Wildfires Continue to Disrupt BC Copper Operations

Relentless wildfires have displaced more than 37,000 people from their homes in BC, and have impacted two copper mines in the province.


Relentless wildfires have displaced more than 37,000 people from their homes in BC, and have forced sawmills and mines to shut down or evacuate.

Vancouver-based Imperial Metals (TSX:III) said on July 10 that activity at its Mount Polley copper-gold mine in the province had been “significantly reduced” because some employees had been evacuated from their homes.

A week later, the situation had worsened, with evacuation orders increasing restrictions on highway use. The company then decided to shut the mine down until the situation stabilizes. The mill at Mount Polley processes approximately 20,000 tonnes a day.

In addition to Mount Polley, Imperial Metals owns the Red Chris and Huckleberry copper mines in BC; it also holds a 50-percent interest in the Ruddock Creek leadzinc property in the province. Those properties have not been affected by the fires.

Meanwhile, on July 15, Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO,NYSEMKT:TGB) idled operations at its Gibraltar mine, the second largest open-pit copper-molybdenum mine in Canada. The company said evacuation orders for nearby communities have made it difficult for employees to travel to the site.

Work at the 85,000-tonne-per-day mine restarted on July 19, but the risk of potential wildfires in the region persists.

“Countless people and families in the region have suffered devastating fire loss, and that includes some who work for the Company as mentioned. The best thing Taseko-Gibraltar can do, and this would apply to other employers in the region as well, is help people return to work as quickly as they are able,” said Russell Hallbauer, president and CEO of Taseko.

Both companies say their mines are not currently threatened by the fires.

That said, hot and dry conditions remain a concern for firefighters in BC, although conditions stayed relatively stable this past weekend. The fires led the province to declare its first state of emergency in 14 years on July 7.

According to Reuters, the wildfires in Canada and rough swells off the coast of Chile have disrupted copper shipments, undermining expectations of increased copper supply in the second half of the year. This situation has forced smelters to drop their charges to process the metal, an indication that mine supply is scarce.

Those supply-side concerns, coupled with a weaker US dollar, are driving copper prices higher, ANZ said in a report. On Monday (July 24), LME copper closed up 0.4 percent, at $6,027 tonnes.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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