Press release

9 Mar. 2020 Vancouver, CA

BC mining and exploration expenditure growth flattens in 2019

Investors continue to broaden their focus from gold towards copper, silver and nickel.

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Related topics Mining and metals

Investors continue to broaden their focus from gold towards copper, silver and nickel.

  • Northwest region of BC accounted for 55% of total expenditure for the province
  • Base metal exploration expenditure was up 39% from 2018
  • Gold exploration investment continued to decline, down 11%

The positive momentum gained in British Columbia from mineral and coal exploration expenditure between 2016 and 2018 flattened out in 2019, down less than a percentage point totaling $329m, according to the British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey.

“Global demand for base metals has seen a significant increase, likely driven by an uptick in demand for electric vehicles and green energy, pushing investor focus from gold to copper,” says Iain Thompson, EY Canada Mining & Metals Advisory Leader. “Meanwhile, coal saw a decline in investment despite optimism in the previous year surrounding future growth.”

The Northwest region remains a key contributor to BC exploration

The Golden Triangle of northwestern BC continues to attract exploration activity, as investors capitalize on high-grade discoveries supported by investment from major firms, partnerships with Indigenous groups and continued infrastructure development. The Northwest region accounted for 55% of total expenditure for the province, seeing a 10% increase in spending.

Mining lifecycle "reset” complete?

Last year was the first year since publishing this survey that early stage exploration did not increase as a percentage of total exploration spend. Grassroots and early-stage exploration accounted for 40% of total exploration in 2019, down from 44% in 2018, as exploration spend moved to advanced and mine evaluation stages.

“We’ve seen a further shift in spending along the exploration lifecycle with increases in late-stage exploration, bringing forward the possibility of new mines in the province in the near future,” says Thompson.

The 2018 “gold rush” sees a shift to copper

The decline in gold exploration investment continued in 2019, with its share down by 11% as investors increased their focus on base metals and other commodities. Decreases in gold were offset by increases in copper, whereas declines in coal were balanced by increases in nickel. Copper was the leading base metal, contributing 72% of total metal spend, up 31% to $103m.

“Seeing exploration spending remain steady and the significant investment into exploration activity in the Northwest region is encouraging,” says Kendra Johnston, President and CEO, the Association for Mineral Exploration. “It will be interesting to see the results from the projects in the area and we’re optimistic that it will be a busy year ahead for our members."

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, which includes insight collected from 326 exploration projects across the province.

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