Copper Mining in Canada

A look brief introduction to copper mining in Canada, including an overview of the country's geology and examples of companies at the mining, exploration and development stage.

copper mining in canada

Canada used to be the third largest copper producer in the world, after Chile and the USA. In recent years, Canada has dropped to eighth place as copper production rose in China, Peru, Australia, the Congo and Russia, but the country is still a significant producer of the red metal.

In Canada, copper is always produced in conjunction with another metal, most often as a co-product with nickel, zinc, lead, gold and molybdenum.  Copper, as well as most of the base metals mined in Canada are hosted in massive sulphide sources and porphyry deposits.

Copper is widespread in Canada. However, areas where the metal is concentrated enough to be mined profitably are limited. British Columbia is the largest copper-producing province, followed by Ontario. Large-scale copper mining began in Quebec, the third-largest producer, with the opening of the Horne mine at Noranda late in 1927. The smelter now recycles copper and produces primary copper. Copper production in Manitoba, Canada’s fourth largest copper-producing province, is centered on the copper smelter in Flin Flon. Elsewhere in Canada, copper is recovered only in minor amounts.

Geology of copper deposits in Canada

The most common copper deposits in Canada are accumulations of massive sulphides from volcanic or magmatic activity, and porphyries, which have a magmatic origin. Copper occurs in many forms, but the circumstances that control how, when, and where it is deposited are highly variable. As a result, copper occurs in many different minerals.

Copper deposits are broadly classified on the basis of how the deposits formed. Porphyry copper deposits, which are associated with igneous intrusions, yield about two-thirds of the world’s copper and are therefore the world’s most important type of copper deposit.  The major products from porphyry copper deposits are copper and molybdenum, or copper and gold. Sulphide deposits normally contain higher grades of copper and its co-products, and are also generally larger overall deposits.

The term porphyry copper now includes engineering as well as geological considerations; it refers to large, relatively low grade, epigenetic, intrusion-related deposits that are extracted via open-pit mining. Geologically, the deposits occur close to or in granitic intrusive rocks that are porphyritic in texture. There are usually several episodes of intrusive activity, therefore, secondary mineralization is common. Porphyry deposits occur in two main settings within the orogenic belts; in island arcs and at continental margins.

The massive porphyry deposit that runs as a belt up and down British Columbia is a result of the orogeny created through the crustal stresses arising from the Pacific and North American plate convergence. Mineralization in porphyry deposits is mostly on fractures or in alteration zones adjacent to fractures.

Porphyry-type mineral deposits result when large amounts of hot water that carry small amounts of metals pass through permeable rocks and deposit the metals. Original sulphide minerals in these deposits are pyrite, chalcopyrite, bornite and molybdenite. When it comes to copper, chalcopyrite is considered the most important ore.

Highland Valley Copper Mine

The Highland Valley Copper Mine, located in British Columbia, is the largest open-pit copper mine in Canada and one of the largest copper mining and concentrating operations in the world. It is majority owned and operated by Teck Resources Limited (NYSE:TCK.B). Copper production in 2015 totaled 152,000 tonnes, up from 2014 production of 121,000 tonnes. Highland Valley is a low-grade porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit.

The Highland Valley Copper was created as a partnership between Rio Algom and Cominco in 1986 to combine the Bethlehem and Lornex mines. Following the merger between Teck and Cominco in 2001, the 2000 takeover of Rio Algom by Billiton and Billiton’s subsequent merger with BHP, the mine was then majority owned by Teck Cominco (63.9 percent) and BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP, ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) (33.6 percent).

At the beginning of 2004, Teck Cominco exercised its pre-emptive rights over BHP Billiton’s holding when the latter put it up for sale, hence  Teck is now the majority owner. Production at the mine has decreased significantly the last few years due to an increased reliance on the lower-grade Lornex pit in line with a $300 million CDN mine expansion project designed to push its life expectancy out to 2019.

The rest of British Columbia is under-explored. There is a belt that runs up the majority of the province, believed to be tied closely with the famous Highland Valley Deposit. The reason that this belt remains under-explored is because a lot of the ore is capped, either by glacial drift or thin basalt.  In the past, this provided a hindrance to exploration, but given the magnitude of the Highland Valley Deposit, extracting copper from the province even though it may be buried is worth the risk.

Copper mining companies in Canada

Interested in copper mining stocks in Canada but don’t know where to start? Aside from Teck Resources, there a number of copper mining companies operating across the country. Here are a few examples:

  • Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) holds the Gibraltar mine, the second largest open pit copper-molybdenum mine in Canada. The New Prosperity gold-copper project, also in BC, is a development stage project that was rejected by the federal government in 2014.
  • Imperial Metals (TSX:III) operates the 30,000 tonne per day Red Chris copper mine near Dease Lake in BC. The company also restarted operations at its Mount Polley mine in BC last year following a tailings dam breach in 2014.
  • Hudbay Minerals (TSX:HBM) operates the 777, Reed and Lalor mines in Manitoba’s Flin Flon region.
  • Copper Mountain Mining (TSX:CUM) operates the Copper Mountain mine near Princeton, BC. It holds a 75 percent ownership in the mine, with the remainder owned by Mitsubishi (TYO:8058).
  • Capstone Mining (TSX:CS) operates the Minto mine in Canada’s Yukon.

And here are a few examples from the exploration and development side of things:

  • Western Copper and Gold (TSX:WRN, NYSEMKT:WRN) is developing the world class Casino copper-gold project in the Yukon Territory. The project is currently in the permitting phase.
  • Pacific Booker Minerals (TSXV:BKM) holds the advanced stage morrison project in central BC. In July 2008, the BC government ordered that the project undergo additional assessment before being developed.
  • KGHM on of the largest copper mining companies in the world, Poland’s KGHM is developing the Ajax project near Kamloops, BC.
  • Copper Fox Metals (TSXV:CUU) is advancing its Schaft Creek copper-gold-molybdenum-silver project in British Columbia with partner Teck Resources. It announced a 2016 exploration program for Schaft Creek on March 30.
  • Carmax Mining (TSXV:CXM) holds the Eaglehead copper-molybdenum project in British Columbia. Copper Fox’s wholly owned subsidiary owns 65.45 percent of Carmax shares.
  • Foran Mining (TSXV:FOM) is advancing a number of base metal deposits in Manitoba’s Flin Flon region, including the Bigstone and McIlvena Bay copper-zinc properties.
  • Aston Bay (TSXV:BAY) holds the Storm copper project in Nunavut, for which it signed an early works agreement with BHP Billiton in March 2016.

Know of any copper mining companies in Canada that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!

This is an updated version of an article originally published by Leia Michele Toovey on the Investing News Network on August 31 2010.

Editorial Disclosure: Western Copper and Gold, Pacific Booker Minerals, Copper North Mining and Copper Fox Metals are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid for content.

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