British Columbia mineral and coal exploration survey
For the third year, we are pleased to present the findings of the 2018 British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey. Data and analysis presented in the survey are based on information collected from 33 prospectors and 172 mineral and coal exploration companies operating in BC. Collectively, they represent 294 exploration projects across the province.
2018 marked the second consecutive annual increase in exploration expenditure in BC following several years of decline. The positive momentum that began in the sector in late-2016 accelerated in 2018, with year-on-year growth in exploration across all major commodities and geographic regions in the province. This broad-based growth produced a total exploration spend among companies of $330.2 million — up 34% on the prior year and 62% greater than in 2016.
The growth rate of BC exploration expenditure also far exceeded the global average of 20%.1 Nationally, Canada’s exploration growth exceeded Australia, Chile, Mexico, Peru and South Africa2 — with BC being the greatest contributor to this growth. What’s more, the $84 million increase in BC exploration spend exceeded that of Quebec and Ontario, despite both jurisdictions being more than double the size of BC as measured by total 2018 exploration expenditure.3
The increase in BC’s exploration sector was led by the modern-day gold rush underway in the province’s northwest, increased exploration diversity, a rebound in coal exploration and a continued shift to grassroots and early-stage exploration.
Modern day gold rush
We’re seeing a resurgence of exploration activity in the northwest of BC owing to new discoveries, infrastructure and higher commodity prices. The historic "Golden Triangle" in the northwest has been the site of three gold rushes over the past century, with industry observers suggesting a fourth is underway as juniors search for the next major discovery. Survey results reveal the region incurred $165 million in exploration expenditure in 2018. That’s a 66% increase over the prior year and is almost double 2016 levels. The northwest also accounted for 50% of total exploration spend in the province in 2018.
In 2017, gold accounted for almost 90% of the increase in exploration spend in BC. Last year, however, gold’s share of growth declined to 15% as investors broadened their focus to copper, silver and nickel. The investment made exploring for these three commodities more than doubled from $49 million in 2017 to $102 million in 2018. In total, copper, silver and nickel accounted for the majority (64%; $53.7 million) of the year’s increase in provincial exploration expenditure. Much of this increase can be attributed to exploration projects in the Golden Triangle; however, there were also many large investments in copper and silver projects in the province’s southeast and north central regions.
Prior to 2018, investment in coal exploration in the province had decreased for five consecutive years. This changed in 2018 as existing coal producers increased their exploration budgets and new players entered the market. Notably, exploration activity increased not only in BC’s traditional coal fields but also in the province’s northwest and north central regions. Exploration spend for coal ultimately increased by 58% in 2018, to $50 million. This increase accounted for 22% of the growth in total exploration spend across the province in 2018, reaffirming the importance of the commodity to the BC mining and exploration industry.
Shift to grassroots and early-stage exploration
The outlook for the mining and metals sector in BC is largely influenced by the success of early-stage exploration. Five years ago, the prospects for discoveries leading to new mines in the province appeared bleak, with limited investment being made in early-stage exploration. But as we’ve seen over the last two years of producing this survey, the sector is undergoing a reset. 2018 marks the fifth consecutive year that early-stage exploration increased as a share of total exploration. Grassroots and early-stage exploration accounted for 44% of total exploration in 2018 compared with just 14% in 2014.
The convergence of many positive developments led to a sharp increase in both exploration project numbers and expenditure in BC last year. Whether these trends continue in 2019 remains to be seen, and may ultimately be determined by external forces such as current global trade tensions, economic growth projections and commodity price volatility.
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 British Columbia (BC).
Data and analysis presented in this report are for the period 1 January through 31 December 2018 and are based on a survey that was completed by 33 prospectors and 172 companies operating in BC.
- Executive Summary
- British Columbia’s mining and coal exploration sector
- Prospecting in BC
Produced in collaboration with: