INCO R&D: Voisey’s Bay Waits in Wings
Discovered in 1993, the Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt deposits of northeast Labrador sparked perhaps the hottest base metal contest in Canada’s history. The ground was originally staked for Diamond Fields Resources, and when word got out about how high the grade and how potentially huge the resource could be, a bidding war erupted. Inco won the war in 1996, eventually paying Cdn$4.3 billion–financed primarily through share issues–to buy Diamond Fields and control of the property. Voisey’s Bay Nickel Co. Ltd. (VBNC), a subsidiary of Inco, is the developer and operator of the project. But the project has been delayed by aboriginal land claims and protracted talks with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador over the scope of the project.
“The exploration camp is closed, and we’re now in pre-development mode,” said VBNC executive vice-president Rick Gill. “We’re moving along better than we have in the last five years on talks with the provincial government and in our negotiations on impact and benefits agreements with the Labrador Inuit Association and the Innu Nation. And there is the need for some participation by the federal government.”
That being said, Gill is cautiously optimistic that if agreements can be reached with all stakeholders, construction could begin this summer.
The deposits are still there. They lie within a layered gabbroic intrusion of the Nain Structural Province. Three deposits–the Ovoid, the Eastern Deeps (and related deposits) and the Western Extension (including the Reid Brook, Discovery Hill and other small zones)–have been examined. Proven reserves of 31 million tonnes grading 2.88% Ni, 1.69% Cu and 0.14% Co have been identified, with another 97 million tonnes of indicated and 14 million tonnes of inferred resources.
The project has been scaled back from the original plans. The current development plan for Voisey’s Bay would see the near-surface ore in the Ovoid mined using open pit methods. Ore would be processed at an on-site mill and concentrator with a capacity of 6,000 tonnes/day. The price tag for Phase I would be about US$580 million for mine development and mill construction, and for research related to the development of hydrometallurgical processing technology to process concentrate produced at Voisey’s Bay. Inco will build a hydrometallurgical pilot plant in Argentia to process some of the concentrate produced at Voisey’s Bay, to provide valuable information on how a full-scale commercial plant that produces pure nickel cathodes could be developed.