Editor's Note: Mining Journal is making some of its most important coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic freely available to readers. For more coverage, please see our COVID-19 hub. To subscribe to Mining Journal, click here.
The support exploration companies can give communities in the rural areas where their projects are located, often far outside urban areas, is helping those communities deal with the fallout from the virus crisis.
"Now is the perfect time for miners to show what they can do. We have taken it upon ourselves to really jump in and ramp-up the ESG aspect of how we conduct business. Our pedigree from Integra Gold to engage with stakeholders was early and often. We've taken that pedigree and replicated it," George Salamis, president and CEO Integra Resources told Mining Journal.
Mining companies are increasingly being assessed by investors and other stakeholders on their ESG credentials, a fact Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow highlighted during the company's first quarter results conference call as he discussed the score card it had developed to compare ESG performance with its competitors.
In addition to its normal ESG activities, Barrick has donated $20 million to its various host governments as well as food and medical supplies. "Poverty, we found out, is a global problem from Nevada to Tanzania," he said.
Barrick is looking to set the tone for how ESG at senior gold producers is evaluated, but the absence of a routemap for junior explorers to follow prompted Salamis to set the tempo on its own.
"There are a lot of ESG standards in the mining business that are really starting to hit the producers, but there are not a set of standards for advanced junior explorers like ourselves. There is no guidebook to follow so we are putting a recipe book together. Many explorers do not have much of an ESG budget but we have proven with these three initiatives that it is not expensive to do," he said.
In Idaho, USA, where its DeLamar gold project is located, the company has developed three initiatives to help its host rural communities including doing shopping runs for vulnerable residents, buying and donating gift cards to support local businesses, many of which were forced to close as non-essential services, and helping distribute surplus dairy production to those in need.
"This is the perfect time to show the local communities close to DeLamar what Integra is made of and what we do. Those three things didn't take an immense amount of effort, mainly gasoline and time, but boy, they feel really good to," Salamis said.
The Jordan Valley community is at least an hour's drive from large grocery stores so the company offered to fetch groceries for the elderly community to remove the risk of them going to the grocery store and catching the virus. "Tell us what you need and we'll get it. We covered the cost of the gasoline and our time and residents paid for their groceries," he said.
Integra also participated in the Curds + Kindness programme of the Dairy West association, which seeks to find alternative destinations for surplus dairy products impacted by interrupted supply chains such as restaurants closing, rather than dumping them. "We helped facilitate deliveries to food-insecure folks in Idaho that cannot afford to eat as well as working with the Owyhee country school district so that kids in low income families get meals everyday," he said.
Salamis believes that general attitudes to mining may start to improve as a result of the economic hardships COVID-19 has brought.
"There is no greater way to help economic recovery than by responsibly building new mines and showing communities the possible economic benefits that come with that. Mining pays the highest rates for skilled jobs on the planet. We can show that mining not only provides raw materials but provides well-paying jobs in areas that need them. Hopefully we can win some hearts and minds by being part of the economic recovery," he said.
Although mining was deemed an essential service in Idaho, Integra decided to take a seven-week hiatus in its drilling programme, which it is due to restart later this month. However, Salamis still expects to deliver a pre-feasibility study on time in 2021.
"Before COVID-19 we were looking to ramp up to three rigs by September, so that will happen earlier and faster as we are planning on having the first rig at Florida Mountain on May 20th, the second rig in early June and a third in July at War Eagle. We haven't lost any time in the grand scheme of time as none of the studies for the PFS have been impeded," he said.
Shares in Integra Resources are trading at C$1.27, valuing the company at $152 million.