Yukon prospectors riding high on mineral boom

Yukon prospectors riding high on mineral boom

Predictions of a boom in mineral exploration in the Yukon are panning out this year.

The territory’s mining industry has more than doubled in a year, with estimated exploration and development expenditures topping $107 million. Of that, $67 million is being spent on exploration, and the balance on further development of properties.

It’s a far cry from 2001, when the territory’s industry bottomed out with less than $5 million in overall spending.

“Every commodity is up to the roof now,” said Shawn Ryan, one of the territory’s top prospectors, adding that whether it’s zinc, copper, lead, molybdenum or tungsten, “everything’s at a record high right now.”

Last summer, Ryan, who is running his operations out of Dawson City this summer, had about five employees working for him. This year, he has a dozen on his payroll. Ryan’s story’s not unusual: The territory’s chamber of mines says more than half of 85 companies it contacted earlier this year said they were planning to return to the Yukon this season. Crews are busy across the territory collecting samples and running drilling rigs.

“The hardest thing to find is a diamond drill, anywhere in the country,” said John Witham, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. “They’re all busy. And then you have huge issues trying to find crews to run them.”

A few clouds on the horizon

There are small clouds on the horizon, besides the lack of workers. Ryan says exploration has been hampered this year by a late spring, and the need for industry to get up to speed on the territory’s new environmental screening process. “I think at one point we were going to hit $100 million in exploration,” Ryan said.

Nevertheless, Ryan added, it’s gratifying to see there are lots of jobs in the industry for young people. “So now the young guys can come back in and get a guaranteed job every year, that’s the neat part I like about it,” he said.

Witham said he sees no quick end to what’s been called a “super cycle” in the mineral industry. Growing Asian economies will likely fuel demand for years to come.

“I think we’re in for a bit of a sustained boom,” he said. “I don’t think there’ll be a huge increase or decrease next year, it will stay at a nice sustainable level.”

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