In the far-north muskeg of Ontario lies a chromite deposit that could potentially rival that of world No 1 producer South Africa, heralding the development of North America’s first significant chromite mine, a new era of prosperity for the region’s First Nations and millions in tax revenue for Canada’s capital province for many decades to come.
Discovered almost by accident in 2002 by diamond major DeBeers, which at the time was looking for diamonds, but instead found copper and zinc, the 5 000 km2 Ring of Fire deposit, which is about 1 000 km north-west of Toronto, is one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century.
Tucked deep into northern Ontario, the Ring of Fire contains rich mineral deposits that could transform the region much as the oil sands have transformed Alberta. Named whimsically for a Johnny Cash song, the crescent-shaped arc of deposits has the potential to make Canada the world’s fourth largest chromite producer.
Only four countries account for about 80% of the world’s chromite production, with South Africa leading Kazakhstan, Turkey and India.
China’s resource-hungry economy buys half the world’s supply and the US buys about 15%. Chromite, when processed into an alloy, is used in the production of stainless steel, among other products and is valued for its ability to increase steel’s hardness, toughness and resistance to corrosion. In thin chrome-plated coatings, it protects auto parts, appliances and an array of other products, including weapons.
But, since DeBeers’ initial discoveries, a flurry of exploration efforts have been undertaken, and one after the other, mineral finds were announced, including copper, platinum-group metals, gold, chromite and nickel.
The Ontario provincial government is also eager to develop the chromite and nickel finds Ontario Assistant Deputy Minister for Ring of Fire coordination Dr Christine Kaszycki told Mining Weekly. She said the area at this time has an expected value of about C$60-billion in minerals and its development would be a boon to all.
And there exists surfeit potential for a multitude of other colossal resources still to be discovered in the area, Toronto-based junior Noront president and CEO Wesley Hanson said.
“With the amount of discoveries made in the Ring of Fire in such a relatively short period, I am certain there are more resources in the area, waiting to be defined,” he said in a recent interview.
As coordinator, Kaszycki’s role is to work with other provincial ministries, the federal government, local communities including First Nations communities, the mining industry and other stakeholders to facilitate the orderly development of the Ring of Fire’s massive potential.
The provincial government last year appointed Kaszycki to a new Ring of Fire Secretariat to help move the various mining and related infrastructure projects forward.
“This is not just about building mines or roads. The entire province will feel the positive economic impact, especially the north with its mining consulting and equipment industries, as well as its supply and service sectors. We have to get it right, especially for the Aboriginal communities to ensure they have the tools to fully participate in the development,” she said in a recent interview with Mining Weekly.
The Assistant Minister said the opportunity exists to develop the resource from the outset in a way that fosters environmental sustainability. She pointed to the correct legislation being in place to ensure a balance is struck between the commercial development of the Ring of Fire and positive social benefits for the First Nations that inhabit the area.
To this end the Far North Act of 2010 was developed, which for the first time in the province’s history provides a legislative foundation for First Nations and Ontario to work together on community-based land-use planning in the Far North. The Far North Act placed into law the requirement for First Nations’ approval of land-use plans on public land.
Ontario Mining Association president Chris Hodgson told Mining Weekly that with the secretariat, the government has the right structure to get everyone on board and proceed in a timely fashion. “They understand the importance of this opportunity.”
He said government’s approach to enable the First Nations to decide on land-use rights, by implementing a number of environmental monitors in the area and its commitment to develop infrastructure in this remote part of Ontario would help to add credibility to the development of the Ring of Fire.
For the rest of this article, please go to the MiningWeekly.com website: http://www.miningweekly.com/article/ontarios-ring-of-fire-could-open-economic-door-to-locals-2012-12-14