Based on report “Exploration and mining in the Northwest Region, British Columbia” (Tombe, S.P., 2021. Exploration and mining in the Northwest Region, British Columbia. In: Provincial Overview of Exploration and Mining in British Columbia, 2020. British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, British Columbia Geological Survey, Information Circular 2021-01, pp. 47-64.)
Exploration spending in 2020 in the Northwest region of British Columbia was the second highest in the last 20 years at $225.3 million dollars, with a record number of metres of diamond drilling at 470,060 m. Expenditures in the Northwest account for more than half of the province’s 2020 cumulative total. From a national perspective, Northwest BC attracted 10% of the Canadian total exploration spending, according to Natural Resources Canada.
The Northwest Region of BC has long been known for its history of mining and for its vast endowment of precious and base metals. The region is prospective for a wide range of deposits: large bulk-tonnage porphyry Cu-Au-Mo, high-grade Au-Ag precious metal, Ag-Pb-Zn polymetallic, ultramafic hosted Ni-Co-Pt-Pd, anthracite coal, placer gold, and jade. Projects in 2020 were again concentrated in a loosely defined area in the northern part of the region popularly known as the ‘Golden Triangle’; several other projects were underway to the southeast. High metal prices in 2020 encouraged financing of many projects.
The Northwest Region contains two operating metal mines (Brucejack and Red Chris). The Silvertip mine produced in the first quarter of the year, then went into care and maintenance. The region also contains six proposed metal mines (Dome Mountain, Galore Creek, KSM, Kutcho, Premier, and Red Mountain) and one proposed coal mine (Tenas). More than 100 early to advanced-stage projects were tracked. Large industrial projects in the region are driving demand for aggregate, and placer gold and jade mining continues throughout the region.
Several projects advanced with Preliminary Economic Assessments (Dome Mountain, Turnagain), Prefeasibility Studies (KSM), and Feasibility Studies (Premier; Red Mountain). Updated mineral resources were published for Brucejack and Snip, and a maiden resource estimate was filed for Tatogga (Saddle North).
Mines and quarries
The Brucejack and Red Chris mines operated continuously in 2020; the Silvertip mine operated at the start of the year but was put into care and maintenance in February. Production at the Brucejack for the first three quarters totalled 259,443 oz of Au at a head grade of 8.4 g/t Au and 364,233 oz Ag. Production at Red Chris to the end of the third quarter of 2020 totalled 40,275 oz Au and 49.8 Mlbs Cu.
One industrial mineral mine and three jade projects operated this year, and numerous aggregate operations supplied large-scale industrial projects and local townships throughout the region. Placer mining is ongoing, predominantly in the Atlin and Turnagain areas.
In the industrial mineral sector, Tru-Grit Abrasives is recycling the slagheap at the historic Anyox site, where slag was created from smelting copper. The slag is mined, cleaned, separated, and barged south and used for making roofing shingles and sand for sand blasting.
Jade Operations in 2020 were limited to Cassiar Jade, Kutcho Creek Jade, and Provencher because road closures restricted access to other remote projects
and the demand for jade was comparatively low.
The Northwest Region contains six proposed metal mines and one proposed coal mine. Galore Creek, KSM, and Red Mountain have been granted an Environmental Assessment Certificate and the Kutcho project has begun the environmental assessment process. Dome Mountain and Premier both have Mines Act permits and are seeking amendments that would enable them to begin development and production.
Dome Mountain (Blue Lagoon Resources Inc.) is located near Smithers. Preliminary Economic Assessment was filed in July 2020 and 3700 m drilling, property-wide airborne radiometric, electromagnetic, and magnetic surveys were completed.
Galore Creek (Galore Creek Mining Corporation) is jointly owned by Teck Resources Limited and Newmont Corporation. Although environmental baseline sampling continued, the company did not conduct exploration in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
KSM (Seabridge Gold Inc.) is the largest undeveloped gold project in the world by resources. Prefeasibility Study and Preliminary Economic Assessment update was filed in April 2020 and 4000 m of geotechnical drilling were completed on Mitchell Treaty tunnels.
Kutcho (Kutcho Copper Corp.) Feasibility Study has begun and will be completed by the second quarter in 2021.
Premier (Ascot Resources Ltd.) Feasibility Study was filed in May 2020. 12,000 m of drilling tested Premier West, Day, Silver Hill, and Woodbine zones. Company is
targeting construction beginning in 2021.
Red Mountain (Ascot Resources Ltd.) Feasibility Study was filed in May 2020.
Tenas (Telkwa Coal: Allegiance Coal Ltd. 95%, Itochu Corp. 5%) is located south Telkwaand entered provincial environmental assessment in November of 2018. No exploration was completed in 2020.
There were more than 100 early to advanced stage exploration projects underway in the Northwest BC region in 2020. Some examples are included below:
Bowser Regional (Pretium Resources Inc.) More than 25,000 m of drilling to test A6, Hanging Glacier, Koopa, Snowfield East, Haimila.
Dolly Varden (Dolly Varden Silver Corporation): Resource expansion and step-out
drilling (10,000 m).
Eskay Creek (Skeena Resources Limited): The company exercised its option to acquire 100% of the project; Barrick Gold Inc. expected to still own 12.4%. Highlights from drilling include 56.34 m grading 2.17 g/t Au and 234 g/t Ag. Company raised $46 million late in 2020.
Huckleberry (Imperial Metals Corporation): Drilling (~2500 m) to test mineralized extent below the East zone pit.
Ootsa (Surge Copper Corp.): Late-season drilling included 10,000 m to test IP chargeability anomaly on the Seel trend.
Scottie Gold Mine (Scottie Resources Corp.): Drilling (>7000 m) focussed on the
Blueberry and Bow veins.
Snip (Skeena Resources Limited): An independent Technical Report was filed September 2020. 5000 m was drilled for resource expansion.
Tatogga – Quash Pass (GT Gold Corp.): Drilling (4841 m) tested Au and Cu geochemical trends coincident with IP chargeability anomalies.
Thorn (Brixton Metals Corporation): Drilling (>5000 m), rock (1200) and soil (5000) sampling was carried out.
Treaty Creek (Tudor Gold Corp.): Drilling (~40,000 m) focussed on Goldstorm zone and newly discovered Perfect Storm zone.
Turnagain (Giga Metals Corporation): A Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) was completed in October.