A matter of trust
In these pages you will find an article updating the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine in Labrador, which is being commissioned for first concentrate shipment in November. In preparation, I almost visited the mine site.
After years of my requests, 100%-owner Inco finally gave me permission to make the trip in late September. But, upon landing in Happy Valley – Goose Bay (a misnomer?), we were told that all flights in and out of the mine site were cancelled due to fog. My article was therefore based on interviews at Voisey’s Bay Nickel’s offices in “The Goose” and St. John’s, Nfld., phone interviews, and a trip to the hydromet demonstration plant in Argentia.
There were many reasons I wanted to go to V’Bay. Two decades ago I worked for the Newfoundland Mines Branch in St. John’s, whose regional maps from Labrador helped prospectors in their exploration of the Voisey’s Bay area in1994. As a former resident of the province, I followed with interest the power struggle between the government and the corporation. Of course, on the eve of the mine opening, I wanted to find out what my government buddies thought about it.
If that wasn’t enough, I am actually related to a mining engineer working at the mine, and I wanted to see him.
From my research, both professional and personal, my conclusion about the project is this. The fact that the mine, concentrator, wharf and demonstration plant have been built is evidence that both Inco management and officials in the Newfoundland government have grown up–become more sophisticated and up-to-date, more realistic–and have learned to appreciate each other.
Both sides have taken giant leaps of faith.
Inco bought Voisey’s Bay for Cdn$4.3 billion, and has spent nine years and another Cdn$1.2 billion on it. The company has learned to co-operate fully and transparently with Aboriginal neighbours, in a part of the world where it really counts. It is developing a new method of winning nickel from concentrate that, if successful, will revolutionize the treatment of nickel sulphides. With its cost and environmental benefits, hydrometallurgy will influence the direction of new nickel producers, and improve the industry’s public image.
In its turn, the province is trusting that Inco will fulfill its promises–to train, employ and procure goods and services locally, to care for the environment, and to succeed financially so it can spin off taxes and opportunities in both Newfoundland and Labrador. This will be a welcome change in a province that has gradually lost some of its mining culture since the Buchans mines closed three decades ago.
Compared with Newfoundland’s offshore oil industry, Voisey’s Bay is modest. But successful, long-term, well-managed nickel operations could be the small economic miracle needed by hundreds of people and their families on thhe north coast of Labrador and in the Argentia area.