The closest prospecting to the city of Prince George is years away from ever being a mine, if there is even enough copper there to warrant such an operation.
Xstrata Copper Canada has been drilling exploratory holes less than 10 kilometres from the city's northern boundary. The international mining giant has staked an area at Pilot Mountain and has already done some drilling. They are permitted to drill more, and company officials said they intend to do some of that work this summer, but the amount would be small.
"We're basically just poking around, and that's actually literal, to see what's out there, if there is anything interesting," said company spokesman Louis-Philippe Gariepy from their Canadian head office in Montreal. "Quite honestly this is small-scale stuff. It is grassroots exploration."
Their current permit, good through to the end of 2014, allows them to use a pickup to transport a small drill to the site, and extract core samples a total of 1,000 metres long from no more than six holes.
By contrast, another nearby mining project - the NewGold exploration site west of Prince George -drilled 260,000 metres of core sample last year.
Xstrata is not the first mining firm to be interested in the copper possibilities around Pilot Mountain. Residents in the area said that dribs and drabs of exploration has been happening for decades.
Although mining activity often means lucrative and abundant economic spinoff for a community, the closest homes to the Xstrata exploration are hoping they find too little copper to pique their interest.
"This is about the third or fourth year they've been exploring and before them it was Kaminko," said Gary Nunley. "Word is there is a big copper deposit out there, but we don't know if they've found enough to make a mine."
"We are worried about our land values, we are worried about our water quality, we are worried about having everything we've known destroyed [if they do open a full mine]," said Pam Nunley. "I don't know if you've seen any of the documentaries about what these mines do, but it isn't nice and clean. We have fantastic water, fantastic wildlife, fantastic everything, and we don't want that destroyed."
The Nunley's would be neighbours to any mine that would hypothetically be built. Their property is at the end of the Moldowan Forest Service Road - an offshoot of Pilot Mountain Road, which in turn intersects with Chief Lake Road. They have lived in this undeveloped wilderness area for more than 30 years.
Gariepy said the Nunley's lifestyle is not threatened by Xstrata's activities at least in the foreseeable future.
"When you look for mineral quantities necessary to invest in a mine, you first have to find enough indications that the minerals are there. You need solid evidence," said Gariepy. "With that property, we are in the very preliminary stages and it takes years to get from there to the level of mining. At this stage, you're really blind. You drill sample holes and test the core to see what's there. Anything? No? Then you drill a little to the left or a little to the right. Anything? No? Maybe? Then you drill again, and you keep testing to see if anything is discovered. You go along like that for a long, long time, always evaluating if it's worth continuing."
Anywhere from $100 million to $200 million is the typical investment in the exploration phase of a mine, if it keeps showing enough promise to ramp up the drilling program. To indicate the stage Xstrata is at on Pilot Mountain, they are slated to prepare four to six spots for drilling, each patch of land can be no larger than 20-metres-by-20-metres. The investment for this is seven-figure spending. Gariepy advised that community hopes or fears for a local Xstrata mine are far from a reality.