The Red Chris Mine site, located 80 km south of Dease Lake in northwest B.C.

The Red Chris Mine site, located 80 km south of Dease Lake in northwest B.C.
The Red Chris Mine site, located 80 km south of Dease Lake in northwest B.C.

The B.C. mining industry wants its own version of the high-profile petroleum industry lobby group "Ethical Oil" to battle what it calls "systematic attacks" by environmental non-governmental organizations

A call has gone out to companies with mining projects and proposals in northwestern B.C. to attend an urgent meeting on the afternoon of May 8th at the Terminal City Club in downtown Vancouver. On the table is the formation of an "advocacy-action Coalition" to work with governments, First Nations, local communities and industry. The call to arms says the Northwest Coalition for Sustainable Mining Development is needed to combat the increasingly sophisticated efforts of environmental NGOs. 

"Several Alaskan and B.C.-based NGOs are using U.S. governmental lobbying and grassroots campaigns in an attempt to stop industrial development in the trans-boundary region where your project is located," read the email invitation from Robert Simpson, president of PR Associates. "Research shows that the movement, which is relying on inaccurate and misleading public messaging, is gaining momentum."

PR Associates—a communications firm specializing in the oil, gas and energy sectors—is organizing the meeting. A spokesperson for Mr. Simpson declined to provide details to BCBusiness. "This is premature, there's nothing to add right now," said Maggie McInnes. "All I can tell you is there's a group of individuals interested in this initiative, and we will have more to say late next week."

McInnes would not discuss what prompted the meeting at this time, or reveal who has been invited.    

The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition is one of the activist groups mentioned in the coalition invitation. Skeena's executive director Shannon McPhail objects to the notion that her group is unreasonably opposed to resource development. She points to projects that are widely supported by First Nations and local communities such as the Galore Creek mine, a NovaGold/Teck joint venture.

"The problem that most mining companies have is many of them have not learned how to work with us on the social licence they need to get their projects through," says McPhail. "The locals live with the benefits and consequences. What is going to create certainty for these ventures and a healthy business climate is forging positive relationships with our communities. This coalition thing is a distraction."

The conflicts over resource development in B.C.'s northwest have become increasingly intense and polarized. An international campaign supported by prominent environmentalists such as David Suzuki and Wade Davis led Royal Dutch Shell in 2012 to abandon its claims in an area dubbed the "Sacred Headwaters." Last summer, Fortune Minerals faced a long First Nations blockade at its exploration camp at the Arctos Anthracite coal property in the same area. Today the Unuk River watershed on the B.C.-Alaska border is ground zero in a growing campaign to stop the world's largest open-pit mine, Kerr-Sulphurets- Mitchell (KSM), from developing a site with an estimated 10 billion pounds of copper and 38 million ounces of gold. Add to this the fact that the BC Liberals jobs strategy calls for the opening of nine new mines by 2015; many of these are still in process paralysis.

Against this backdrop, the mining industry seems poised to take a leaf out Big Oil's playbook and begin a hearts-and-minds campaign of its own.