BC unveils Critical Minerals Strategy 1.0
Phase one focuses on geoscience, First Nations, ESG tracking; mining groups say strategy falls short on fiscal, regulatory front North of 60 Mining News - February 2, 2024
Last updated 2/22/2024 at 1:41pm
As a mineral-rich Canadian province and a top global hub for mineral exploration and mining, British Columbia has the geology and technical expertise to be a global powerhouse when it comes to supplying the minerals and metals needed for the clean energy transition. Canada's westernmost province, however, has been lagging many of its mining peers when it comes to a cohesive strategy to take full advantage of the generational opportunity on its doorstep.
The provincial government took its first step toward filling in that missing piece with the first phase of a new made-in-BC Critical Mineral Strategy unveiled by Premier David Eby at AME Roundup 2024, an annual mining conference that draws thousands to Vancouver, B.C. each January.
"The world needs a stable, free, democratic, high-standard producer of the metals and minerals needed to battle climate change. That gives B.C. a generational opportunity to seize, one where we can be prosperous and protect the planet for our kids at the same time," said Eby upon introducing the critical minerals strategy.
Some of the key initiatives included in the initial phase of the BC Critical Mineral Strategy are:
• Establishment of a new BC Minerals Project Advancement Office to expedite critical mineral projects and maximize federal funding opportunities.
• Creating a BC critical minerals atlas that remains updated with world-class geoscience data to support mineral exploration and land-use planning.
• Aligning provincial and First Nations Energy and Mining Council critical minerals strategies and continuing to engage with BC First Nations.
• Working in partnership with First Nations and industry to identify and advance infrastructure projects essential to critical minerals development.
• Establishing a new BC Energy and Mines Digital Trust project that ensures the highest ESG standards and empowers B.C. mining companies to be more transparent about where and how their products are made.
"As the economy transitions to clean energy, B.C. and the world are going to need critical minerals to build electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, and more," said BC Minister of Energy Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Josie Osborne. "With rich mineral deposits, BC has a generational opportunity to drive growth and create new jobs for people across the entire value chain of critical minerals, from mining to manufacturing to recycling."
While BC's mining sector welcomed the new critical minerals strategy, some said the initial phase does not go far enough when it comes to making the critical minerals enriched province competitive with other mining jurisdictions in Canada and around the world.
"To unlock BC's critical minerals potential, the province needs competitive fiscal and regulatory policies to attract and retain investment in our sector," said Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC) President and CEO Michael Goehring. "BC's mines and smelters operate in a high-cost environment due to complex resource geology and challenging geography."
A generational opportunity
Mining is already an important sector of BC's economy, employing more than 35,000 people and contributing C$7.3 billion (US$5.4 billion) to the provincial gross domestic product. During his presentation at Roundup, Eby said roughly C$643.5 million (US$478 million) was invested in mineral exploration in BC during 2023, and the value of metals mined in the province last year is expected to top C$15.9 billion (US$11. 8 billion).
As impressive as these numbers are, a group of critical mineral projects in the advanced exploration to development stage could significantly increase mining's contribution to BC's economy.
An economic impact analysis prepared for the Mining Association of British Columbia estimates that 14 critical minerals mine projects and two mine extensions in BC could generate nearly C$800 billion (US$594 billion) in wages, taxes, and other economic benefits over the span of a little more than two decades.
The 16 mine projects examined in the study would produce copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, silver, and other metals considered critical to both Canada and the United States.
These mined materials are essential to electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, and the energy infrastructure needed for a low-carbon economy.
The International Energy Agency calculates that the global demand for critical minerals will increase sixfold by 2040.
"This is a generational opportunity which must be seized and could position BC as a leading global supplier of responsibly produced critical minerals," said Goehring.
Seizing the opportunity would provide a significant economic boost to the province and its people over the coming three decades.
The economic impacts would be felt as soon as construction begins. It is estimated that the average mine project evaluated in the economic study would cost C$2.3 billion (US$1.7 billion) to build. Over the roughly three-year development phase, the average mine analyzed in the study would pay roughly C$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) in wages and $680 million (US$505 million) in tax revenue.
The cumulative annual economic impacts of developing all 16 critical mineral mine projects outlined in the study are estimated to be:
• C$36.5 billion (US$27.1 billion) of total investment in development and construction.
• C$23.6 billion (US$17.5 billion) in wages for direct, indirect, and induced jobs.
• C$38.3 billion (US$28.5 billion) contribution to GDP.
• C$10.9 billion (US$8.1 billion) in tax revenues at all levels of government.
The economic benefits of the mines built would continue for about another 24 years after the development is complete, based on the average life span for each of the mines outlined in the study. While each operation would have its own labor needs and production profile, the average mine evaluated would pay an estimated C$11.5 billion (US$8.5 billion) in wages and generate C$9.6 billion (US$7.1 billion) in tax revenue for all levels of government.
If all 16 critical mineral mine projects reach commercial production, the cumulative impact over the lives of all the mines is estimated to be:
• C$791.7 billion (US$588.1 billion) of economic output.
• C$183.8 billion (US$136.5 billion) in wages for direct, indirect, and induced jobs.
• C$398.3 billion (US$295.9 billion) of GDP.
• C$154.5 billion (US$114.8 billion) in tax revenues at all levels of government.
The study estimates that more than 80% of the economic benefits from these critical mineral projects would stay in BC.
With 11 out of 16 of these projects located in the northern half of BC, the economic boost could be especially beneficial to the communities and First Nations in this rural region of the province.
"The proposed critical mineral projects also create genuine opportunities for First Nations partnerships to advance economic reconciliation, prosperity, and self-determination," said Goehring.
The Tahltan and Nisga'a First Nation, whose traditional territories cover much of Northern BC, have already positioned themselves to minimize negative impacts and maximize economic benefits from mining in their regions.
"The realization of benefits from these critical mineral projects is dependent on BC having competitive fiscal and regulatory policies that will attract the investment necessary to grow and sustain the sector," the MABC CEO added in a statement leading up to the release of the first phase of the BC Critical Mineral Strategy.
Phase one addresses barriers
Phase one of the BC Critical Mineral Strategy, however, did not include the regulatory or financial incentives the mining industry had hoped for. Instead, the provincial government focused on leveraging federal funding for critical mineral projects, assessing infrastructure needs, ensuring First Nations are involved in the decision-making, and promoting the ESG advantages of critical minerals mined and processed in BC.
Provincial officials say the 11 action items included in the strategy introduced at Roundup begin to address the barriers to critical mineral project development while also aligning with provincial commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The government's commitment to UNDRIP is expected to be key to any successful critical mineral strategy in BC.
"A BC Critical Minerals Strategy will align with a soon-to-be announced First Nations Critical Minerals Strategy, which is grounded in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the rights holders' requirement of free, prior and informed consent on mineral exploration and mining," said Robert Phillips, an executive for the First Nations Summit in BC.
The commitment to UNDRIP, and aligning with First Nations, will help bolster the social aspect of the BC ESG advantage being promoted by the provincial government during the first phase of the critical mineral strategy.
The BC Energy and Mines Digital Trust (EMDT) project is another key aspect of the provincial promotion of BC's ESG advantages when it comes to supplying critical minerals.
To accomplish this, EMDT offers a digital platform that will allow mining companies with operations in BC to demonstrate that their products meet the highest global standards, which is expected to raise awareness of the ESG strengths and traceability of BC critical minerals.
If widely adopted, the BC government believes this technology could improve regulatory efficiency and transparency while also leading to new market opportunities for the province's natural resource industry.
"The BC government's efforts to embed trust and security in data, exchanged along critical raw material supply chains using government issued digital credentials, will increase transparency in a key sector for the green economy transition," said Elisabeth Türk, director of economic cooperation and trade at the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Awaiting further details
While many involved in BC mining believe the first phase of the provincial critical mineral strategy is a good start, trade groups like MABC and AME say it does not go far enough to make the province's mining sector competitive with leading Canadian mining jurisdictions like Ontario and Quebec.
"While the Mining Association of BC supports the direction of phase one of the BC government's new Critical Mineral Strategy, our sector is concerned the strategy is missing a foundational element: competitive fiscal policy," said Goehring.
Some of these concerns may be addressed as the rest of the strategy unfolds.
Moving forward, the provincial government says it will assess the need for targeted incentive programs that can drive further critical mineral investment throughout, encourage production, and maintain competitiveness.
Provincial officials say this work will identify barriers to attracting investment and inform the steps needed to mitigate those barriers, including potential fiscal measures.
"We appreciate the government's acknowledgment that more action is required to facilitate the development of new critical mineral projects; in particular, it is imperative that greater emphasis is placed on competitiveness and the fiscal and regulatory policies that will attract investment in mineral exploration and mine development," said Association of Mineral Exploration President and CEO Keerit Jutla. "We eagerly await further details."
"In the meantime, our members will work closely with the Critical Minerals Project Advancement Office to continue advocating for additional support on permitting and regulatory processes and guidance on collaboration with First Nations," he added.
Digging into mine tailings
The BC government and mining sector are aligned when it comes to exploring one potential source of critical minerals in the province – mine tailings.
A new Geoscience B.C collaborative program that was also introduced at the AME Roundup will support a province-wide study to identify potential economically extracted concentrations of critical minerals in mine tailings and waste rock.
"This Geoscience BC-led innovation will encourage collaboration and progress critical mineral and metal investment and exploration in British Columbia," said Geoscience BC Vice President of Minerals Christa Pellett.
Numerous minerals that are now critical to high-tech devices and clean energy applications had little to no previous use or value and were, therefore, not targeted for recovery. Instead, these now valuable commodities were discarded with the rest of the tailings.
These potential byproduct critical minerals include tellurium found in gold deposits, rhenium and cobalt with copper, and gallium and germanium with zinc.
To begin understanding the critical minerals potential within existing tailing storage facilities and mining waste rock piles, Geoscience BC will collate and analyze existing information from current and historic mining operations to identify sites for future laboratory and fieldwork studies.
"This research is important and can help position British Columbia as a leading global supplier of responsibly produced critical minerals and metals," said Goehring. "I encourage industry partners and stakeholders to get involved in this project."
New Gold Inc., which operates the New Afton gold-silver mine in BC, and Arca Climate, a Vancouver-based tech company focused on carbon capture and alternative sources of critical minerals, have already joined the Geoscience BC initiative.
"In BC we have a unique opportunity to reimagine waste as a resource, to tap new sources of value and deliver low-carbon critical metals to global markets," said Greg Dipple, head of science and cofounder of Arca Climate. "We are excited to be supporting this innovative project with Geoscience BC."