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Biggest mine in Ontario’s Ring of Fire region put on hold

Huffington Post Canada business reporter Sunny Freeman comments on US mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources’ decision to halt work on its $3.3 billion Black Thor project, the largest project in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region, which is situated west of James Bay.

Black Thor was to include an open-pit chromite mine, an ore processing facility, and a tailings management area.

Freeman notes the Matawa First Nations, a group that represents many of the communities that are affected by Ring of Fire development, welcome the decision. “The people of the Matawa First Nations are ambivalent about the Ring of Fire. They have deep concerns about the impact a new mining region will have on their pristine land, on the animals and fish on which they rely and on their way of life which involves a deep connection to the land.” And that, “Matawa’s CEO David Paul Achneepineskum said this week the setback will give First Nations more time to assess the environmental impacts of the development as well as prepare their people for the opportunities it may present.”

She also writes that while there may still be some 20 other miners in the region, Cliffs was by far the largest and highlights, “while no one denies that Cliffs’ move is a game changer, the looming question is whether it’s a game ender.” Some say no, others say maybe for now. But CBC notes, “(Toronto-based) Noront Resources reports it remains on track to deliver an environmental assessment on its Eagle’s Nest mine by the end of the year. That project is focused on nickel, copper and platinum — not chromite, as was the case with Cliffs. In a press release Wednesday, Noront said it hopes to be the first mine developed in the Ring of Fire.”

It is notable that the Globe and Mail reports, “In 2012, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver warned that this country is losing investment to countries like Australia because our approval system is ‘a patchwork of overlap, duplication and nonsensical complexity’, leading to long delays. Mr. Oliver specifically mentioned that he was worried about the Cliffs project in the Ring of Fire, saying he feared it could be logjammed by a cumbersome process.”

For its part, according to a CBC news report, “The company blames an uncertain timeline and risks associated with developing infrastructure (notably the construction of a major roadway). …(Company spokesperson Pat) Persico said the suspension is for an indefinite period and the company will continue to work with Ontario, First Nations and other parties on solutions for infrastructure development. However, they believe it will be a lengthy process.”

Further reading

NEWS: Ring of Fire mine proposals prompt water concerns
UPDATE: Matawa Chiefs withdraw support for resource development in northern Ontario
UPDATE: MiningWatch roundtable on key environmental issues
Mining Watch