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For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery
The executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) said he’s cautiously optimistic about the opportunities his members may have through high-grade nickel-copper and chromite deposits in the James Bay region known as the “Ring of Fire.”
Dick DeStefano was among those who attended a speech by Wes Hanson, Noront Resources’ president and CEO at a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Copper Cliff Nov. 26.
Hanson outlined the junior mining company’s preliminary plans for a massive underground mine and milling complex beneath the swamps of the James Bay Lowlands.
McFauld’s Lake and the James Bay region is a breadbasket of chromite, nickel, copper, gold, platinum and palladium. Noront is the largest landholder with 120,000 hectares, including its flagship Eagle’s Nest deposit, located 300 kilometres west of DeBeers Canada’s Victor diamond mine.
“Physically we’re well placed (in Sudbury), and historically we’re well placed,” DeStefano said. “It’s the question of what materials and products and services (Noront) is looking for. That’s not been identified. It could be at least three years before we know that.”
Sudbury suppliers will also likely face competition from firms spanning across North America, DeStefano said.
Hanson told those gathered at the Caruso Club event that it has put together a management and consulting team that includes North Bay mine builders Cementation and consulting engineers Golder Associates and Knight-Piesold; and automated mine expert Greg Baiden of Sudbury. “We’re trying to use as much northern expertise as we can get gather.”
With the mineral exploration potential in this region “absolutely huge,” Hanson said the opportunities for Sudbury mining supply companies can only grow.
Baiden, the owner of Penguin Automated Systems Inc., said his firm has been hired to work on the mine design and looking at what technology could be put in place in the mine.
The mine project holds lots of potential for Sudbury firms in general, he said.
“(Noront is) going to outfit an entire new mine, and there’s lots of work to be done around the processing of the material,” he said.
“There’s a couple of other companies involved that are in Sudbury…It’s kind of what we all do. Noront came up here because we have the expertise to help them.”
As a strictly fly-in, fly-out venture, the boggy terrain in the McFauld’s lake area challenging to explore and develop. “It’s not uncommon to see your diamond drilling contractor standing up their waists in water, finishing a hole,” said Hanson.
What’s got industry and politicians excited is the discovery of chromite. The black mineral, which is processed into ferrochrome, is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of stainless steel. It’s the first discovery of its kind in North America and could place Canada as a top three chromite miner.
But the infrastructure costs and power needs for the project will be huge, said Hanson.
“If we’re going to produce ferrochrome in Canada, we’re going to need lots of power, probably more than is currently available on the grid.”
Hanson hinted that it’s going to require a substantial government investment.
With China’s appetite for chromite expected to double within five years, chromite’s growth curve looks very strong. “It represents an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed by the province,” said Hanson, who mentioned Premier Dalton McGuinty’s reference to the Ring of Fire in last spring’s throne speech. “Hopefully by saying that he’ll build me a road and get me up there.”
But Hanson is equally bullish on their discovery of nickel sulphides, with exploration results showing grades as good as anything found in Voisey’s Bay, Nfld.
With chromite ore selling at $150 per tonne and nickel-copper sulphides at $700 per tonne, Noront wants to mine the ore with the highest value. “Chromite is a nice add-on, but we think nickel-copper sulphide will do all the heavy lifting.”
With no operating mines to produce a steady stream of cash, Noront is focused on minimizing costs and is determined to leave a light environmental footprint as possible on one of the world’s largest wetlands.
Compared to the multi-billion dollar open pit and railroad plans of their Ring of Fire rivals, Noront is looking at a $600,000 million underground mine and mill complex.
Their preliminary economic assessment calls for a one million tonne per year mine with its processing mill and tailings facilities placed below ground inside excavated rock caverns. There will be no headframe on surface.
“The goal is to build a mine you can walk over and not even know its there,” said Hanson.
A winter road from Pickle Lake to Webequie will be upgraded to an all-season road. A diesel power plant will be built near Webequie to provide power to the mine site and a slurry pipeline would transport concentrate 80 kilometres from the mine to a filter plant near Webequie.
Hanson said a pipeline is more efficient, less environmentally damaging and cheaper to operate than railroad at only $300 million. “As a company as small as Noront we’ve got to find more efficient ways of doing things.”
The miner has put extra effort into building trust with area Aboriginals by forming a First Nations advisory board with leading Aboriginal leaders from across Canada.
The Far North communites suffer unemployment rates as high as 95 per cent and Noront wants to train and groom them as its future work force.
As part of its social agenda, Noront is focusing on aboriginal youth and their schooling by sponsoring bursaries for post-secondary education, holding career fairs, funding school trips to Sudbury, sponsoring “Mining Matters” camps and creating a consultation web portal.
“We want to establish a culture of trust between our company and the communities where we work. We want to make sure they understand we’re not there to destroy the environment. We’re not there to take out the mineral wealth and leave them with nothing. We’re there to engage them as partners and help them realize the benefits that all of us in this room take for granted.”
With files from Heidi Ulrichsen [email protected]