What is a mining consultant?
McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd. helps mines through the opening process.
Future growth in the mining consultant business lies in focusing more on the impact of mines on the environment and stakeholders, said a British Columbia mining consultant.
David Pow, a senior mining engineer with the Prince George branch of McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., a Mining Suppliers Association of B.C. member, made the comment just prior to the March 29, 2012, federal budget. That budget outlined the government's plan to streamline the permitting process for major mine and energy projects in Canada.
Pow said in recent years mining consultants have needed to concentrate more on environmental and stakeholder issues as government agencies have struggled with resources to review projects. In addition, a growing number of stakeholders have become more involved in projects.
"What's happened in the mining industry is that in the approval and permitting process, the attention and work has focused more on the environmental impacts and a lot less on the technical impact of projects," Pow said. "So there's increased demand for people who have a knowledge in evaluating the possible impacts and methods to minimize the [environmental] impacts."
He also said after the budget he doesn't expect that demand to change, because he doesn't believe the federal government will pass responsibility for specific project reviews to provinces.
"It's always been a joint review and it's going to continue to be one," Pow said about projects that now require both provincial and federal environmental assessments in British Columbia. "The [federal environment] minister has to make the decision and he's not going to rely on the provinces to do it."
Scope of work increases
Pow said that although his branch concentrates more on providing technical expertise to mining companies, such as engineering, surveying and mapping services--while other branches have more environmental services personnel--that will likely change over time.
"We're increasing our scope and the work we do," he said about the Prince George branch. "And as that increases, we'll be increasing the personnel we have and the services we're able to provide to the industry."
However, Pow stressed the Prince George branch does provide environmental services, which can include fish and wildlife inventory and research, water resource engineering and project management, just to name a few.
The latest projects
At present, about 20 to 30 per cent of branch business involves working with mining companies, Pow said. Contrary to many mine suppliers that have seen a spike in business the last few years as mining activity has picked up, work with mines at the branch level and at McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd. as a whole has remained fairly steady over the past five to six years.
"[That's] because we're in before," Pow said about the comparison between mine consultants and mine suppliers. "There's a lot of groundwork. So for suppliers, once a project is approved and construction decisions have been made, then the suppliers become busy. And we've done most of our work by that time."
Pow said the Prince George branch is currently actively involved with two main mining projects, although it is doing work on a lot of smaller mining projects too.
The two major ones are Copper Fox Metals Inc.'s Schaft Creek project and Seabridge Gold Inc.'s Kerr-Sulphrets-Mitchell project, both north of Stewart, B.C. McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd.'s main duty with both projects is in resource road design, although it is looking at "a lot of auxiliary work" at both as well, Pow said.
Both the Schaft Creek and Kerr-Sulphrets-Mitchell projects are in the midst of federal and provincial environmental assessment processes. The Prince George branch has been involved with the Schaft Creek project for about five years and the Kerr-Sulphrets-Mitchell project for two to three years, Pow said.
The increased length of time for the completion of the environmental assessment process is one of the more recent challenges the Prince George branch has faced, the other main one being coping with the economic downturn in 2008-2009, Pow said. The branch can assist mining companies going through the permitting process, doing actual applications, information gathering and correspondence with government agencies.
"The environmental process is very lengthy and there are different stages that you go through," Pow said. "You go through pre-feasibility and feasibility study stages. And then there are different stages to go through in the environmental assessment process."
Pow said the fact he's worked 39 years in the mining industry has helped him live with the many ups and downs in the business. Past positions he's held include working as the Prince George region district manager for the Ministry of Mines for 10 years.
He also said he still likes his chosen career.
"It's a good industry," he said. "There's a lot of challenges and it has challenges [that test] all aspects of engineering."