Speaking at the annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in Toronto in March, business representatives from the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) had a different take as they discussed infrastructure and other challenges they face — and some of their recent achievements.
“The north is often seen as this cold, isolated place but I can tell you it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to,” said Rio Tinto Canada president Virginia Flood. “It is cold, but if we can deal with the infrastructure and the energy side of it I think that will actually spur other people to come up north.”
Flood and fellow colleagues spun tales of the north that harkened back to Yukon’s Gold Rush of the late 1890s. While those frontier days are long gone, prospecting and mine development continue apace for riches as varied as gold, diamonds and iron.
As Flood and other speakers explained, the landscape has changed considerably. “The cost of energy and infrastructure is huge,” Flood said, explaining that Rio Tinto recently spent $33 million building wind turbines to help fuel operations at its Diavik diamond mine 200 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle in the N.W.T.
“We have four of them and they represent 10 percent of our energy,” Flood said. “They reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by six percent and lower our fuel storage costs because they (offset) about 12,000 tonnes of fuel per year.”
Diavik, a joint venture also involving Dominion Diamond Corp., has been transitioning to an underground mine and a workforce that reflects modern-day realities.
“We have a little over 1,000 employees, and 25 percent of them are Aboriginal,” Flood said.
Truth be told, resource companies and Aboriginal communities have not always been on best terms. But times are slowly beginning to change. Whereas mining exploration and development companies have traditionally used rights such as eminent domain to stake claims without securing the consent of people living in a particular territory, companies are starting to consult and engage First Nations.
A handful, like Avalon Rare Metals, are even including equity stakes in agreements with First Nations.
President and CEO Don Bubar said his company purchased the Nechalacho deposit at Thor Lake in the Northwest Territories in 2005 from an owner that had viewed the project, located on Akaitcho territory (belonging to the Dene Nation) as hopeless.
“They had given up completely,” Bubar explained.
“We realized there was a history there and kept them fully informed. We asked for their thoughts on how it could be developed to minimize the impact and so they could share in revenues and employment and business opportunities. In fact, we took it a step further by putting equity participation in the project on the table.”
Bubar added that Avalon hopes to finance the company and actually get the mine built and operating in about four years. A key challenge for companies looking to build mines and other facilities is an almost total lack of infrastructure.
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