British Columbia mineral and coal exploration survey


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For the second year, we are pleased to present the findings of the 2017 British Columbia mineral and coal exploration survey. Data and analysis presented in the survey are based on information collected from 20 prospectors and 175 mineral and coal exploration companies operating in BC. Collectively, these companies represent 219 exploration projects across the province.

Following years of decline, global exploration budgets increased by more than 14% in 2017 — the first increase in annual exploration budgets since 2012. This increase is in line with rising, or at least stable, commodity prices since 2016.2 Globally, gold has led the way, accounting for 73% of the year-on-year increase in worldwide exploration expenditure.

Many of the exploration trends observed globally were also experienced in BC in 2017. With an improved commodity price outlook, a stabilizing Canadian market and renewed vigor in the economy, the BC mineral and coal exploration industry grew for the first year since 2012. Province-wide exploration spend of $246 million in 2017 was up $41 million, or 20%, from 2016.

Analysis of survey data identified a number of key figures, insights, themes and observations for 2017:

  • Gold accounted for 87% ($37 million) of the increase in total exploration expenditure in BC, led by:
    • The “Golden Triangle,” located in the province’s Northwest, which experienced an $11 million increase in expenditure over the prior year to $82 million in 2017. Recent important infrastructure upgrades — including the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, new ocean port facilities at Stewart and a new high-voltage transmission line — have been catalysts in the increase in gold (and silver) exploration in the region.
    • The historic Cariboo gold belt of the province’s interior, where gold exploration expenditure increased by $19 million, or 70%.
  • Exploration expenditure on primary-silver projects more than doubled to $9.8 million, almost all which occurred in the Golden Triangle.
  • The sector is at the end of a 10- to 15-year mine development cycle in the Province. A number of projects that were approved and funded prior to the 2012 mining downturn that have supported exploration expenditure over the past five years have evolved (or been postponed). Exploration focus has now shifted to less capital-intense grassroots and early-stage exploration.
  • Notwithstanding the current downturn, the industry remained an important source of jobs and was and continues to be an economic contributor to communities throughout the Province.
  • Exploration companies continue to demonstrate their commitment to local communities and First Nations engagement through targeted activities, investment, employment and procurement.
  • Zinc exploration rebounded in BC in 2017, up by almost 50% to $8.2 million and in line with increasing zinc prices. Expenditure on other base metal exploration — including copper, molybdenum and nickel — was generally in line with 2016 levels.
  • Exploration expenditure was likely inhibited by the historically intense and prolonged wildfire season that was felt across the province and particularly in South Central BC, leading to project shutdown or delay and shifting of activity to safer regions.
  • From a regional perspective, the province’s Northwest and Southeast regions accounted for more than three quarters (77%, or $33 million of $41 million) of the increased exploration expenditure in the province in 2017, almost entirely due to the aforementioned increase in exploration activity in their respective gold and silver producing regions.
  • In contrast, a steep decline in coal exploration expenditure in 2017 had a disproportionately adverse impact on the province’s Northeast region, where exploration spend declined by almost 75% to $2.4 million, almost entirely due to coal.

About the survey

The British Columbia mineral and coal exploration survey is a joint initiative between the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (EMPR), the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) and EY. The survey has been conducted to provide a view of the current state of the mineral and coal exploration sector in BC. The survey examines a wide range of economic, sociopolitical and organizational issues that impact companies and prospectors exploring in the province, and has been designed to provide previously unavailable insight into the mineral and coal exploration industry in BC.


  • Executive Summary
  • British Columbia’s mining and coal exploration sector
  • Prospecting in BC
Download BC Minerals and Coal Exploration Survey 2017 as a printable document


BC Minerals and Coal Exploration Survey
as a printable document
(2.2 MB).


 Produced in collaboration with:


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