Shiny space rocks catch the eye of miners instead of Ring of Fire – by Wendy Parker (In Support of Mining Blog – March 2013)

It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?

Seems everyone’s agog these days with the prospect of mining in space. Asteroids, Mars, the moon, the farthest spinning rock in the universe – you name it, and someone, somewhere, wants to spend huge sums of money to launch drill rigs into space, to extract gold, nickel, rare earths or whatever for hungry Earth-bound customers.

At the same time, the mining world seems distinctly ho-hum about Ontario’s far northern Ring of Fire mineral zone. Mention the region’s tasty potential – for chromite, nickel, copper, PGMs and more — and you’ll probably get a yes-but response that includes the slap of a rapidly closing wallet.

It may be the opportunity of a generation, but the Ring seems to have earned a reputation as a daunting target. Not a place where you want to spend a lot of money. At least not now. Maybe later. Maybe after others have made tangible commitments. Maybe after some of the problems have been ironed out.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why. In a March 7, 2013 piece in the National Post, Peter Koven enumerated some of the “staggering challenges” that impede progress in Ontario’s remote region, including “infrastructure, First Nations agreements, environmental compliance, transportation and more.” No roads, no electricity and no consensus on how development should go forward.

It seems people would rather hitch their mineral dreams to less difficult undertakings. Such as roping space rocks. Or building billion-dollar ports in the ice-clogged Arctic. Or fending off fractious militias in war-torn African nations. No staggering challenges there, eh?

Interesting. But also very baffling.

Ontario was building roads and railways through its northern muskeg decades ago. Sure, it can be difficult and expensive, but it’s hardly rocket science.

And the region’s First Nations aren’t asking for the moon when they request jobs, business spin-offs, permanent infrastructure improvements and a slice of prosperity from Ring of Fire development. Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, communities will always demand a say in how things are done in their backyards. That’s not rocket science either.

As for environmental compliance, there is no one in this province – from any economic sector or ethnic background or walk of life – who wants the environment of the James Bay Lowlands jeopardized by less-than-sustainable development. The technology is there to be developed and applied. The process to assess and then mitigate environmental impacts is well-known, well-used and well-understood.

It’s really a question of finding an approach that will satisfy both the business needs of proponents and the legitimate socio-economic concerns of the region’s people. You don’t need consensus – there will always be grumblers – and you don’t need perfection. But, at a minimum, you must be able to reassure reasonable people that their communities won’t be made the fall guy for someone else’s short-term profit.

All of these things seem doable. None appears to call for rocket science.

So why do those distant asteroids look so much more interesting than Ontario’s Ring of Fire mineral zone?

Because it’s a funny old world, that’s why.

For the original version, please go to the In Support of Mining Blog website:

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