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UBC Theses and Dissertations

British Columbia copper mining development : a sixty-year economic and political retrospective Nelsen, Jacqueline L.


Mining is a significant economic driver in British Columbia (BC). There has been a long history of copper mining in BC and with a strong forecasted global demand for copper it remains an important socio-economic opportunity. In the last 15 years, only one copper project has progressed beyond the federal-provincial review system to proceed into production. Why has it been so difficult for such new mines to be built in BC? A conceptual framework of political ecology is used to determine the relationship between factors, actors and sectors in order to characterize their influence on mine development in BC between 1952 and 2014. The dissertation is organized in two parts: first, an analysis of economic, social and technological; and, (Part 2) political analysis. Part 2 analyzes seven current copper projects to determine their quality and economic viability. It analyzes the political factors, actors and sectors that are shown to have significantly influenced the development of mineral policy and regulatory frameworks in BC. This analysis showed that political, economic, social and technological forces (political parties, commodity prices, operating and capital cost inflation, environmental regulations, land access issues, environmental and social movements, and a change in voter values) have driven miners to restart or expand old mines rather than build new ones. It considers the potential consequences of what ultimately could result in a punitive cycle of discovery drought. In addition, factors, and actors need to come together in order for such large, low-grade deposits to be built in BC. Building a mine in the current climate is shown to be far more complex and regulated than at the height of BC mining development when Premier W.A.C. Bennett (1952-1972) was in power. The research demonstrates that significant development issues relate in particular to: First Nation land claims; the environmental movement and protected areas; regulatory duplication and inconsistencies; and provincial, federal and international relations that hinder mine development in BC. Overall, highlighting the decline in BC’s copper industry as being a political-economic issue opens up discussion and debate on how to resurrect the industry and how to make it sustainable for future generations.

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