Cities like Greater Sudbury looking to benefit from the Ring of Fire should market their soft skills such as their knowledge base and skilled workforce, and not just “hard infrastructure” to companies developing the massive deposit.
Communities throughout Northern Ontario are looking to capitalize on development of the 5,120-square-kilometre deposit of chromite, nickel, copper, zinc, gold and kimberlite located about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
The co-ordinator of the Ring of Fire Secretariat, Christine Kaszycki, spoke to members of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday about progress in developing the resource and how businesses might get involved.
Kaszycki, who heads the secretariat established by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry last year, presented a high-level overview of the status of the Ring of Fire development.
It is no wonder the Ring of Fire, one of the most significant mineral finds in history, has captured the imagination of Ontario, said Kaszycki.
The deposit is on the same scale as “histor ic ” mineral deposits in Sudbury, Kirkland Lake, Timmins and Red Lake, she said.
What is different about this deposit is that there is an opportunity to “get in front of it” and plan how it should be developed.
Two of the largest stakeholders in the Ring of Fire — Cliffs Natural Resources and NorOnt Resources– have ambitious plans for startup by 2015 or 2016, she said.
Pre-feasibility studies and baseline environmental assessments are being conducted, including looking at the cost of infrastructure such as permanent roads and rail lines needed to transport ore from the remote area.
Companies with a share in the deposit are moving from the exploration stage to the advanced exploration stage. Cliffs Natural Resources has already spent $250 million on exploration and other work, not including the cost of acquisition, said Kaszycki.
The Ring of Fire contains the only North American deposit of chromite, a mineral used in the making of stainless steel.
The high quality of the chromite in the deposit makes it appealing to markets throughout North America, Europe and Asia, she said.
Cliffs is projecting it could mine one of its deposits by open pit for 15 to 20 years, then mine the same deposit for another 20-25 years underground. That is just one of three or four deposits for which the company has claims.
NorOnt is looking to mine nickel underground, locating tailings storage and its concentrator underground, as well.
Infrastructure will be a “key in unlocking additional opportunities down the road,” said Kacszycki of the Ring of Fire.
Three different proposals are on the table for transportation systems to get the ore from mine sites to processing plants and to market.
After her presentation, she said it is possible the province will look at public-private partnerships for building roads and other infrastructure.
Energy is also a key ingredient in the processing plant that will be established for the chromite ore.
Cliffs Natural Resources has named a brownfield site near Capreol as its base case for such a plant, but that is far from a given at this point, said Kacsycki, who is an assistant deputy minister.
Cliffs has said the high cost of electricity in Ontario is a strike against locating the plant in Greater Sudbury.
Aside from its processing needs, Cliffs will require 30 megawatts of electricity to power its mine and concentrator in the far north, and NorOnt will require 25 megawatts at its mine site.
While that demand could be generated through diesel, it’s possible the two companies would share a transmission system that could benefit remote First Nations, “getting them on the grid,” said the coordinator.
Another factor in the success of the development will be forging partnerships with First Nations and municipalities, assisting them with skills training and social support.
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