Austmine shares highlights from British Columbia mining mission

Austmine recently completed its first ever mining mission to British Columbia, Canada, a province rich with minerals ranging from high-quality met coal to copper and gold.

The aim of the mission was to establish new connections in the region and gain first-hand knowledge on the status of the local mining sector, including specific supply gaps, key challenges, regulations and market entry approaches.

The week started with a key site visit to the Copper Mountain project, a low grade, high tonnage open-pit conventional truck and shovel operation.

Copper Mountain is aiming to become a global mid-tier with the development of the Eva Mine in Queensland, meaning that building relationships now is important in accessing that project as well.

The delegation viewed operations from the observation deck and toured the maintenance workshop and mill. Some key points from Copper Mountain included:

  • The ore is extremely hard, meaning that consumables and wear parts are turned over quickly and asset health must be carefully managed and monitored.
  • There are three pits in operation which are set to join to create one super pit, while exploration is also underway on a neighbouring de-commissioned pit.
  • Dust is one of the most pressing environmental issues for Copper Mountain and BC operations generally. This is especially prevalent in relation to crusher buildings and means that technologies that collect or suppress dust will be well received. However, water is not an option for periods of the year due to freezing in low temperatures.

Other highlights during the mission included a site tour of Moly-Cop’s facility in Kamloops, meetings with Teck Resources, Ausenco, GHD and ALS Global, and two networking receptions with the likes of New Gold, Highland Valley Copper and Eldorado Gold. From these events Ausmine gained great insights into the mining environment and operations in BC, which are overall quite similar to those seen in the Australian base metals sector.

Key learnings for local operations are:

  • With extremely low-grade operations common throughout BC, ore recovery is a major focus for miners and new technologies such as coarse particle flotation are being trialled, which will also significantly reduce energy costs.
  • As in Australia, drones are being widely used for slope stability, stockpile measurement and pit-wall monitoring.
  • The current government in BC has a commitment to going green, so any new licenses or approvals will be difficult to obtain. Recent mine developments have not passed environmental permitting due to factors such as endangered species and bonding for tailings.
  • BC is a very unionised area and any investment there needs to be considered with impacts on local labour; in fact, during the delegation a nearby mine site was threatened with a large-scale strike.
The Austmine delegation on their way to meet with Teck Resources in Vancouver.

For Australian METS companies evaluating entry to the market, it is crucial to take a long-term approach as access and penetration is often an arduous process. Major points to consider in this process include:

  • Miners are mainly looking to be fast followers, so case study demonstrations and testimonials are important in establishing trust for your product or service. You can also get your innovations trialled at the NORCAT centre in Ontario.
  • Many mining companies and large engineering firms use their BC office to service Latin America, so establishing connections in BC can also provide a gateway to markets like Chile, Peru and Mexico.
  • Australian technology has a good reputation in the area, especially in underground systems and design.
  • The Canadian Institute of Mining (CIM) and the Mining Suppliers Association of BC are the two key associations and networks to tap into for access to the market.
  • Kamloops is used as a central transport hub for the west coast of Canada and is situated close to New Gold, Highland Valley Copper and Copper Mountain sites. Companies looking to directly invest or searching for distributers should consider the location.
  • Vancouver is a hub for mid-size and junior mining companies, while large multinationals tend to be headquartered in Toronto. A good place to make contact with these miners will be at CIM South Central from September 11–13, 2019.
  • The environment is very competitive in BC, with over 1000 suppliers headquartered in the region.
  • A local presence is critical for METS companies to be successful, with potential buyers and partners needing to see participation in the local ecosystem to gain trust and connections.

The mission concluded with a meeting with the Teck Resources innovation and technology team in Vancouver. They are the major player in the area and are investing considerably in developments in South America and Canada.

The mission was a great learning experience for Austmine and other businesses new to BC. Austmine will continue to forge new relationships and provide access to the market for its members in 2019 any beyond.

This includes another Canada Mining Mission, along with presentations from Goldcorp, Teck Resources and DeBeers at the Austmine 2019 Conference & Exhibition taking place on May 21–23 in Brisbane.

For more information on opportunities in BC or any questions on mission matters, contact robert.trzebski@austmine.com.au or sheldon.varcoe@austmine.com.au.