Canadian Mining Journal

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COMMENT: Cliffs to sell Ring of Fire

Word is getting around that Cliffs Natural Resources wants to shed its properties in the Ring of Fire. The Cleveland, OH-based company slammed the door on its chromium project last November, and sold the exploration camp this summer. Thus, the...



Word is getting around that Cliffs Natural Resources wants to shed its properties in the Ring of Fire. The Cleveland, OH-based company slammed the door on its chromium project last November, and sold the exploration camp this summer. Thus, the largest player in an exciting new Canadian mining camp went home.

Now that Cliffs has ousted its Canadian-born executive Gary Halverson and replaced him with chairman, president and CEO Lourenco Goncalves, the idea of selling Big Daddy is gaining traction.

The Big Daddy chromite deposit was discovered in 2008 by KWG Resources of Toronto and partner Spider Resources. The next year KWG approached Cliffs about becoming a partner at Big Daddy, and since 2010 Cliffs has spent in the neighbourhood of $500 million in the Ring of Fire at Big Daddy and Black Thor, which it owns outright. KWG retains a 30% interest in the Big Daddy deposit.

The partners fell out after KWG staked land for a potential rail line to the region. Cliffs balked, preferring a road instead.

Now it emerges that KWG president and CEO Frank Smeenk has had discussions with the Goncalves about buying out Cliffs’ share. If KWG can raise the money, a sale might suit both companies very nicely.

Cliffs would unload an expensive and troublesome asset, allowing it to focus on its core activity, iron mining in the United States. Cliffs suspended operations at its Wabush iron mine in Labrador and put a planned expansion of its Bloom Lake iron mine in Quebec on hold earlier this year. In August it pulled out of the Decar nickel-iron project in British Columbia.

Without Cliffs or with a more agreeable partner, KWG could proceed with a railroad to service both Big Daddy and its nearby Koper Lake chromite deposit. And it would gain significant bragging rights as a Canadian company that played a large part in opening up the most significant new mining camp in this country since the Sudbury Basin.