The Ring of Fire’s Future Is Now a Burning Question – by Sunny Freeman (Huffington Post – November 22, 2013)

Mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources’ decision to halt work on the largest project in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region has aroused a sudden interest in the lumbering development.

The opposition at Queen’s Park pounced to lay blame on the province for the squandered opportunity.

Financial analysts scurried to advise clients on what it means for their shares. And usually blasé news outlets called on pundits to discuss whether the loss of the U.S. mining giant was a death knell for the much-hyped but little-understood development.

The biggest player in the Ring of Fire, a 5,000 square kilometre tract of land in Ontario’s Far North that is said to hold a potential $50 billion in mineral deposits, announced late Wednesday it is halting work on its $3.3 billion chromite project indefinitely, blaming, for the most part, an “uncertain timeline.”

If Cliffs’ decision to stop development is the death of that high stakes mining discovery, it was anything but a sudden one.

This past summer, I was one of just two reporters covering a historic three-day meeting of the Matawa First Nations, a group that represents many of the communities that are affected by Ring of Fire development.

As part of my reporting for HuffPost’s Staking Claim series, I’ve spoken to the major players in the First Nations community, in government and from the mining companies involved.

They all saw this coming. And none are panicking that the Ring of Fire has been extinguished.

Any insider could see the signs: the many stalls, delays and conflicts between miners and First Nations; miners and government; and government and First Nations.

Just about the only thing the players have agreed upon is the need to “get it right.” The problem is no one has agreed on what that means.

Cliffs has been telegraphing its frustration with the development process every time I have spoken with execs over the past year. It has warned, with growing severity, that it might be “forced” to pull out of the Black Thor chromite project if it doesn’t see better progress. It said so in June, when it halted its Environmental Assessment over a number of uncertainties, and it said so even louder in September when the province denied it the right to build a road on land held by a rival miner.

For the company struggling with funding expansion in an era of low metal prices, the choice to stop work in the Ring of Fire was simple math. Patricia Perisco of Cliffs explained that projects compete internally for funding and Black Thor was a tough sell.

The U.S. mining giant has called the region unprecedented both in the opportunity to open a new mining region and in the scale of the challenges the company faced.

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