What are the biggest challenges facing the exploration industry?
Since most of these exploration projects are probably going to happen in remote areas I think the lack of infrastructure (roads, access wifi, all the permits needed etc) is going to be a big barrier here in Canada.
I think another challenge is making sure that we are mitigating all potential environmental impacts. Can we justify doing more exploration when we haven't cleaned up old mine sites yet? Exploration companies need to make sure everything is up to standards (impact assessments etc) and have the communities on board with their plans before anything goes forward.
There is not enough being doing to promote the employment needs of the sector. There is a lack of skilled workers available in Canada and the future of mining will be more automated with many of the current employees will be retiring in the next decade or so. Without awareness of this problem and recruitment actions, there won't be enough people to fill the gaps needed in the industry in the coming years. We need to start investing in students now so that they can be trained for the mining jobs of the future and we can continue to be competitive in the global market.
For every one thousand or so deposits found maybe one becomes a mine. Deposits are getting smaller and smaller as the easily accessible ones have been mined. Canada needs to innovate and think of ways smaller deposits can become more economically feasible. One way is to make getting materials to market cheaper by furthering infrastructure needs. If smaller scale mines can be our future, the mineral exploration sector will boom.
All of us (industry, government, stakeholders) seem to be hypnotised by market forces. When metal prices are trending upward, everything is fine - there is ample financing - and we tend to forget that there are underlying factors that put the resilience of the industry at risk. When prices collapse, however, these issues tend to amplify the negative impacts of weak prices on our exploration projects and junior mining sector. We can reduce the amplitude of these fluctuations and benefit even more when prices are strong by paying attention to various elements of our mineral investment climate, including: access to land, social acceptability of projects, Indigenous participation, access to financing, infrastructure gaps, regulatory predictability and fluidity (while ensuring that all environmental and social requirements are met), and geoscience and innovation to encourage the discovery, development, mining and processing of mineral resources and more value-added activities.
School curriculum's in Nova Scotia provide little opportunity for children to be exposed to discussions on geology or mineral resource development. There is a small module in grade 4, another in grade 7, and some high schools offer geology as an elective if there happens to be a geologist turned teacher in the school. What is the impact of this? Most adults in Nova Scotia graduate high school knowing very little about how the earth works, geological processes, hydrogeology, where minerals are found and used, mineral exploration, mining and its benefits or environmental risks. A lot of mineral exploration has traditionally occurred in remote areas where it was very much out of sight and mind. However, with the development of the internet and social media it is no longer possible to work quietly in remote areas. Someone is bound to see the activity and 5 minutes later the whole world knows you are there. When people know little about mineral exploration and mining until they find out someone is exploring in their community through social media or someone knocking on their door asking permission to explore on their property, they often become frightened. It is a common social reaction for most of us exposed to the unknown. Social action groups opposed to mining exploit that fear by posting worst case environmental scenarios on social media. These factors all combine to turn quite placid communities into emotionally charged ones. Once the community reaches that point the opportunity to provide solid science based education of the geological and mineral development subjects is greatly diminished and the opportunity to obtain a social license for mining can be lost. This significant educational deficiency needs to be addressed.
Access to land to explore for deposits and develop new mines on is crucial to the ongoing success of Canada's mining sector. Vast parts of Canada have seen relatively little exploration work and contain significant mineral potential. It is crucial that these areas remain open to staking, exploration and mine development. There has been a worrying trend in Canada's north of large swaths of land being declared off-limits to exploration activity, either in perpetuity or temporarily. Most of the temporary closures are for the settlement of land claims, and it would be good to see more proactive efforts from the government to work with First Nations' governments to resolve the land claims process in a timely, fair and effective manner. This will benefit everyone and provides a clear framework for all stakeholders.
Closing lands in perpetuity for parks or other reserves in remote areas is a major threat to land access. These closures are often vast in area and are done on areas where little detailed evaluation of the mineral potential has been done. It does not make sense to close these areas off to mineral exploration and mining as the land use intensity of these activities is low (i.e. the actual footprint of a mine compared to the surrounding area is small), and temporary (once the deposit is mined out, the site is remediated). Permanently huge closing remote areas in undeveloped parts of the country that see very low land use/disturbance is unnecessary and removes the potential economic benefits of the mineral resources in those areas. Once these permanent withdrawls are in place it is very hard to overturn them. The world continues to need more and more metals and with moves towards cleaner energy production and electrification of transport, this need will continue to grow in the long term. Canada has vast geological resources and is well positioned to be a world leader in the responsible extraction of metals to supply the world. However, to accomplish this these resources must be available for exploration and development.