Critical Minerals Mining in British Columbia: Looking Beyond Economic Promises

January 18, 2024

A new study by the Mining Association of B.C. (MABC) revels in the potential economic benefits of mining so-called “critical minerals”. MABC claims that the development of over a dozen new “critical mineral” mines could generate an average annual revenue of $1 billion each (if built).

Setting aside whether the MABC’s claims are accurate or inflated, what’s missing from the report is a comprehensive analysis of the environmental and social impacts these mining operations would have. The focus on revenue and economic output does not paint the full picture of what mining at this scale entails.

Nikki Skuce, co-chair of the B.C. Mining Law Reform network, offered a critical perspective on the issue in an interview with the CBC. She pointed out the significant environmental challenges that are often sidelined in discussions about critical minerals. “The biggest challenges for the mining industry are around water and waste, and those sorts of externalities are completely ignored in this report,” Skuce told the CBC. 

Moreover, the report does not adequately address the concerns of First Nations and local communities who would be directly impacted by these mining activities. The history of mining in British Columbia is fraught with instances where the rights and well-being of Indigenous communities were trampled in the rush for economic development.

These omissions are not just a minor oversight but a fundamental distortion in how the potential of these mining operations is being evaluated by industry – and how industry wants government to view it as well.

In her interview with the CBC, Skuce also made the following point: “There’s a desire for another big mining boom, but we can’t actually mine our way out of the climate crisis … we just don’t physically have the resources.” In other words, the solution to our environmental challenges cannot rely solely on extracting more minerals, even if they are deemed critical for green technologies. We have to move beyond extractivist thinking and work to improve recycling methods, enhance material efficiency, and—most importantly—fundamentally rethink our consumption patterns.

In light of these concerns, it’s essential for the B.C. government to not follow the mining industry’s lead on this issue. As British Columbia moves forward in developing its critical minerals strategy, it should do so with a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Only by addressing these crucial aspects can we ensure that the pursuit of economic gain does not come at an unacceptable cost to our environment and communities.

Featured image: Nikki Skuce, co-chair of the B.C. Mining Law Reform Network, says critical mineral mining must abide by UNDRIP and environmental goals including CleanBC. (Credit: CBC News)