How do you get Yukon resources to market?
This puzzler was the focus of 130 academics, government and transportation company representatives and mineral developers during meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday at Whitehorse’s Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse.
“The resources are there and we know it,” said Eugene Lysy, Yukon’s deputy minister of Economic Development. “But we lack the transportation infrastructure to move them to market.”
The Yukon’s economic future must not rest on government and federal transfers to the territory, he said.
There is a perception in the South that the North has only limited diamond and gold resources, Lysy added.
“That is simply not true.”
Commodity prices are strong and likely to stay that way due to growth and demand from India, Brazil, Russia and China, said Michael Burke, acting head of the Yukon Geological Survey.
He was delivering a presentation prepared by senior mining analyst Jim Mustard, of Vancouver-based Haywood Securities.
In China alone, 300 million people will enter the “middle class” within the next decade.
“We’re stuck with metals,” said Burke. “They’re not going to go away. There’s no substitute for them.”
The last six years have provided the longest metals bull run since the Second World War, but new social, environmental, and geopolitical influences mean we can’t compare this cycle to previous ones.
Copper stockpiles have been decimated, and worldwide copper mines are reaching the end of their useful lives.
Prices of tungsten, which is abundant in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, have recently skyrocketed.
Australia and Canada are already major producers of uranium, and will benefit if nuclear power grows in popularity.
“Nuclear power, being a green power source, certainly might be more important in the future,” said Burke
Most of Yukon’s current uranium finds are only accessible by air, he said, indicating an area within the Peel watershed.
In his own presentation, the acting head of the mineral services unit listed some of the known mineral deposits in development and exploration in the Yukon.
“We’re very recognized as being a great place to look for stuff,” said Burke.
“Some of our deposits are very impressive.”
Exploration projects are mostly clustered around existing roads, he said.
An open-pit gold mine at Dublin Gulch near Mayo may yield over two million ounces of gold. The Ketza River stake near Ross River could yield 1.8 million ounces of gold.
The Skukum Creek find is in the feasibility stage, but could yield 250,00 ounces of gold and 6.5 million ounces of silver.
Keno Hill is presently the second-largest silver producer in Canada, with 30 million ounces of silver waiting to be extracted.
Between 1914 and 1989, Keno Hill produced 6,750 tonnes of silver; this year $15 million dollars went into further exploration.
The Minto copper mine has gone into production, he noted.
“Yesterday they started the mill up and apparently they’re producing concentrates at this deposit now, so it should be in full production by June,” he added.
Though the mine has a limited stock of copper, gold, and silver, geoscientists also found a second deposit “within spitting distance” of the current Minto pit.
Besides moving equipment in, the challenge with mining is moving base-metal concentrates out.
The Crest deposit, which is only accessible by air at this time, is the second-largest undeveloped iron deposit in the world.
The air-access-only Selwyn deposit is also well-endowed with a base metal whose prices have soared since 2005: “It could potentially be the largest zinc deposit in the world,” Burke reported.
The Advantage North conference was presented by The Van Horne Institute, a non-profit university-affiliated body that generates public policy on transportation and regulated industry, and the Western Transportation Advisery Council, a national transportation industry lobby group.