Ontario mining minister ‘startled’ by Ring of Fire...
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Nov 03, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Ontario mining minister ‘startled’ by Ring of Fire criticism

Cliffs Natural Resources CEO ‘wrong’ to say Ring will never be developed, says Michael Gravelle


Ontario’s mining minister says the province is “absolutely committed” to the Ring of Fire mining development despite recent criticism that the project will never get off the ground.

Lourenco Goncalves, the new chief executive of Cliffs Natural Resources, said last week that he thinks there is “zero hope” that a mine will ever be built in the rich mineral belt in the James Bay lowlands, after the Cleveland-based miner spent $500 million trying to tap into the vast chromite deposit and got nowhere.

Cliffs has the largest land position in the area but abandoned the region last winter citing red tape from the Ontario government and First Nations groups around building necessary transportation and power infrastructure. Cliffs’ assets are for sale but there have been no takers yet.

“I will admit I was startled by those comments,” Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said in an interview Monday.

“I think he’s wrong. We all understand that this is a complicated project in a remote area of the province that has never been developed before,” he said.

Gravelle says the Liberal promise set out in last summer’s budget to spend $1 billion in the Ring of Fire still stands, and he has “real confidence that this project will move forward.”

He noted that there are several other mining companies who have land claims in the area, including Toronto’s Noront Resources Ltd. and KWG Resources Inc., and that they still have faith that the Ring will realize its enormous potential, which he says is akin to the discovery of Sudbury’s nickel basin a century ago.

Cliffs took a $254 million (U.S.) write-down on its Ring of Fire holdings in the third quarter.

The site, 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, is estimated to have $60 billion of mineral value including base metals, platinum and palladium, along with the largest deposit of chromite, used to make stainless steel, in North America.

Gravelle noted that the recent downturn in the metals market makes it “not as dynamic a business prospect as it was” when it was initially discovered in 2007, when the mining industry was in an unprecedented cycle amid record metals prices.

He said it’s not unusual for a project of this significance to take some time to get going, pointing to De Beers’ Victor diamond mine in the James Bay lowlands, which was first discovered in the late 1980s but didn’t reach production until 2007.

The province announced last November that it was creating a development corporation to bring miners, First Nations, and Ottawa together to kick-start development activity in the dormant mining camp, but critics say progress has been far too slow.

“It’s not helpful to put timelines on it,” said Gravelle.

“The Ring of Fire is an economic development opportunity with multi-generational benefits, so it’s important that we get it right,” he said.

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