• What do you learn when you visit a mine?


    November 23, 2017

    It was my great pleasure to accompany a group of 22 secondary teachers from Lower Mainland and Okanagan schools on a tour of Copper Mountain Mine near Princeton in mid-October, a tour organized by MineralsEd for teacher professional development. The day was full of unforgettable experiences – sitting in the cab of a haul truck, getting a near bird's eye view of the pit and travelling right into it to observe the large mining equipment, watching a blast, touring the mill, and learning about the people and their jobs. One of the special and unexpected moments was the reunion of DW Poppy teacher, Rory Allen, with a former student, Renee Gould, now a metallurgist at the mine. Teachers never know where they will cross paths with their former students!

    Our group saw and learned many important facts about the Copper Mountain operation during our four hour visit.

    • Mining has gone on this area for nearly 100 years. The current mine was built in two years at a cost of $435 million, and opened in 2011.
    • More than 38,000 tonnes of ore are put through the mill every day; the ore is .2-.3% copper and contains gold and silver. The copper price is just above $3.00/lb, and the mining to market costs less than that, but not a great deal. Electricity to run the mill 24-7 is the greatest operating cost - $2.5 million per month.
    • The ore is related to ancient volcanism, hosted in island arc rocks emplaced onto North America and forming part of BC in the Mesozoic. Blasting in the pit is done at least once a day. There is a final 10 second countdown before the blast, and complete radio silence in the last 5 seconds.
    • The ore is very hard. To improve mill operations, the ore is crushed twice before it enters the mill. The mill is very NOISY. The overall milling process is quite straightforward: grind, float, dewater, dry, but there are many circuits in the mill to ensure the most effective recovery of copper concentrate and precious metals associated with it.
    • Every day, 8 to 10, double-trailer trucks haul copper concentrate to Vancouver Wharves in North Vancouver for shipment to a smelter in Japan.

    As interesting and as important, was what we learned about the people who work at Copper Mountain. Their workforce comes from all over. This 24/7 operation employs ~430 people with an annual payroll is ~$50 million. The majority are trades, technicians, labourers or equipment operators; the majority are men. There are many opportunities to work your way up at the mine. Apprenticeship programs at Copper Mountain are promoted and well-supported, and offered to committed employees with a desire to develop specific skills.

    Among the many people we met and who spoke to us on the tour:

      Peter knows the regional geology well; he worked at the previous mine on the mountain, Similco, which closed in 1996 and has been on the team that brought this new mine into production.
    • Patrick, an engineer, hails from Sweden, but has worked elsewhere in BC and at Copper Mountain since it started up. (His wife is a school teacher in Princeton, attending the Super Conference in Vancouver that day.)
    • Russell, a young HD mechanic originally from Smithers, was happy to see our group visit the machine shop and tour the mine. He is concerned that people in the cities don’t know much about mining and don’t think it is important.
    • Sarah, one of the fulltime equipment operators, is also trained as the Dispatch for all the mobile equipment that is tracked by GPS and monitored via a single large screen in a room far from the pit.
    • Rob, a seasoned mining veteran who drove our tour bus, travelled worldwide with his family for his work in mining and is now the mobile equipment trainer at Copper Mountain.
    • Tanya, a young woman who had worked in a mine in the Kootenays before moving to Princeton, is a full time Hydraulic Shovel operator, but worked relief as the Lead Hand in the pit that day.
    • Kenny, one of three young men who shepherded us through the mill, is now one of the Mill Supervisors, having worked “from the bottom up”, as he put it, since the mine opened.
    • Don, the VP Operations, is a Newfoundlander whose path to mining began with a teenage interest in the metallurgy of mountain bike frames. His career has taken him many places, and he is proud of the Copper Mountain operation and all it contributes. He sincerely asked the teachers “what can we do to get young people interested in mining careers”, which sparked many constructive ideas.

    They were all good people doing honourable work in a work place that is not familiar to almost everyone else. They come from different backgrounds and home towns, but become part of a team that contributes to the safe, efficient and productive operation of the mine. Change a few words, and the same can be said for the teachers who visited that day.

  • Lapis Lazuli, symbol of truth, wisdom and friendship


    October 3, 2017

    Lapis Lazuli is perhaps one of the most beautiful names for one of the most beautiful gemstones on Earth, and those words simply mean ‘blue stone”. Lapis lazuli is not a mineral, but rather a deep blue metamorphic rock that is made up mainly of the blue mineral lazurite, plus calcite and pyrite, which gives it its sparkle. In nature Lapis Lazuli occurs most commonly in association with marble that has been deformed and altered through contact metamorphism, that is, when carbonates are in contact with heat and fluids associated with an igneous intrusion.

    Lapis Lazuli has caught the eye of humankind and been used for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptions created amulets from Lapis, and ground it for blue pigment for cosmetics. Cylinder seals made from Lapis were created by Assyrians and Babylonians. More than 6,000 beautifully executed lapis lazuli statuettes of birds, deer and rodents as well as dishes, beads and cylinder seals have been found in the Ancient Royal Sumerian tombs of Ur in Iraq.

    Today, the finest quality Lapis Lazuli is mined in Afghanistan. It is primarily used to make sculptures and is cut and polished into cabochons, set in silver or gold and made into bracelets, necklaces and earrings. It is considered a symbol of friendship and is the commemorative stone for the 9th wedding anniversary.

    Learn more!

    Gem Select

    Gemology Institute of America

    International Gemological Institute

  • The Most Common Mineral on Earth


    September 13, 2017

    Did you know that the most abundant minerals in Earth’s crust are feldspars? That is a significant fact and so worth understanding more about them.

    Feldspar refers to a group of silicate minerals that contain different ratios of the elements potassium, sodium, and calcium in combination with silicon and oxygen. Feldspar is a main ingredient in granite (orange crystals in the polished sample, right) but it is common in all three main rock types. Depending on their composition, feldspars range in colour from pinkish orange to white, grey, green, blue and black. They are all light weight, very hard, shiny and break in two prominent cleavage directions.

    Some varieties of feldspar are semi-precious gems. One that is special to Canada is Labradorite, named for its occurrence in Labrador. It is bluish-black or greenish-black, and displays a beautiful iridescence (middle photo, right).

    Large deposits of gabbro containing this beautiful mineral are commonly called (but not properly named) black granite. It is quarried for decorative facing stone on buildings and countertops (bottom photo, right).

    Run of the mill feldspar is mined in many places all over the world, extracted from granites, pegmatites and certain sandstones. It is considered an industrial mineral that is used in the manufacture of glass, in ceramic glazes, paints, and a host of other familiar materials we use every day.

    Learn more:


    Industrial Mineral Association-North America

  • The Importance of Moly


    August 30, 2017

    Molybdenite – moly for short - is another essential mineral. Its key ingredient is the element molybdenum (Mo) that is combined with sulphur. Molybdenite commonly occurs with other metal sulphides, especially copper. A number of metal mines in BC produce moly concentrate.

    Moly is silvery grey, very soft, like graphite, and slippery. No surprise that it is useful as a lubricant, particularly in high temperature applications, such as big engines. Surprisingly, moly added to steel improves the alloy's strength, toughness, resistance to wear and corrosion, and hardness.

    Molybdenum is also essential to all life. Bolstering food production, molybdenum is used by bacteria in soil to turn nitrogen into a form that plants can use to promote healthy growth and better crop production. In humans and other animals, molybdenum is an essential trace element, part of specific enzymes involved in metabolism of protein, detoxifying cells of sulfite, and other processes.

    We get the molybdenum we need through our food. Good sources of molybdenum in our diets are leafy vegetables and legumes. The molybdenum in those foods and many others, comes from the breakdown of moly minerals, like molybdenite, in the soil.

    Learn more:

    International Molybdenum Association

    Molybdenum, the Chemical Element

    Mo - Periodic Table Video

    Molybdenum Enzymes 


  • A Mineral We Cannot Live Without


    August 16, 2017
    Sphalerite crystals on dolomite.

    If there was ever a mineral that we cannot live without it is sphalerite! Its key ingredient is the element zinc. Zinc, also known as the great protector, has many uses, the most familiar being as a coating of steel to prevent it from rusting. But zinc oxide is also an ingredient in sunscreen and diaper ointment, and zinc is alloyed with copper to make brass.

    Zinc is essential to all living things, including us. It is used to generate cells, to make our bones and organs grow, and to develop healthy functioning brains. We ingest zinc in our food – especially things like meat, fish, poultry, whole grains, and dairy. Whether we eat plants or animals, the zinc ultimately comes from minerals broken down in the soil.

    The World Health Organization estimates that 2 billion people do not have enough zinc in their diets because their diets are mostly plant-based and/or the soils in the region are zinc poor. Many organizations are partnering with zinc-producers, including Vancouver-based Teck Resources, to provide zinc therapies and supplements to those in need, to add zinc to fertilizers to improve poor soils, and to fortify food products, such flour and rice, to improve nutrition and health around the world.

    Zinc Oxide & You 

    International Zinc Association

    Zinc and Health