Digging Deep: Fueling BC’s Economic Engines with Science, Technology, Innovation and Collaboration

Investing now in science and technology will attract investment, create jobs, promote collaborative innovation, reduce emissions and support Indigenous reconciliation throughout the province
By: Gavin C. Dirom, President & CEO
After a long and difficult 2020, the new year started with a sense of optimism and indicators of better times ahead as COVID-19 vaccinations began in BC and around the world. Now, as we look to economic recovery we have the opportunity to build on BC’s successes and leverage our existing competitive advantages. Investing now in science and technology will attract investment, create jobs, promote collaborative innovation, reduce emissions and support Indigenous reconciliation throughout the province.

Economic Engines
According to the Business Council of British Columbia, mining and energy are two “big economic engines” of B.C.’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs and generating billions in revenue while operating with low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity compared to other competing jurisdictions. Provincial metal and steelmaking coal production was valued at $9.28 billion and mineral exploration spending in BC hit nearly $423 million in 2020, the highest since 2013. Global copper demand needed for a net zero emission future is forecast to grow by 50% in the next 20 years. Upstream oil and natural gas investment in BC is forecast to grow by 29 per cent to $3.9 billion in 2021, with demand for BC’s lower emission intensity natural gas expected to rise.

Successful natural resource development fueling our economic engines begins with, and depends on, geoscience. At the recent Association for Mineral Exploration Remote Roundup conference, federal Minister O’Regan highlighted the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan and an urgent need for public earth science to focus the search for economic mineral deposits. Discoveries are typically made by mineral explorers using geoscience data to optimize limited financial resources to target their efforts and increase their odds of finding critical, but hidden, minerals. High quality, publicly available data is valuable because it increases a mineral explorer’s chance of discovery. This is one reason why every dollar invested by Geoscience BC in minerals research results in approximately $6.60 of mineral exploration investment, according to an analysis of BC’s Assessment Report Indexing System.

Innovation Reduces Emissions
Premier Horgan and Minister Ralston have spoken of the importance of innovation, improving provincial competitiveness and leveraging investment opportunities and partnerships. One initiative that exemplifies all of this is our GHGMap project, where new innovations and research are helping to reduce emissions. Co-funded by Geoscience BC and the federal government, GHGMap is adapting technology developed for NASA’s Mars mission for a drone-mounted optical sensor that can measure local GHGs. Testing at natural gas sites shows that GHGMap can be a valuable tool for detecting and mitigating GHGs. Also, new Geoscience BC minerals research is showing that mineral development and emission reduction can go hand-in-hand. The potential for ultramafic rocks to absorb carbon dioxide is real – when these rocks are exposed to carbon dioxide gas, they react naturally to form stable carbonate minerals. This could make potential mines like FPX Nickel’s proposed Baptiste nickel project near Fort St. James carbon neutral.

Collaboration is key to success. Geoscience BC has agreements with organizations such as the BC Geological Survey, BC Oil and Gas Commission, Natural Gas Innovation Fund and the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada. As BC moves forward on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, meaningful partnerships with First Nations are critically important to creating shared prosperity. Geoscience BC also has agreements with Tahltan Central Government and Fort Nelson First Nation, and expects to announce new agreements with more Indigenous groups soon, as well as new water research that brings together Traditional Knowledge and Western science.

Competitive Advantages
As we work towards our recovery, we need to invest in sustainable economic growth that leverages our competitive advantages, tackles our biggest challenges and creates opportunities throughout the province. We are fortunate to have a successful made-in-BC model for public earth science that helps do this. Since 2005, the Geological Survey of Canada and the British Columbia Geological Survey have been augmented by Geoscience BC, an independent not-for-profit society which promotes, funds and manages mineral, energy and water research projects in every region of BC. Continued funding of public earth science in BC will support key economic engines, attract investment, create jobs, promote collaborative innovation, and help build a stronger economic recovery and a brighter future for all British Columbians.