The latest annual British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey finds that exploration spend across the province increased by 28% year-over-year to $422m — just short of the highs experienced in 2011 and 2013.
"Though the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic initially caused numerous delays, projects were able to capitalize on favorable commodity prices and available venture capital, attracting additional investment and strengthening budgets in the latter half 2020," says Iain Thompson, EY Canada Mining & Metals Consulting Leader. “These factors helped to support an increase in exploration in BC and kept Canada third in global rankings.”
Shift back to gold as base metals remain steady
Gold saw a 76% increase in exploration expenditure across BC — up from $127m in 2019 to $224m in 2020 — as investors flocked to the precious metal as a safe haven investment. While the Northwest Region continues to dominate the province, the North Central and South Central Regions saw growth in gold exploration of 113% and 62%, respectively.
Despite base metal prices increasing in the latter half of 2020, the survey finds expenditure was down 18% from $143m in 2019 to $121m in 2020 due to a decrease in spend by a few large nickel and lead/zinc projects.
A noticeable movement towards late-stage exploration
Grassroots and early-stage exploration fell by 5% annually to account for 35% of total exploration in 2020. Similarly, the total number of projects decreased by 5% in 2020. However, total meters drilled increased by 40%, suggesting a shift towards later-stage exploration as a result of pandemic restrictions impacting grassroots and early-stage investment.
Northwest Region continues to dominate
Except for the Southwest Region, expenditures were up across all regions in the province. The Northwest Region continued to lead the way, with exploration expenditure up by 25% in 2020 — total of $225m — contributing to over 50% of the province’s total spend.
“A healthy exploration industry is foundational to future investment, the creation of new jobs and community development,” says Kendra Johnston, President and CEO, the Association for Mineral Exploration. “As global economies begin to reopen and adjust to new landscapes dominated by low carbon initiatives, demand and prices for base metals will likely continue to increase, resulting in strong positive growth throughout BC.”
The British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey is a joint initiative between EY, the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation (EMLI) and the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME), which includes insight collected from 273 exploration projects across the province.