Exploration expenditures in British Columbia in 1997 were an estimated $75 million, similar to the 1995 total, but down 25% compared to last year. Of the five regions, only the Kootenay region experienced an increase in exploration spending. The majority of exploration targeted gold vein and precious metal enriched porphyry copper deposits. Polymetallic massive sulphide, coal and skarn and/or manto deposits were also popular targets. More than 90% of all 1997 exploration dollars were spent on minesites or projects in the advanced stages of development. The declining amount of grassroots exploration conducted in the province is a concern. The lack of activity is reflected by a 25% decrease in number of mineral units and placer claims staked in 1997 versus 1996. New initiatives announced by the government in April 1998 are intended to stimulate both grassroots and advanced exploration in the province.
Recent weak metal prices have had the most significant negative impact on mining and exploration in the province. The Afton-Ajax porphyry copper-gold mine closed in June, 1997, and late in the year it was announced that the QR gold mine would close early in 1998.
On the positive side, the Mount Polley copper-gold and Huckleberry copper-molybdenum mines opened in September and the Golden Bear gold mine reopened, as a heap leach operation, after almost a 3-year shutdown. At the Eskay Creek mine, construction of a 150 tonne per day mill was completed--this high grade gold-silver operation now produces concentrate and direct shipping ore. A new zinc-rich massive sulphide body was identified at the Myra Falls polymetallic mine and significant new sulphide and oxide reserves were outlined at the Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine. Construction of the Kemess mine advanced rapidly and by year-end was about 80% complete. Several projects progressed through the provincial government's Environmental Assessment process and may receive their Mine Development Certificates early in 1998. They are the Tulsequah Chief polymetallic project, the Willow Creek coal project and the Telkwa coal project. In addition, the evaluation of the Prosperity and Mt. Milligan copper-gold deposits, the latter which has its Mine Development Certificate in place, may lead to bankable feasibility studies and/or production decisions in the near future.
Regional offices of the ministry, located in the communities of Cranbrook, Kamloops, Nanaimo, Prince George, Smithers and Vancouver, together with the head office in Victoria, are responsible for monitoring and regulating exploration and mining in the province. The following articles provide an account of mining and exploration activity in the province during 1997. These accounts are preceded by a provincial overview that addresses developing trends and issues in the industry and are followed by a summary of the assessment report database.
For the first time this publication is being produced by Mines Branch staff. However, it has benefited greatly from direction provided by Dorthe Jakobsen (BC Geological Survey, Victoria) and from proficient editing by external editor, John Newell.