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Yukon mineral exploration plummets even as mines open

The number of active mineral exploration projects this year is down by almost half from last year sparking concerns.

Number of active exploration projects this year is down by almost half from last year

The Coffee project south of Dawson City was one of the biggest exploration spenders this year. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

There's concern about the future of mineral exploration in Yukon after a sharp downturn in active projects this year.

The number dropped to 67, said Scott Casselman, the head of mineral services for the Yukon government, at the Yukon Geoscience Forum in Whitehorse Monday.

He said that's a decrease of almost 50 per cent over last year.

"So that number is a little bit concerning, particularly when you look at where the dollars were being spent on those 67 projects," said Casselman. 

"Three of the projects accounted for about 70 per cent of that expenditure," he said.

The number of mining claims staked by prospectors and companies also dropped to an 18-year low, Casselman said.

Scott Casselman, the head of mineral services for the Yukon government, says he is concerned about the drop in active mineral exploration projects this year. (Dave Croft/CBC)

He said spending on exploration dropped by about $10 million to $103 million.

Junior mining companies are having trouble raising money, Casselman said, which has been the case for several years.

Economic significance

Less spending on exploration has a direct effect on Yukon's economy, he said.

"There are a number of consulting and contracting companies in the Yukon, from geophysical consulting companies, geological consulting companies, drill contractors, equipment operators, the geochemical labs, hotels, the airline industry," said Casselman.

"I mean, everybody is affected by a significant drop in exploration."

The other consequence is that fewer exploration projects means even fewer advanced exploration projects and eventually even fewer mines that go into production, he said.

Attendees at the Yukon Geoscience Forum listen to the annual report on mineral exploration. (Dave Croft/CBC)

This is happening at a time when the territory is poised to possibly see more operating mines than it has in a long time.

Victoria Gold's Eagle mine has just started pouring gold, the shut-down Minto copper mine has re-opened, Newmont Goldcorp hopes to begin mining gold at its Coffee project in 2021, and Alexco's United Keno Hill mine property may go back into production next year, said Casselman.

Placer gold earnings up

Jeff Bond, manager of surface geology for the geological survey, said placer mining industry earnings are up significantly.

Placer miners reported that 75,228 ounces of gold, worth about $116 million, were sold this year. That compared to $89 million in earnings last year.

Bond said a reason for that is the price of gold per ounce was up by almost a third from the year before.

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