Ring of Fire buring issue for Cliffs – Peter Koven (National Post-March 10, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper. This article was originally published in the Financial Post on March 10, 2011. pkoven@nationalpost.com

Bill Boor knows he is in a tricky situation with the Ring of Fire, and that whatever decision he announces in the coming months will upset a lot of people.

“It’s a byproduct of what I think has been a pretty transparent approach that we’ve taken here,” the president of ferroalloys at Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. said in an interview at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada conference.

“You can be very transparent and try to work in good faith to come to the right answer, or you can keep your cards close to your chest, don’t get people excited and just slam an answer down, which I think is less likely to be optimal.”

Cliffs is leading development of the Ring of Fire, an ultra-rich source of chromite and other metals located in a very remote corner of the James Bay Lowlands in Northern Ontario. The provincial government views it as crucial for economic development in the North, where it is expected to become the next major Canadian mining camp.

As part of the development plan, Cleveland-based Cliffs needs to build a 300-megawatt ferrochrome production facility. According to Mr. Boor, it could be the single biggest power user in the entire province.

And that’s the challenge. With such a huge power requirement, Cliffs needs to cut a deal to secure a massive supply of affordable power. Rather than do it quietly, the company came out and named four jurisdictions that could potentially provide it: Sudbury, Timmins, Thunder Bay and Greenstone.

That triggered a frenzy of media speculation in Northern Ontario about which location would get the facility and the jobs (as many as 500) that come with it. Cliffs even suggested it could choose to build it outside of Ontario if a decent power deal can’t be reached, putting pressure on Ontario to come up with a good deal.

Given the importance that Ontario politicians have placed on the Ring of Fire, sources close to the government say it is highly unlikely that it will get built outside the province. While Mr. Boor refused to speculate on what location Cliffs will choose, he said that negotiations with the provincial government and the municipalities have been very productive. “I think the right discussions are happening,” he said.

He would much rather talk about Cliffs’ Chromite project in the Ring of Fire itself. Right now, it is in the very early stages; the company has not completed a pre-feasibility study yet. There is also no infrastructure in the Ring of Fire and no road to get there.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post/Financial Post website: http://www.financialpost.com/Ring+Fire+burning+issue+Cliffs/4412292/story.html