Canada should refine own resources – by John R. Hunt (North Bay Nugget – September 10, 2013)

A battle between environmentalists and the mining industry is shaping up at Temiscaming, Que. A junior mining company, Matamec Explorations, intends to develop a rare earth deposit at Kipawa where the nearby lake supplies drinking water for many people in the area.

Some are concerned that the project will destroy an ancient forest containing some 200-year-old oak trees. Most forests will regenerate themselves but the mining company plans to extract 4,200 tons a day in an open pit operation that will leave a large and inhospitable hole.

In today’s society everyone is worried about pollution but it is fair to point out that the mining industry has come a long way since mine wastes or tailings were dumped into Cobalt Lake in 1904. The Copperfield’s mine was operated on an island in Lake Temagami and the Sherman mine at Temagami created millions of tons of waste without causing pollution.

Matamec Explorations is a so-called junior mining company which usually means it is not part of any large corporation. The juniors are often run by aggressive risk-takers and historically have found far more mineral deposits than have the big corporations.

The general public and very likely many mining people do not know much about mining or processing rare earth. The deposits usually contain a number of very special minerals that are often essential for the electronics industries. China has long held a virtual monopoly on 95% of the world’s rare earth and presumably has most of the expertise in refining and processing.

China may lose its near monopoly as reportedly very significant deposits have been found in Greenland. Australia has exported some, the Americans are looking for it at old mine sites and there are reports of rare earth in Brazil.

Put simply, rare earth has become very important and is essential in many industries. Matamec Explorations can only be congratulated for finding it. The company states that it has held a number of meetings with local representatives to discuss possible problems. Presumably many people are enthusiastic at the prospect of up to 200 jobs lasting an estimated 15 years.

It is also fair to ask a few probably unpopular questions.

Reports indicate that ore from the Kipawa project will be shipped to Asia which almost certainly means China. If this stuff is so valuable and essential to so many industries, is it in Canada’s national interest to export it? Why is it that neither the federal nor Québec governments seem interested in using this important natural resource as a means of developing new industries and creating lasting jobs?

At least half a century ago I heard an economist speak to the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. He said that residents of Northern Ontario are destined to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Presumably this also applies to Québec and he should have added diggers of holes.

Unfortunately, too many Canadians seem to be satisfied and content with the economist’s gloomy prediction.

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