Bill Bennett: 'This is a Great Time to Build Mines'

- January 27th, 2016

Bill Bennett, BC’s energy and mines minister, comments on the state of the resource sector in the province.


British Columbia is well known for being a hotbed for resource extraction and exploration, but it’s still being affected by the current commodities rout. Even so, Bill Bennett, the province’s energy and mines minister, remains confident that both miners and explorers will be able to weather the storm.
“Things are tough in terms of commodity prices. We do have five mines operating that we didn’t have in 2011, and we’ve got two under construction, so things are still happening,” he told the Investing News Network at the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference earlier this week.
To ensure that companies currently operating mines continue to move forward, the BC government is looking at measures it may be able to take to help them out. “We’re looking at a power cost deferral program where they would pay it back with interest when commodity prices come up — it would give them a chance to get their operating costs down a bit,” said Bennett. Initiatives to help out exploration companies are also being considered.
Overall, Bennett believes “this is a great time to build mines … even though commodity prices are low, so are labor prices, equipment is available. This is a great time to get it built and be ready when the prices come back up.”
Watch the interview above for further comments from Bennett on the state of BC’s resource sector. And stay tuned for more of the Investing News Network’s video interviews from the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference.
 
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article. 
Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.
Related reading: 
VRIC 2016, Day 1: Notes from the Floor
VRIC 2016, Day 2: Notes from the Floor

This article was updated on February 29, 2016 to include the following interview transcript:
INN: I’m Charlotte McLeod with the Investing News Network, and here today with me at VRIC is Bill Bennett, BC’s minister of energy and mines. Thank you so much for joining me today.
BB: You’re welcome.
INN: To start off, let’s talk about the resource space. Times are tough, and a lot of mining companies are struggling to get along. Can you talk about how the BC government is looking at helping miners weather the storm?
BB: Things are tough in terms of commodity prices. We do have five mines operating that we didn’t have in 2011, and we’ve got two under construction, so things are still happening even with low commodity prices. But the mines that are operating are really struggling to keep the doors open right now. So we’re looking at a power cost deferral program where they would pay it back with interest when commodity prices come up — it would give them a chance to get their operating costs down a bit.
INN: Are you considering measures only for operating companies with mines up and running, or would exploration companies benefit as well?
BB: That particular program would benefit operating mines only, but we’re looking at a number of different tax ideas that are out there in exploration. There are things that we can do, that the federal government can do, to make it a bit more attractive for investors to put their money into exploration. So we’re looking at some of those as well.
INN: How urgent of an issue is it to prop up BC’s mining industry? What could be the consequences of a continued downturn?
BB: If you see operating mines close, I think in our case they’re not closing for good. They’re not going bankrupt, but, you know, once a mine has closed down, it’s very expensive to get it going again. And if or when the commodity prices come back, there will be much greater demand for workers and for equipment and everything will become more expensive. So it’s I think a lot smarter to try to keep the doors open on all of our operating mines, if we can, to get through this downturn, and hopefully it doesn’t last much longer.

INN: Fingers crossed. You commented recently that mining regulations in BC are going to undergo significant changes in the wake of the Mount Polley tailings breach. Can you comment on what those changes might entail and when they may be put in place?
BB: We’re reviewing something known as the mining code here in BC. We have a committee of people doing that — experts in the field — and so I don’t know exactly what they’re going to recommend. I suspect that there will have to be a little bit more detail and prescription in our regulations around tailings storage facilities, and there has been. Having said that, BC has to be competitive with everybody else. We can’t run out and create rules that are, you know, way tougher to deal with than what they have in Ontario or Quebec or Manitoba. So we’ll have to factor all of that in.
INN: For companies that are currently in the process of trying to get mines up and running, how would that affect them?
BB: Wouldn’t affect them really at all. This goes more to the mine development stage where you’re actually going to build a mine and you’re designing your tailings storage facility. And companies are expecting to do a lot of engineering, use a lot of scientists in that process. So I don’t think they’re going to be surprised by the changes that we’re making.
INN: Finally, are there any other catalysts that people should be watching in terms of mining in BC in 2016?
BB: We have several projects that will someday be mines, and they’re all trying to raise the money right now to get them built. We have those two mines — the Brucejack property and the Silvertip mine, the silver mine up north, both of which are being built right now. This is a great time to build mines because even though commodity prices are low, so are labor prices, equipment is available. This is a great time to get it built and be ready when the prices come back up.
INN: Thank you for joining me today. Once again, I’m Charlotte McLeod with the Investing News Network, and this is Minister Bill Bennett.

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