The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
On May 9, Cliffs Natural Resources announced the company was advancing its massive $3.2-billion chromite project in the isolated and infrastructure-challenged Ring of Fire region to the feasibility stage. Sudbury was selected as the best location for the proposed $1.8-billion smelter for a wide range of reasons, including rail, transportation, power supply and skilled workforce.
If you think that such a positive announcement should bring collective cheers across the North and an economically imploding southern Ontario, you would be wrong. The ensuing flurry of anguished and angry news releases from First Nations, environmental organizations, and some politicians was enough to make any reader despair that the Ring of Fire will ever be developed.
First, some essential background info before I continue: Discovered in 2007, the Ring of Fire mining camp, located 540 km northeast of Thunder Bay, in the James Bay Lowlands, will probably go down in history books as one of the most significant Canadian mineral finds of the past century. It is estimated that the chromite deposits are so large that we could be mining up there for the next hundred years and that the total mineral potential of the region — chromite, nickel, copper, PGMs, vanadium, gold — could easily exceed the legendary trillion-dollar Sudbury basin.
The Ring of Fire was named by two of the five people credited for its discovery — Richard Nemis and John Harvey, over dinner one night. Nemis, Harvey and Rob Cudney, CEO of Northfield Capital, an investment company, came up with the catchy name, which is partly based on the circular geology of the region and an enthusiasm for Johnny Cash. The other three discovers of the Ring of Fire are Mac Watson, Neil Novack and Don Hoy.
Chromium is one of the most important industrial metals and there is no substitute for its unique properties. It is used for aircraft engine alloys, consumer product plating and specialty stainless steels and superalloys. Like nickel, there are many critical military uses and it is in the best interest of the powerful American military/ industry complex that a large strategic deposit is developed in a politically secure part of the globe.
Modern industrial society uses a lot of chromium. In descending order of volume — U.S. Geological Survey, 2011 estimates — the world produced 2.8 billion tons or iron ore (steel), 44 million tons of bauxite (aluminum), 24 million tons of chromite, 16 million tons of copper, 14 million tons of manganese, 12 million tons of zinc, 4.5 million tons of lead and last but not least, 1.8 million tons of nickel.
The major concern about chromite is about the reliability of the three top producers, which are South Africa, Kazakhstan and India. They account for almost 80% of world production. By far, South Africa is the largest producer, supplying almost half of global chromium
output. Due to its own rapid growth, India is starting to limit exports. Both South Africa and Kazakhstan have political stability issues making the high-quality chromite deposits in Ontario enormously attractive.
There is also continuing debate in South Africa about limiting the export of large quantities of chromite ore to China for refining and the ensuing loss of jobs. South Africa does process much of its ore inside the country, but power limitations and costs are a concern.
Ontario politicians need to consider the long-term competition between the West, China and other developing countries for increasingly scarce mineral resources, and ensure the province makes the best economic use of this discovery.
FIRST NATIONS ISSUES
The Ring of Fire is surrounded by First Nations communities in Treaty Area #9. All of Northern Ontario above the Mattawa and French Rivers — the traditional dividing line between Ontario’s north and south — are covered by the following five treaties: Robinson- Huron, Robinson-Superior, Treaty #3, Treaty #5 and Treaty #9.
Except for the Riel Rebellion and some other small conflicts, Canada, unlike our American neighbours, did not go to war and conquer “Indian” territory. In Northern Ontario and the rest of western Canada, except for large parts of B.C., the use and settlement of this vast land was negotiated by treaties, which are signed international agreements between nations. In contrast, Quebec was a conquered territory.
In return, the Crown was supposed to meet certain obligations regarding education and welfare. In 1982, these existing aboriginal treaty rights were “recognized and affirmed” in Section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since then, the Supreme Court of Canada has almost consistently interpreted the “original intent” of these treaties as “sharing the land, not giving it up” and has ruled in favour of First Nations in many subsequent legal battles over land use and the requirement to be adequately consulted on resource development.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2012/07/14/the-ring-of-fire-politics-and-intrigue
For part 2 of a series on the Ring of Fire, please click here: http://www.republicofmining.com/2012/12/20/ring-of-fire-miles-to-go-before-we-dig-by-stan-sudol/