GIS puts Mineral Titles Online in BC Mining Industry

In 2005 British Columbia implemented an online system for staking mineral claims, Mineral Titles Online (MTO), which has transformed the province’s mining industry. To stake a claim in the past, miners had to physically go to their desired parcel of land and place posts into the ground outlining the location of their claim. They then had to travel to their local mining recorder’s office to register the claim and pay the appropriate fees. This ground staking system dated back to the gold rush days of the late 19th century when mining meant hardy souls with pick axes à la Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush. These days, however, large multinational mining companies use highly sophisticated technologies to search out new mineral deposits and often they find their claims without ever touching foot to the ground. While ground staking is still used in most Canadian provinces, BC adopted their new online system to be more in touch with the state of today’s technology.
Much of this is thanks to GIS technology and remote sensing (check out ESRI for more info on how GIS is used in the mining industry). MTO uses GIS technology to present miners with an online mapping system from which they can stake their claims from the comforts of their own home with just a few clicks of the mouse. To use the system, a miner–a Free Miner Certificate is required–logs onto the BC government website and opens up MTO. He/she can start by searching for a specific area or claim, or by opening up the online map viewer. This user-friendly map has many familiar built in features such as the scroll, zoom, and mark-up tools. A miner can search the layers of the map by using the ‘Select by Attribute’ function to find the claim or area they are looking for. The map grid itself is based on the NTS series of maps and is broken down into units and then cells, with each cell measuring between 16 and 21 hectares depending on its geographic location.

To register a claim, a miner selects the cell/s on the online map they want and confirms the selection with an electronic payment. This information is automatically and immediately entered in the BC government’s MinFile database as a ‘claimed area’. If you were to go back to the online map, it would now show that cell as being taken with a shaded polygon. No one else could claim that land.

The implementation of MTO has been met with mixed reaction. Most mining companies have welcomed the system. It makes the process of claim staking much easier, more efficient, and reduces costs because miners no longer have to go to the land to stake a claim. However, there is much concern about the negative impacts of the system from environmental groups that fear that MTO will lead to a proliferation of staking, especially ‘nuisance’ staking. Indeed, the number of claims in BC rapidly accelerated when the system came online in January 2005. Even Premier Robert Campbell had his land staked during the online rush. First Nations are especially frustrated because the system does not require a miner to consult with other land users before staking a claim. For a good introduction to their position see this article by the Dogwood Initiative. MTO, through the use of GIS, has undoubtedly changed mining in the province, though it is still up for debate whether this GIS innovation is truly beneficial to society or not.

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