B.C. to Share Fruits of Massive Yukon Mine Project

Long before the first precious ores are dug from the ground, a massive new mine project in Yukon will be pumping tens of millions of dollars into the Canadian economy, with a significant chunk of it going to B.C.

Vancouver-based Western Copper and Gold is planning to invest a staggering $2.46 billion developing its Casino Mine property in a remote area of the territory some 1,225 km northwest of Fort Nelson, B.C. A

An updated report by MNP LLP and titled “Economic Impacts of the Casino Mine Project” was released this week incorporating the results from a feasibility study released in January 2013 offers a tantalizing glimpse of the economic bonanza that the development would trigger.

Construction and operation of the mine would contribute $9.7 billion to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), creating 51,373 full-time equivalent positions and generating $2.5 billion in wages and salaries.

The report estimates the GDP generated in Yukon by the construction of Casino at $363 million, or 14 per cent of Yukon’s 2011 GDP. The construction phase is estimated to contribute $2 billion to Canada’s economy while generating 22,601 full-time equivalent jobs (FTEs), resulting in $1.1 billion in wages and salaries across Canada.

During each of its 22 years of operation, the Casino mine is expected to contribute $274 million to Yukon’s economy. Operation of the mine is estimated to contribute $350 million to Canada’s GDP annually while creating 1,308 FTEs and generating $61 million in wages and salaries across Canada.

The Casino project is also expected to generate $3.1 billion in taxes and royalties to various governments during the life of mine.

Estimates of recoverable minerals at Casino indicate the vast scale of this project, one of the largest gold and copper reserves currently under exploration in North America. They include 8.9 million ounces of gold and 4.5 billion pounds of copper. In Casino’s first four years of full production, starting in 2019, annual output is projected to be 399,000 ounces of gold, 245 million pounds of copper, 15 million pounds of molybdenum and 1.8 million ounces of silver.

“This updated report reiterates the enormous impact that the Casino Project will have on the Yukon and the rest of Canada,” said Dale Corman, Chairman and CEO of Western. “In addition to the great economic benefit, the Casino project will provide other benefits such as training, education, and infrastructure, which will benefit the Yukon over the longer term.”

But the economic impact will be felt much farther afield than in Yukon, where human and material resources are limited.

“This is a big mine,” says Paul West-Sells, President and Chief Operating Officer of Western Copper and Gold. “It will employ a large number of people.”

A small army of some 1,600 workers will be assembled to build the mine, and 600 permanent jobs will be created when production hits its peak. West-Sells says that even though there are large construction firms based in Yukon, the magnitude of the projects means that “even they are going to have to source most of their labor in B.C.”

In addition, he says, “B.C. is going to be significantly represented” among the on-site contractors and suppliers that will be required.

First among the many tasks is to build a $100-million all-season road linking the Casino mine site with the Klondike Highway, 120 km to the east. The mine is currently reachable by an unpaved winter road.

Along this new highway, trucks will begin to haul the infrastructure for major projects such as a $209-million, 170-megawatt on-site natural gas power plant. The mine is too far from the grid to be hooked up and, in any case, would require more energy than the territorial utility’s total output.

The new road is only one component of a total initial capital investment in the project estimated at $2.46 billion, including the power plant. Other major expenditures are for mining equipment and mine development ($454 million); a concentrator ($904 million) and a heap leach operation ($109 million).

Once in operation, liquefied natural gas to run the power plant would be trucked in convoys along the new road all the way from Fort Nelson, the booming new hub of world-class shale gas plays. “We are in advanced negotiations with people in the Fort Nelson area, which is our preferred option for obtaining LNG. ” says West-Sells.

He says Casino is a large enough project that it alone would act as an “anchor tenant to justify construction of a liquefaction facility” in Fort Nelson. “And once that is built, then you open up an opportunity for various companies and governments in northern Canada and northern British Columbia who are also looking to use LNG.”

Pat Pimm, Liberal MLA for Peace River North, a riding that includes Fort Nelson, says that if Western Copper’s LNG plans come to fruition it will certainly present a huge economic opportunity for the community.

Pimm says that although the distances to Yukon are large, there is no reason why Fort Nelson should not become the service centre for mining operations there.

Fort Nelson Mayor Bill Streeper takes the current boom in his stride. He recently told the Canadian Business Journal: “It’s very exciting around here — we are having an issue expanding the town as fast as the people want to bring employees to town, but I think just about any town in Canada wishes they had our problem. It is a bright future in northeastern British Columbia.”

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