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BC explorers need reliable access to land to make discoveries


A forest in British Columbia. Credit: Paolo Neo/WikiCommons

A forest in British Columbia. Credit: Paolo Neo/WikiCommons

British Columbia’s mineral exploration and development industry will continue to make enormous contributions to our economic and social well-being, despite the current global downturn in commodity prices and lower investment levels. With a world-class cluster of technical, legal and financial expertise, the B.C.-based industry creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs and adds millions to government coffers each year through taxes that help to pay for our roads, schools and health care.

Lower market prices for critical commodities produced in B.C., such as steel-making coal and copper, have not stopped the exploration and development of new projects in our province. Since June 2011, for example, four mine projects have received environmental assessment certificates in B.C., and six mines have started production.

The companies behind these projects rely on venture capital from investors who believe not only in economic returns, but also the responsible practices and government support that have earned B.C. its reputation of being one of the best jurisdictions in the world in which to do business.

But discovering and developing mineral deposits requires reasonable access to large tracts of land with mineral development potential.

Unfortunately, this access has eroded at an alarming rate in recent years. B.C.’s hidden mineral resources belong to all citizens of the province, but access to substantive areas of mineral-rich land is being significantly and unfairly reduced by recent land-use designations and decisions.

Having a lack of land access severely hinders investment in geosciences and grass-roots exploration, which are critical to sustaining the industry and future generations.

Subsurface mineral resources in B.C. are owned and administered by the Crown and managed in the public’s socio-economic and strategic interest — i.e., for the greater good.

The problem today is that too much of the public’s mineral-rich lands are needlessly becoming restricted to explorers without properly assessing the lost opportunities and benefits. About 18% of B.C. is closed to mineral exploration and development through parks, protected areas and other designations. Another 33% is subject to significant and restrictive conditions on mineral exploration and development. The restrictions in many cases are unwarranted.

Despite what some would have you believe, temporary and low-impact mineral exploration activities do not typically pose a significant threat to the overall ecology of an area, and therefore should not be banned or unreasonably restricted.

It is possible to have a strong and active mineral exploration and development industry, and a sustainable, healthy environment where flora and fauna are respected and managed. Furthermore, environmental assessments and mine development review processes include having strong commitments to safety and the protection of the environment. And in practice and by regulation, every approved project in B.C. has a reclamation and closure plan, including financial assurances in the event of a company going bankrupt. Balance can, and should, be achieved.

To maximize the value and benefits of mineral lands to the public and for the future success of the industry, the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia urges the provincial government to safeguard the mineral-rich lands in B.C. for exploration.

This includes reaffirming B.C.’s two-zone land-use policy and the current science-based land-use plans clearly describe where exploration can take place. And just as land is continually being evaluated for closure or restrictive measures, re-evaluating land that is closed to exploration should also be carried out.

The province should also put in place clear and consistent procedures for consulting industry more widely when restrictions to land access or use by explorers are being considered.

As well, there needs to be a more formal recognition of the mineral exploration and development value of the land, along with the potential negative impacts and consequences of closing it off to exploration. These measures, among others, are fundamentally important not just to B.C.’s mineral exploration and development industry, but to all the citizens of B.C. and our shared economic growth, and prosperity for generations to come, regardless of where we are in the global market cycle.

— Gavin Dirom is president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia. Please visit www.amebc.ca for more information.

This article originally appeared in Jan. 25 issue of The Northern Miner.