New geologist digging the Skeena

Jeff Kyba is finding his feet as the new regional geologist for Skeena—B.C.’s busiest mining district.

Jeff Kyba

Jeff Kyba

Jeff Kyba has mountains of work to do.

Hired in October, Kyba is finding his feet as the new regional geologist for Skeena—B.C.’s busiest mining district.

Of the $462 million spent in 2011 by B.C. minerals explorers, a record $220 million was spent in Skeena.

Speaking Thursday at a lunch-time talk hosted by the Smithers Chamber of Commerce, Kyba sketched out what makes this part of B.C. so geologically exciting.

“Most of British Columbia is a patch-work quilt of exotic rocks that were not originally formed as part of North America,” said Kyba. And the Skeena District, a land belt that includes the Stikine River and its tributaries, is actually the relic of a Pacific island chain.

“If you can think of the Aleutian islands that continue over to Russia, that is the kind of rock setting that we live in,” added Kyba.

Currently, that rock setting hosts three active mines, 11 mining developments, and roughly 75 exploration projects.

As regional geologist, it is Kyba’s job to survey as much of that work as he can, and act as a go-to expert on Skeena mining for industry and the public at large.

One glittering highlight of the 2011 mining season was Brucejack—a high-grade gold deposit that is being explored by Pretivm Resources about 65 km north of Stewart.

“The kind of gold veins they’re seeing are bonanza,” said Kyba, noting that in 29 of their drill cores, Pretivm found deposits rating more than 1,000 grams per ton.

“That’s incredible,” said Kyba, who worked for a gold exploration company in Australia before moving back to B.C.

“We would get excited in Australia about 10 grams per ton, 20 grams per ton.”

Another notable mining project in Skeena is Red Chris, a potential mine that is waiting to have its water discharge plan approved by B.C.’s environmental assessments office.

Situated at the headwaters of the Nass, Stikine and Skeena rivers, Kyba said Red Chris will be a test case for environmentally responsible developments in the region.

Speaking on behalf of the Smithers Exploration Group, communications director Christine Ogryzlo added context to record exploration dollars spent in the Stikine last year.

“Mining starts with a mystery, and that is the question of where the valuable ore is,” she said, noting that it takes roughly 10,000 exploration attempts to find a single viable mine site.

Once in production, mines can return substantial revenues to nearby communities.

A report by B.C.’s rural secretariat showed that in 2010 Huckleberry and Kemess—two of the Skeena’s three active mines—injected some $53 million in payroll and purchases to the local area, along with $106 million in tax revenues.