwest B.C. will be running by 2015.
Greg Martin, NovaGold's vice president, said Galore Creek is destined to become the largest mine in B.C., but it may only be under construction by 2015.
Company officials will decide by year's end whether or not to submit the copper and gold mining operation for further feasibility studies and ultimately submit to governments for environmental approval, he said.
"(The B.C. government's) commitment to work with the companies to reduce some of the permitting timelines and some of the backlog, obviously we see that as quite positive for the industry," said Martin.
"Better co-operation between the provincial and federal authorities through the process to compress some of the timeline would be a positive step forward for any of the mining companies that are in the permitting process."
The government would not name any of the planned eight new mines, releasing, instead, a statement from the Energy and Mines Ministry.
"New and expanding mining projects are led by private companies that have confidentiality agreements in place which preclude us from releasing information until companies have had a chance to publicly release their plans," the ministry statement said.
Howatt said the Sierra Club is concerned that one of the eight mines the government plans to open is the controversial Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) New Prosperity copper mine near Williams Lake, which was halted earlier by the federal government but is back in the environmental approval process.
The Prosperity project was killed by Ottawa last year after a negative environmental assessment of the plan that would have turned Fish Lake into a tailings pond.
The company has since reworked its design to save the lake.
The revised plan adds $300 million in capital and operating costs to the proposed mine, which was previously expected to cost about $800 million.
The company has estimated that the project would create 700 construction jobs for two years and 550 direct jobs and 1,280 indirect jobs over its 20 year operating life.
But Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet'in has criticized the revised bid, saying it is not an improvement.
Another potential controversial mine proposal on the radar of environmental groups is an open pit coal mine near Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island called the Compliance Coal Corp.'s Raven Mine.
Environmentalists say the project threatens the Comox Valley's valuable and sensitive shellfish industry and could turn the pastoral and tourism friendly area into the equivalent of a coal mining mini-Appalachia even though Island communities -- Ladysmith, Nanaimo and Cumberland -- were once coal mining hubs.