Keeping Thunder Bay in the picture for Ring of Fire refinery – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal editorial (March 15, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal  is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario. This opinion piece was originally published on March 15, 2011.

MAYOR Keith Hobbs is trying hard to position Thunder Bay as the logical location to process chromite from the giant Ring of Fire mineral deposit far to the north. In competition with officials from other Northern Ontario communities, Hobbs has made a good case.

Thunder Bay has the services, the manpower and expertise, the transportation and the electrical energy needed for a project of this size. And sizable it will be, requiring enough electricity to power a community of 300,000 people. It will be the largest single user of power in the province, which puts enormous pressure on the provincial government to provide what Cliffs Natural Resources, the main Ring of Fire developer, refers to as “a key input. The availability of a large, reliable, long-term and cost-competitive supply of electricity is a key consideration in siting the ferrochrome production facility.”

Cliffs identifies Timmins, Sudbury and Thunder Bay as potential locations, though it has gone so far as to use Sudbury as its base case model for planning purposes because it is already an important mineral processing centre. Hobbs has gone to some lengths to ensure Thunder Bay remains fully in Cliffs’ consideration and he’s got an Ontario Power Generation plant as one ace along with a Seaway port that Sudbury does not have.

Hobbs is this week working to allay environmental concerns about the processing facility. Primarily, he insists it will not be a dirty smelter with smokestacks belching pollution. A similar facility in Finland, Hobbs said, produces fewer emissions than the area’s regional hospital. Cliffs explains it this way: “The final step in the project is the refining of the ore and concentrate to ferrochrome metal (1,500 tonnes per day) in enclosed electric arc furnaces.”

Raw ore, coal and quartzite to separate out the ferrochrome will be stockpiled and fed into the furnaces at 1,700 degrees C. The finished product will be poured into ingots to cool for transportation to world stainless steel and other markets.

Cliffs does not set out expected emissions numbers in its current proposal but stresses the importance to “minimize or avoid adverse environmental impacts before they occur” and to “incorporate environmental factors into decision making.” An environmental assessment will be essential to ensure compliance with modern requirements. Cliffs does say the process will produce some 2,100 tonnes of slag each day which “may be useful as aggregate (a four-lane Trans-Canada Highway across Northern Ontario comes to mind) or other industrial purposes.”

Thunder Bay is well positioned to host the major off-site component of Canada’s largest mining development. Hobbs is seeing that Cliffs doesn’t forget it.