With 2011 in full swing, IRJ was pleased to be invited to the first world-class Canadian mining event of the year: the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AMEBC)’s Mineral Exploration Roundup. Hosted in Vancouver from January 24th to 27th, the event is in its 28th year and brings to Canada’s west coast the most prolific exploration and associated companies and experts.
While you might find the Roundup crowd similar to the one who will attend PDAC this year in Toronto, the AMEBC event is unique for its focus on technical programs and, this year, emphasis on remote and regional exploration.
Following a full weekend of short courses geared towards topics to be covered in the following days’ technical sessions, the Roundup Exhibition and Technical programs opened on January 25th. A CEO breakfast prefaced a busy day on the conference floors, which spanned the Westin Bayshore’s multiple levels. Welcoming remarks came from the Minister of State for Mining the Hon. Randy Hawes, and other notable figures including Chair of the event, Sue Craig.
The event was a buzz of activity as attendees from various places in the mining industry made the most of the roundup, including young student groups from local schools and those not yet in the mining business. The students had their own version of an exhibition, displaying drawings and mock-ups of mining project areas.
A regional exploration focus was prominent at the event, and Monday’s sessions focused on British Columbia, Alaska, the Yukon, Alberta, and Manitoba. The economic value of mineral production last year was estimated at $6 billion in British Columbia, showing the province’s standing as a forerunner in exploration going forward—there are 22 mining projects at various stages in B.C. and investment from Chinese counterparts is only increasing.
Alaska was a big highlight at Roundup, with one entire corner of the exhibition floor teeming with representatives eager to talk to attendees about the possibilities in the U.S. state. Estimated value of Alaska’s mineral industry looks to be $3.5 billion and last year mining provided more than 3,000 jobs.
While exploration expenditures don’t come close to those in Alaska and B.C., explorers are flocking to the Yukon, with over 35,000 new hard rock claims staked in the first nine months of last year. Clearly, North America’s north is the place to be in 2011.
However, the north is not always an easily accessible place. We presume this is the reason that helicopter companies were out in full force at Roundup. IRJ had the opportunity to speak with representatives from Canadian Helicopters, who said they have been helping explorers reach increasingly difficult regions in North America. “Although our market hasn’t changed a lot in the last few years, the places we’re servicing have expanded,” one rep said.
The key to success in some remote mining locations will continue to be technologies and services in the industry that cater to companies exploring previously untapped territory.
Explorers and prospectors
The Core Shack, an attendee favourite, Map Tent and Prospectors’ Tent were very successful. The Prospectors’ Tent provided an opportunity for B.C. and Yukon-based prospectors to present their mineral findings, and the Map Tent featured Yukon-generative programs, new discoveries, and international projects. Both were consistently busy throughout Roundup. The Core Shack, an area of great interest for those looking at international properties, was packed for the length of the conference.
Probably one of the most fun and unique activities for attendees at Roundup was the presence of Yukon Dan, an expert gold panner, who showed children and adults alike how to pan for the valuable commodity (see photos).
By far the most important emerging theme at Roundup was the focus on sustainability. IRJ met dozens of people who were at Roundup specifically to discuss with attendees the importance of sustainability in the mining industry. We were happy to run into sustainability and stakeholder engagement experts from Communica, a full-service communications firm dedicated to stakeholder messaging.
We asked the reps what the difference is between studying and adapting to sustainability principles now from five years ago. They told IRJ: “The difference is that a sustainability report wasn’t on the radar five years ago. Now we’ve seen that the industry has gravitated towards [sustainability], not unlike they did with environmental management programs or safety programs before that. I think that sustainability is critical on the investment side and to your stakeholders, and it is important for your employees as well. The question is: what does it mean, how do we develop a program, and how do we execute it?”
One of the most interesting interviews to come out of Roundup’s exhibition space was a conversation with Tom Hoefer, Executive Director of NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. IRJ spoke with Hoefer about working in remote areas of the Territories and the implicit responsibility for miners to deal effectively with local communities. “Many of the operations in these areas are fly-in, fly-out operations, and mines are reaching pretty far into the north,” he said. “Bigger companies are used to relationship-building with local communities, and always look at the things that can be done in partnership with government,” he added. However, not all fly-in companies are majors. We asked Tom what the motivation is for a junior company to build a sustainability program or work on a community partnership program.
“I think it’s a challenge for juniors. Right now in the Territories, there are some places where the expectations are too high because communities are used to dealing with major mining companies, but yet the first part of the junior mining company’s project ends up falling below those expectations. This is going to require an education process with communities to say ‘You’re setting the bar too high and chasing away investment’. Better to have the investment come in and be successful and then get more resources to build on,” Hoefer continues.
Hoefer’s organization is working towards integrating First Nations people into the activities of mining camps and communities.
“We want to encourage aboriginal groups to take their businesses down into the exploration area, and so there are lots of them are starting businesses including catering, expediting, diamond drilling, camp and grocery supplies. We are constantly evaluating what kind of businesses we can we set up that are sustainable. The benefit to industry is that the more aboriginals that get involved in that part of the business, the more they become part of the business. And the healthier the industry, the healthier their business as well.”
Hoefer echoes many at Roundup with his sentiments. Remote community building is an excellent way to progress in the industry, and collectively communities and the companies in them need to “focus on what’s possible and get a little more creative,” according to Hoefer.
Luckily, an expert in community building was on hand to talk about how important relationships are in the mining industry, between First Nations groups and corporate partners. Emmie Fairclough, Senior Manager of Lands, Resources and Heritage Department, for the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council in the Yukon spoke during the technical session on sustainability about her community’s perspective of CSR and mineral exploration. Fairclough is responsible for implementing the council’s final and self government Agreements as they pertain to lands, resources, and heritage. She has been working in resource development for Yukon First Nations for over 12 years.
Fairclough spoke about seven sustainable principles by which future actions by mining corporations should be guided. Those are balance, protecting the land, shared sewarship, cultural, identity, knowledge-based decision making, economic opportunities, and self-reliance. “Corporations should keep in mind that communities function on relationships—which take time and effort to establish. If corporations want to build great relationships, it takes more than money, and they must recognize that First Nations have sovereign governments and must be treated as more than a stakeholder group,” Fairclough insisted. “Transparency is No. 1, and provides real long-lasting benefits. Companies need to support environmental practices that go beyond the mandatory regulatory measures,” she added.
Joe Ringwalk, Director of Belmont Resources and an active proponent of the creation of sustainability programs, said that even junior companies can set up programs that will work and ensure their success in the long term. “We’re on this planet together,” he said during his presentation, “and we have to find a way to work together.”
“You need to include discussion in your MD&A and annual report. If you do what’s right, you create value. We must be transparent: everyone must be accountable. The market, and eventually the law, that will judge us is the one we come from rather than the one we’re working in, so we need to evaluate how we can achieve that kind of accountability as policy-makers: we need businesses to declare their business codes of conduct,” he said.
A variety of presenters and exhibitors at the Roundup were devoted exclusively to developing technology to use in the mining industry. One of our favourites was Schlumberger Water Services.
With over 7,000 registrants from 32 countries attending Roundup this year, we look forward to bringing you future AMEBC coverage for many events to come.