Ministers talk mining at Halifax conference

Responsible resource extraction, LNG a hot topic at national conference featuring provincial energy and mining ministers.

BC's Energy & Mines Minister Bill Bennett joining other ministers at the Energy & Mines Ministers Conference in Halifax

BC's Energy & Mines Minister Bill Bennett joining other ministers at the Energy & Mines Ministers Conference in Halifax

Resource extraction and liquid natural gas (LNG) dominated discussions between industry groups and Canada’s provincial mining ministers at a conference in Halifax this past weekend.

Kootenay-East MLA Bill Bennett, the B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines, joined his provincial counterparts, along with Federal and industry representatives at the annual Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference to network and address common issues.

Bennett noted that his fellow ministers were very interested in learning about B.C.’s LNG projects as well as B.C. Hydro’s generation of electricity through conservation programs.

In terms of LNG, Bennett said there was lots of interested in developing the industry on the East Coast and referenced the province’s agreement with Petronas, which was recently approved by the legislature.

“Nova Scotia is working on two, and New Brunswick is working on one,” said Bennett. “I have to tell you, they were enthusiastically congratulatory to British Columbia for signing this deal with Petronas.

“It’s not a final deal until the Federal Government provides an environmental certificate, but we now have the agreement in place, it’s legislated in place, we have the final investment decision from the company, we have our final tax structure in place.”

Bennett noted the LNG deal will be a $35-40 billion investment for B.C.

“For them to hear about a $40 billion project and the prospect of even others and more projects like that, it blows them away and I hope that British Columbians realize how fortunate we are to have that much natural gas, to be here on the West Coast and I hope they understand that we’re doing everything we can to exploit that opportunity.”

The fallout from the Mount Polley accident—the disaster where the tailings pond burst, sending millions of gallons of tailings pond sludge into Polley Lake—was also another big component of the conference, Bennett added.

“I presented an extensive presentation to all the ministers about the independent panel and what it discovered in terms of the Mount Polley accident and what the province is doing to change our policies and regulations going forward,” Bennett said.

“There is a lot of pressure on a lot of the mines’ ministers across the country to learn from what happened in B.C., so that played a pretty big part in our discussions around mining.”

Common issues facing ministers across inter-provincial boundaries seem to relate to public confidence in the industry, said Bennett.

“Everyone was challenged to help the public understand the need for resource extraction and to understand from a scientific standpoint how resources can be extracted safely and in an environmentally responsible way,” he said, noting that public confidence also extended to developing pipelines and developing LNG in Quebec and the Maritime provinces.

Access to venture capital by junior exploration companies was also another issue that was raised by Bennett himself.

“While it’s true that low commodity prices are driving down the interest and opportunity around grassroots mining activity, it’s also true that even if you want to go out and explore and if you think you have something worth investigating, it is harder than it’s ever been before to raise that high-risk investment,” Bennett said.

He gave the example that if a junior exploration company raises $3 million in venture capital, $500,000 of that goes to legal fees.

If junior exploration companies don’t have the capital for resource exploration and development, that eventually has a detrimental effect on the economy, he continued.

“A decade or two down the line, you don’t have any of these junior projects that can be developed over the next decade into a mine and that’s what I’m concerned about, that’s what the Prospectors and Developers Association is concerned about,” Bennett said.

Leading up to the conference, three priorities were identified by industry groups in a joint statement from the Canadian Mineral Industry Federation, the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.

The groups wanted the ministers to address challenges in a new regulatory regime and clarify duty to consult, address the higher costs of operating in remote and northern Canada, and help junior companies access more capital.

“Despite the current downturn, the industry continues to make enormous contributions to the social and economic well-being of Canadians,” said Pierre Gratton, the president and CEO of the MAC. “However, these contributions cannot be taken for granted.

“Working in partnership with industry, governments can take concrete steps now to position the sector for future success so that, together, we can seize growth opportunities at the earliest signs of the next upturn.”