District of Lillooet Council got a crash course in mining exploration at its Oct. 3 meeting when executives from Amarc Resources provided an update on the company’s Ike mineral exploration project, located 45 kilometres northwest of Gold Bridge.
The company’s website says it has made a “significant” copper-molybdenum-silver discovery at the Ike location, but Amarc president Diane Nicholson cautioned that the project is still in the exploration phase and a “long, long way” from becoming a mine.
She says Amarc has spent $7 million over the past two to three years on the project; 32 employees worked on the site this summer and the company has received exploration permits that are valid until 2020. Eighteen drill holes have been drilled to date and the company has permits for 50 drill holes to be drilled over the next five years.
The exploration work is being done in an environmentally respectful manner, said Nicholson. Drilling rigs are flown, not driven in, and when the drilling is finished, “absolutely everything is removed, All the effects of our exploration are localized, temporary and minimal.”
She spoke candidly about the success rate in the mining industry.
Nicholson told council, “Most geologists like myself, we’re continually optimistic people because we fail in our careers. Only about one or two per cent of exploration geologists ever find a mine. I think they say only one in 10,000 projects actually becomes a mine.”
Because of the current downturn in the resource sector, she said there is a long timeline and process for mineral exploration.
“In general, about six exploration companies have to be on the ground before somebody discovers a mineral. Assessment and permitting can take one to five years, construction is two to three years, operations can be 10 to 30 years, then you go through closure and rehabilitation and the land reverts to its former use.”
In his part of the presentation, Amarc vice-president Jason Quigley, who formerly ran the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in B.C and the Yukon, told council Amarc has a responsible mineral development policy based on best practices.
He said the company has a long history of collaboration with the Tsilqotin First Nation; in the past it has hired band members, awarded contracts to the Tsilqotin and provided training programs for band members.
For the Ike project, he said studies have determined there are overlapping First Nations interests and “none of the groups had a strong historic claim to the area. The project area is located at the fringe or frontier zone at the outer edges and was little used.”
However, there is First Nations opposition to the exploration program. Despite that, Quigley said Amarc is “very optimistic and believes the circumstances for an agreement with Aboriginal groups are encouraging.”
Council members were curious about the project’s economic benefit to the Lillooet area.
The response was that more than 85 per cent of the contracts for this year’s work were awarded locally or in the interior of B.C.
Quigley says the company spends money locally on commercial accommodation, expediting services, supplies, fuel and helicopter time, which costs $2,000 an hour. He estimated Amarc Resources has spent between half a million and a million dollars in the Gold Bridge-Lillooet area in its three seasons of exploration.
“In summary,” he told council, “The IKE project is in its early stages but is a tremendous opportunity for the local community and the province as a whole. We’re interested in a long-term robust relationship with local communities.”