Monday, January 26, 2015

Trends in BC Mineral Exploration 1968 to 2014

In 2014 we saw mineral exploration expenditures drop in BC to $338 million, though in absolute terms it was still the 8th best year ever but this does not account for inflation.   Adjusted for inflation it drops to the 12th best year which is still generally good if you do not pay attention to the degree spending has fallen in the last couple of years.

When one looks at the graph there is the obvious trough from 1992 to 2003.   The timing coincides nicely with the NDP being in power but that is not really the cause for the low spending.    The mining industry in BC has a hatred of the NDP and this likely pushed spending even lower than it should have been.  However the main reason for low exploration expenditures from 1992 to 2003 was the low prices for metals from 1990 to 2004
Some examples of how low prices went

  • Copper was often less than $1 a pound.  The price was low enough that Highland Valley Copper was close to shutting down
  • Gold was below $400 an ounce (chart of the gold price for last 25 years is below)
  • Molybdenum went below $3 a pound (chart of the molybdenum price for the last 19 years is below)
After the trough we got record levels of spending on exploration but that was not mainly because of a mining industry friendly Liberal government but because of a massive global rise in demand for all metals.   
  • Copper rose to $4,50 a pound, high enough that stealing copper wire was profitable
  • Molybdenum spiked to over $47 a pound
  • Gold manage to break $1800 an ounce.  
BC has a number of large undeveloped deposits that have metals such as copper, gold, silver, molybdenum and nickel.   The global demand for these metals made the rise in exploration expenditures inevitable in BC.

The rapid rise and now sudden decline are not good for anyone involved with services for mineral exploration.   Companies have had to ramp up very quickly for just a short period of extreme exploration activity.    The consistency from the late 60s to the end of the 80s provided companies supporting exploration work certainty

What is the future of mineral exploration in BC?   Two factors will play into how much mineral exploration there will be in the future in BC
  • Global prices - if they do not rise and in fact continue to fall exploration will dry up
  • Land Tenure Certainty - after New Prosperity being refused a federal environmental assessment and the Tsilqot'in decision, there is little or no certainty that an owner spending money on claim will be allowed to develop a mine

 I personally am pessimistic about both factors and I think we will see continued drops in exploration spending in BC.   The numbers for preceding year are always released towards the end of January which means if the 2016 exploration expenditures are very low, this is likely to become an election issue.

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