Gibraltar Mine in the B.C. Interior has announced layoffs as a result of the decline in the price of copper.

Rocky year ahead for B.C. mining

Province extends certificates for disputed New Prosperity, Tulsequah Chief mines as others struggle to keep operating

B.C.’s mining industry heads into 2015 with slumping commodity prices, closures and layoffs at coal operations and efforts to continue recovery from B.C.’s worst mine-related structural failure.

Imperial Metals applied last week to restart the Mount Polley copper-gold mine near Williams Lake, to produce about half the ore it did before its tailings dam abruptly failed in August 2014. The company’s Red Chris copper-gold mine in northwestern B.C. is up and running, but facing a six-year low in the world price of copper.

Coal mines in the Kootenays, a mainstay of the B.C. industry, remain in production, but slower growth in Asia and a low metallurgical coal price forced Anglo American Coal and Walter Energy to shut down mines at the northeast coal hub of Tumbler Ridge last fall.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett heads for the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. conference in Vancouver Jan. 26-29. He said in an interview last week the price of copper has dipped to a level where there is concern about layoffs at metal mines, but the current “bear market” is less of a concern for mineral exploration, with mineral discoveries taking years to develop.

Taseko Mines confirmed Monday it is reducing its workforce at the Gibraltar Mine near Williams Lake by nearly 50 positions due to the price of copper.

Premier Christy Clark’s jobs plan set a target of eight new mines and nine expansions by  the end of 2015. Since 2011, startups include Copper Mountain near Princeton, New Afton near Kamloops, Mount Milligan west of Prince George, Bonanza Ledge near Quesnel and Yellow Giant on Banks Island near Prince Rupert.

Last week Environment Minister Mary Polak issued two five-year mine certificate extensions to keep alive projects facing opposition from local aboriginal communities.

One was for the Tulsequah Chief mine project near Atlin, determined to have been “substantially started” with site work after a long legal battle with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

The other extension is for the Taseko’s New Prosperity copper-gold project near Williams Lake, which has twice been rejected by the federal government due to environmental concerns over acid rock contamination. The Tsilhqot’in Nation remains adamantly opposed to the open-pit proposal.

Bennett said both companies and the government need to continue talks about revenue sharing and impacts with affected aboriginal communities as they apply for operating permits.

“An important part of that process under the Mines Act is for them to engage with First Nations, and an important part for the Crown is to consult and accommodate, so there’s lots of work to do,” Bennett said.