Thompson’s future looks up as Vale studies mine potential – CBC News Manitoba (November 25, 2013)

The northern Manitoba city of Thompson could be home to a new mining mega-development from Vale, which is exploring minerals deep underground.

News of a potential big development is being cautiously welcomed in Thompson, which was devastated by news in 2010 that Vale — the city’s largest employer — would shut down its nickel smelter and refinery there by 2015.

Vale is currently testing ore samples in a project area it calls 1-D, about 3,800 to 4,200 feet underground in the company’s T-3 mine shaft. Preliminary testing in 1-D shows a deposit rich in nickel and copper deposits and also containing some cobalt and precious metals.

Vale says it has been mining in 1-D for years, but officials believe now is the time to dig deeper in an largely untapped section of the deposit extending as much as 6,800 feet underground in some places.

According to the company, geologists have been pulling up core samples containing extremely high-grade nickel. Based on their tests, the geologists believe there are at least 10 million tonnes of nickel present.

“It’s very exciting … when you open it up the core boxes and you see this as far as understanding how it got there as a geologist and things like that, but also just what good news it is for the community,” said Rob Stewart, the exploration manager with Vale’s Thompson operation.

“We’re testing in areas that previously weren’t tested and we’re just showing that we understand that the ore controls enough to be able to extend as we go down, so it is very exciting.”

Stewart said based on the samples he has seen, it appears there may be enough nickel deep underground to extend the mine’s life by at least 15 to 20 years.

‘Awful lot of fear’ after 2010 announcement

Nickel has long been the economic driving force in Thompson, which a population of more than 12,800 people.

Vale’s announcement on Nov. 17, 2010, about the refinery and smelter closure had an immediate impact on more than 500 people who worked at the processing plant.

However, its effects were widely felt across the northern city, where Vale has been its largest employer.

Mayor Tim Johnston said he had just returned from Fort McMurray, Alta., and had big plans for diversifying business in Thompson when the bad news came.

“A lot of people had a lot of questions about what was going to take place, what was going to happen. And in any situation like that, there’s many scenarios that people play out in their minds, and I think that there was an awful lot of fear about the markets crashing or people boarding up their windows or leaving town,” he said.

“You have to remember at that period, we were just at the height of some real economic development and along came the news. And it was like someone switched the light off.”

Johnston, along with Vale and other community partners, launched a plan to diversity the local economy, billing it more as a service centre to the North as part of an initiative called the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG).

Still, the smelter and refinery closure had many worried about the city’s future.

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