Mining in Nunavut – Booming with new investment – by Liz Kingston, NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines (Canadian Mining Magazine – Fall 2012)

This article was originally in Canadian Mining Magazine.

Nunavut is booming. With record mineral investment this year expected to top $550 million, Nunavut is the fourth largest mining investment destination in Canada. With Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine settling into its third year of production, and significant other project investments, mining has risen to 15% of the economy. Statistics Canada says Nunavut recorded the largest economic increase in Canada this past year.

More opportunity is coming. At press time, Baffinland Iron Mines was awaiting the final decision from the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) for its massive Mary River iron project on North Baffin Island to proceed to permitting. This project proposes construction of Canada’s most northerly railroad and a port to serve the mine, and of course would drive significant jobs and business opportunities for Nunavut and Canada.

As another precedent setter, it would pay $100 million annually in royalties to the Inuit land claim organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., perhaps the largest mining benefit to an Aboriginal group in the country. Given the project’s size and opportunities, it will cement mining as the foundation of Nunavut’s future economy.

As with several other Nunavut projects, the Mary River deposit was discovered nearly 50 years ago, and has sat idle because market prices weren’t sufficient to help overcome the challenges of mining in the remote territory. That hurdle seems to have been overcome now thanks to the commodity demands of growing economies in China and elsewhere, and several other historic Nunavut projects are back on the table.

In the Kitikmeot region, MMG has now triggered environmental review of its Izok corridor project, which would see both the Izok and the High Lake base metal deposits mined, linked together and to a dedicated port on the coast by a 350 kilometre all-weather road. This would be the longest road in Nunavut, passing the current 110 kilometre road to the Meadowbank mine. This is a testament to the power of mining to make significant infrastructure contributions.

Xstrata Zinc has taken over the large, undeveloped Hackett River silver-zinc-lead deposit in the same region. Given it is relatively close to Sabina’s Back River project, one can expect some common road and port facilities supporting the two projects. In developing its multiple gold deposits, Sabina is proposing a 900 man mining operation. They also submitted a project proposal this summer to launch the environmental review and subsequent permitting processes.

The same Kitikmeot region of Nunavut hosts two former producing mines – the once top Canadian gold producer the Lupin gold mine and the Jericho diamond mine. Elgin Mining and Shear Diamonds are making efforts to bring them back into production.

Nunavut’s huge size encompasses several geological provinces which means it hosts great diversity in minerals and deposit types. Given it is relatively un-mapped, it also holds great promise for new discoveries, as the surface has literally just been scratched by explorers. (In fact, the most recent Fraser Institute Survey identified Nunavut at number five of the most geologically attractive of 93 jurisdictions in the world.)

When combined with an investment friendly government and regulatory certainty, Nunavut holds great promise to be able to grow its mining industry to the benefit of its also booming young population.

In the Kivalliq region, which hosts Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine, the same company is advancing another gold mining project, Meliadine, near the coast north of Rankin Inlet. First steps are construction of a road to access the future mine site. Inland a relatively short distance, AREVA the French uranium company is working to see the Kiggavik uranium mine permitted and constructed.

Further to the north along the coast of Hudson Bay lies another signficant iron deposits at Roche Bay, where Advanced Exploration has just completed a positive feasibility study. They have also signed an agreement with the Nunavut Government to examine the potential of Liquefied Natural Gas as an alternative to diesel. The project site benefits from a natural deep harbour within six kilometres of the deposit, reducing transportation costs.

Diamonds offer substantive opportunities in the territory as well. Peregrine Diamonds’ Chidliak project, located just north of Iqaluit, contains 59 known diamond-hosting formations. The company just announced a Joint Venture agreement with DeBeers Canada.

All of this activity spells benefits, and a snapshot of the total size shows us :
o Eight mining projects representing a capital investment to construct them of more than $12 billion.
o At peak operations, manpower need will exceed 6,000; Over total mine life, they would provide over 85,000 person years of employment.
o Adding in operating costs would exceed total expenditures of $30 billion.

All leaders in Nunavut – Government, Inuit, and Industry – recognize the need for cooperation, coordination, and ultimately communication. Two powerful examples already created by Nunavut’s leadership are:

o Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s Mining Policy. Created in 1997, it is a supportive and forward looking document, with key objectives that include: “Providing an efficient regulatory regime, developing cooperative working relationships and partnerships, and establishing effective communications among all stakeholders”.
o The Government of Nunavut’s Mineral Exploration and Mining Strategy Parnautit. Created in 2007, two key objectives are to establish and support regulatory structures that are effective in ensuring protection of the environment, and to build positive cooperative relationships between government, industry, and communities.

Documents like these clearly demonstrate the common vision for mining in Nunavut. Recent summits in Iqaluit continue to demonstrated that shared commitment, with the common goal to support mining for the benefit of Nunavut and Nunavummiut.

The Chamber of Mines continues to work closely with Nuanvut’s leadership, Inuit and government, to continue to advance Nunavut’s positive investment climate and to take advantage of Nunavut’sa natural economic advantage – its mineral endowment. We know that in doing so, the jobs, businesses, and improvements so vital to the economic development of northern communities will surely come to pass.

If you want to learn more about our exciting industry from those in the know, the Chamber of Mines welcomes you to attend the annual Nunavut Mining Symposium held in April in Iqaluit.

Visit the Chamber’s website at www.miningnorth.com for more information.

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