This year, Newfoundland and Labrador celebrates 150 years of modern mining, going back to the opening of the Tilt Cove copper mine in the historic, and still productive, Baie Verte mining district.
Today, while facing the same challenges as other players in the minerals sector, NL companies are making significant progress on the mining, processing and exploration fronts and meanwhile, governments at both the provincial and federal levels are investing in infrastructure to support new and existing developments, helping to make the industry more competitive and sustainable.
Mining and Processing
In late 2013, Vale Newfoundland and Labrador Limited (VNL) announced Phase I construction mechanical completion at its Long Harbour hydromet processing plant. This $4.6 billion project represents one of the larger recent investments in the Canadian minerals sector.
Commissioning is expected to be completed this year, with first nickel production from the initial, low-impurity nickel matte feed expected in the third quarter. VNL is completing the engineering design and will begin construction of Phase II that includes the remaining systems required to process Voisey’s Bay concentrate into finished nickel, copper and cobalt.
VNL has also committed to developing an underground mine at Voisey’s Bay. The underground operation is projected to start producing ore in 2019.
Tata Steel Minerals Canada Ltd. (TSMC) is a joint venture formed between Tata Steel of India and New Millennium Iron Corp. to produce high-grade, direct shipping iron ore (DSO) in the northern Labrador Trough.
The first shipment of iron ore was made in late 2013 to Tata Steel plants in Europe, with production scheduled to ramp up to 4.2 million tonnes per annum by 2015.
New Millennium and Tata Steel have also reported positive results of their Taconite Project Feasibility Study on their LabMag and KeMag projects in the Labrador Trough. The study will lead to an investment decision by Tata Steel.
The LabMag Project in western Labrador has total Proven and Probable reserves of 3,410 million tonnes, with an estimated mine life of 39 years.
Alderon Iron Ore Corp is ramping up its development of the Kami Project, located in the Labrador Trough iron mining district. Kami is owned 75% by Alderon and 25% by Hebei Iron & Steel Group Co. Ltd., China’s largest steelmaker.
The Kami Project was recently released from the environmental assessment process and Alderon has obtained surface and mining leases, allowing it to proceed with development at the project. Alderon has also signed a Benefits Agreement with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, outlining the long-term benefits of the project.
The Kami deposits have 1,270 million tonnes of Measured & Indicated resources at 29.6% iron.
To help encourage growth in the iron ore district, the Province has directed Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to proceed with construction of a third transmission line between Churchill Falls and Labrador West. This will help supply power for new developments such as Kami, and improve reliability for all customers in the Labrador region.
Meanwhile the Federal Government, in partnership with the port authority and the private sector, are investing in expansion at the Port of Sept Iles.
In February 2014, Cliffs announced that mining and concentrating activities at Wabush Mines, in western Labrador would be idled and the mine would be considered for sale or closure.
Rambler Metals & Mining plc and Anaconda Mining Inc. are both in full production at their respective Ming (copper-gold-silver) and Pine Cove (gold) mines, on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
Both companies are paying down debt, while aggressively pursuing opportunities to expand their resources beyond their property boundaries through property acquisitions and investments.
Anaconda has reported encouraging results down dip of the Pine Cove deposit, and plans to conduct substantial additional drilling there, and on newly acquired properties in the region.
Teck Resources Limited recently completed a feasibility study on the Lower Duck deposit at their Duck Pond Operations in central Newfoundland, and announced that it will be uneconomic to mine. Current reserves will be exhausted by the first half of 2015, after which time the mine will be permanently closed.
Encouraging results at several advanced gold exploration projects in central Newfoundland illustrate the substantial, albeit little-recognized potential of this region.
Marathon Gold Corp. announced the discovery of new, high-grade, gold-bearing veins near its main Leprechaun Deposit at the Valentine Lake Project.
Maritime Resources Corp. has reported excellent recoveries in metallurgical test work on core samples from the Orion gold deposit, on the Springdale Peninsula, and is seeking a partner to help bring the property to production.
Benton Resources Inc. has also completed metallurgical testing, with favourable results, on samples from the 51 Zone on its Cape Ray Property, in southwest Newfoundland. An expanded exploration program, including drilling, is in progress.
Coastal Gold Corp. has published an updated resource estimate for the Hope Brook gold deposit on the south coast of Newfoundland, and is focusing its attention on the higher-grade underground portion of the mineralized zone.
Base metals (copper, zinc, lead) with precious metal credits have been the mainstay of the mining sector in central Newfoundland for over a century. Recent consolidation of ownership has brought new interest and new investment in this historic district.
Canadian Zinc has reported high-grade drill intersections from its Lemarchant Deposit south of Duck Pond, and announced plans for additional drilling there, and at other massive sulphide deposits obtained in recent acquisitions.
Meanwhile, Minco plc is evaluating properties in the historic Buchans camp, including the large, near-surface Lundberg resource, which it is advancing toward the prefeasibility stage.
Elsewhere, Thundermin Resources Inc., with new partner Rambler Metals, continues to expand its resource at the Little Deer copper project through a renewed drilling campaign with encouraging results.
In Labrador, Century Iron Mines Corporation has announced an updated resource for the Joyce Lake DSO deposit, part of their Attikamagen Project. The deposit contains 24.3 million tonnes of Measured and Indicated mineral resources at an average grade of 58.55% iron.
Aurora Energy Ltd. has completed infill drilling at the Michelin Deposit in central Labrador and plans to update its resource, which currently stands at 103 million pounds of U3O8. This project represents one of the world’s largest undeveloped uranium resources.
In an interesting new development, Altius Minerals Corporation has partnered with Anglo American to explore for nickel and platinum group metals in southern Labrador.
The Provincial Government is in discussions with a group of companies interested in developing the Julienne Lake iron ore deposit in western Labrador.
Following a comprehensive evaluation of proposals, the government selected the Julienne Lake Alliance, a consortium led by Newfoundland and Labrador-based Altius Minerals in partnership with two major Chinese integrated iron ore mining and steel producing companies.
The property contains total Measured and Indicated resources of 867 million tonnes at 33.7% iron. The project could operate for 25 years and produce up to 22 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate per year.
Amongst new investments in the sector, Petmin has increased its stake in North Atlantic Iron’s pig iron project near Goose Bay, Labrador and Golden Gate Capital completed the acquisition of Canada Fluorspar Inc, which is developing fluorspar projects at St Lawrence, in southern Newfoundland.
*Phil Saunders P.Geo. is a Mineral Exploration Consultant, Department of Natural Resources, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.