Ring of Fire – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – December, 2011)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business  provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business ianross@nob.on.ca.

“How many more trillion-dollar Sudbury Basins are up
there waiting to be discovered?” Sudol said Queen’s
Park must partner with Ottawa to build a Far North
railroad, road network and transmission lines. “This
financial investment would generate tens of thousands
of jobs in both the North and the struggling south as
well as contribute badly needed tax revenue.” (Mining
Analyst Stan Sudol – RepublicOfMining.com)

All eyes on Cliffs Natural Resources to advance Far North deposit

It’s a real cliffhanger. Anyone with a stake in the Far North’s Ring of Fire is waiting on Cliffs Natural Resources to formally give the greenlight to develop its Black Thor chromite deposit in the James Bay lowlands.

Aside from petitioning for more competitive power rates in Ontario, the Cleveland, Ohio-headquartered international miner has been careful not to expand upon this pan-Northern mine, mill, transportation and refining project beyond its base case released last spring.

Until Cliffs decides to move the project into a full-blown feasibility study, the drama and suspense will continue. While the multi-billion dollar, multi-generational project will be regional in scope, it hasn’t stopped the communities from doing some smokestack chasing to land the ferrochrome production.

This fall, politicians were applying a full-court press while Cliffs made the public hearings circuit in Northern Ontario, talking up its project which is now starting a federal environmental assessment study.

In late September, the mayors of Sudbury and Timmins made their pitch in Ohio, followed by delegations in mid-November from Thunder Bay and Greenstone.

Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren said lobbying for 400 to 500 ferrochrome processing jobs will be a moot point if Ontario can’t get its power rates as competitive as Quebec and Manitoba.

“I still believe that if all those communities (in the running) don’t work together on electricity prices for the Ring of Fire…the concentrator will go elsewhere for the next processes.” If commissioned, the ferrochrome plant would the largest user of electricity in Ontario at more than 300 megawatts.

Laughren said Cliffs officials have told him many times, Ontario is not a lock to secure the processing, and he adds electricity prices will impact value-added manufacturing for future mines now coming online.

“No matter where the processing goes in the North, we have to make sure it doesn’t go to Manitoba or Quebec or China.”

Garry Clark, executive director of the Ontario Prospectors Association, said the potential of a mine in the Far North, with the related infrastructure, will open up the region to exploration like never before.

“If it costs $500 per metre with a helicopter-based drill and I can drop it to $200 per metre with a road- or skidder-based drill, your money goes a lot farther.” How the project rolls out will hinge on Cliffs releasing its prefeasibility study for Black Thor.
“Until the prefeasibility is done and somebody tells them on an engineering basis what’s better economically, people are just talking.”

Stan Sudol, a Toronto-based policy analyst who studies the mining industry, calls the Ring of Fire “the most significant Canadian mineral discovery in a generation.” Sudol said the province must “step up to the plate” to help develop “one of the world’s richest mining camps.”

Miners such as Cliffs and Noront Resources are merely scratching the geological surface of the vast potential in the Far North.

Sudol said these projects have the ability to reduce Aboriginal poverty in this remote region, boost Ontario’s struggling economy and cut into the province’s ballooning $16-million deficit.

“Unfortunately, Liberal government policies are not helping the booming mining sector,” he said adding the province’s Far North Act will cut off half of the region to resource development, something that is causing “enormous concern in the mining sector” at a time when exploration budgets “are at all-time highs.”

Sudol said concern over what areas could become provincial parks only hinders greenfield exploration.

“How many more trillion-dollar Sudbury Basins are up there waiting to be discovered?” Sudol said Queen’s Park must partner with Ottawa to build a Far North railroad, road network and transmission lines.

“This financial investment would generate tens of thousands of jobs in both the North and the struggling south as well as contribute badly needed tax revenue.”

Thunder Bay’s Harvey Yesno, Aboriginal community and stakeholder relations director in the province’s Ring of Fire office, said the arrival of exploration companies in the James Bay lowlands has crated a stir in the communities. “Certainly the excitement is there because of theis opportunity and people are tuning in a lot more.”

In his travels across Northern Ontario, he’s met young Aboriginals who are gaining experience working at mine sites and have high hopes about advancing into supervisory positions. “They’re saying, ‘If something happens in the Ring of Fire, that’s where I want to go, because it’s close to home.’”

At the community level, there is already work occurring to identify what kinds of skill, education level and trades will be needed.

“People are saying let’s get more definitive,” said Yesno, with training institutions at tribal council level, and discussions with Ontario colleges that are focused on mining.

“There are organizations out there that are already in gear. People are already getting ready and First Nations are getting engaged.”

Yesno said there must be a plan in place to recruit and train young people, and get them some industry experience.

As the area opens to access and development, Yesno said fostering good community relations through communications is key. Yesno said the communities need to build capacity from within to fully engage in these opportunities, instead of having them contracted to outside service providers.

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