Ring of Fire Forms Focus for Far Northern Ontario Development
Already, two projects are at EIA and fea-sibility-study stage: Cliffs Natural Re-sources’ Black Thor chromite property and Noront Resources’ Eagle’s Nest, which is being evaluated as a new nickel-copper producer. However, these are by far from being the only discoveries within the dis-trict, where De Beers first found copper-zinc mineralization during its exploration for diamonds; exploration that resulted in the development of the region’s only cur-rent producer: Victor, 150 km to the east. Today, some 23 companies have ground holdings in the area, with current prospects including eight for copper and zinc, five for chromite, and one each for vanadium and nickel-copper. In addition, KWG Resources has staked out claims along a potential line-of-rail from the existing transcontinen-tal railway near Geraldton, northward for over 300 km to the Ring of Fire.
As Dr. Kaszycki explained, infrastruc-ture development will be critical to bringing any mines on stream. At the moment, she said, Noront and Cliffs are looking at dif-ferent routings for all-weather road haulage to supply the area and take products out to a railhead, with Noront’s initial choice run-ning some 450 km west and then south, while Cliffs’ preferred line runs 320 km due south. However, other factors are also at play here, and transport links are just one facet of the overall infrastructure pack-age that will have to be put in place.
Five First Nations communities stand to be most affected by any mine develop-ment, with others likely to be impacted by transport route developments. On the pos-itive side, of course, will be vastly improved access to facilities such as health care, plus the potential for extending the existing provincial power grid to service communi-ties that today rely on diesel generation. Plans are already in hand for a C$1.1 bil-lion grid expansion further west, to connect communities as far north as Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine, with the Wawatay News reporting recently that the First Nations-owned company, Wataynikaneyap Power, is evaluating further expansions from this to include the Red Lake and Ring of Fire camps at some stage in the future.
Thus far, Cliffs has committed to estab-lishing a ferrochrome smelter at Capreol, north of Sudbury, to handle the 2.2 million mt/y of chromite concentrates it expects even-tually to produce from its Ring of Fire proper-ties. Prefeasibility studies have indicated capex of US$3.3 billion, including US$1.8 billion for the smelter. As its side of the deal, the Ontario provincial government has agreed to invest in transport infrastructure, as well as a suite of commitments to the First Nations peoples, including regional environmental monitoring, infrastructure planning, social support and resource revenue sharing with directly impacted communities.
Meanwhile, Noront’s recently complet-ed studies on Eagle’s Nest has indicated capex of C$609 million for an under-ground operation producing 150,000 mt/y of nickel-copper concentrates.
As the keynote speaker at the meeting, Deputy Minister George Ross of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines stated that the province is one of the world’s premier exploration destinations, with over C$1 billion spent in 2011. Recent amendments to the provincial min-ing legislation have produced one of the most competitive tax and fiscal systems anywhere in the world, he said, with tax concessions for new operations in remote locations. Consultation with First Nations groups is required for proposed develop-ments, he added, while environmental standards are high. “It takes more than good geology to promote sustainable devel-opment in mining,” he commented.
The value of Ontario’s mineral production reached some C$10.7 billion last year, with mining and exploration providing more that 27,000 direct jobs and another 50,000 indirect jobs in the province. More than 600 exploration projects are currently active, mainly driven by the gold price, while the current population of 42 mines is scheduled to increase by at least a further eight over the next decade. Three have opened this year alone, with overall capital spending topping C$3.8 billion during 2012. Add to that the C$5.6 billion annual value of Ontario’s mine supply and service sector, and mining’s role within the provincial economy is clear to see.