The “Trough”

The world-class Labrador Trough iron mining district has long been a bastion of stability in the often uncertain world of mining.
Drill core from the Kami project.

The world-class Labrador Trough iron mining district has long been a bastion of stability in the often uncertain world of mining.

Having produced more than 2 billion tonnes of ore over 50 years of continuous production, “The Trough” can claim a prominent place in the Canadian mining sector.

Currently, with new mine openings, major expansions at existing operations, and key port and rail upgrades, the district is being reinvigorated with investment capital from around  the globe. In the current planning cycle, at least $15 billion of new investment in Labrador may be realized if projects advance to development.

At present, there are three iron ore operations located in the Labrador section of  “The Trough:”  Rio Tinto IOC (Carol Lake), Cliffs Natural Resources (Wabush Mines), and Labrador Iron Mines (Schefferville/Menihek DSO project).

The Rio Tinto IOC operation alone has produced in excess of 1.3 billion tonnes of iron ore. Its Carol Lake operation, which accounts for approximately half of Canada’s total iron ore output, produces both pellets and concentrates.

Iron ore products from all operations are transported by a common-carrier rail network to port facilities on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, for trans-shipment via bulk carriers to domestic and world markets.

Mining and Development Highlights

Rio Tinto IOC is progressing with a staged expansion of its Carol Lake Operation that could bring annual concentrate / pellet feed production to 26 million tonnes annually. The company is also studying the feasibility of raising longer-term production to 50-plus million tonnes.

Cliffs Natural Resources is increasing production at its Scully Mine to a target annual rate of 5 million tonnes, and is continuing with mill improvements to reduce the manganese content in its pellet products, which could extend mine life.

Labrador Iron Mines is increasing production at its Menihek operations to a planned 2 million tonnes for 2012. This will be achieved in part through the Phase 3 expansion of its Silver Yards processing plant and developing additional ore bodies.

Tata Steel Minerals Canada, a joint venture between New Millennium Iron and Tata Steel, has begun construction on its DSO project in the Menihek area. First production is anticipated by year-end 2012. The partners are also completing a feasibility study on a much larger Taconite project (Labmag) that should also be completed by the end of 2012.

Alderon Iron has published updated resource estimates for its Kami Project near Wabush, and is expecting to complete a feasibility study by Q3 2012.

Regional Exploration Highlights

Cap-Ex Ventures plans an aggressive drilling program on its Block 103 Property in western Labrador, culminating in an initial mineral resource estimate by the end of 2012 and a preliminary economic assessment in the first quarter of 2013.

Century Iron Mines is evaluating the Attikamagen Property in western Labrador in a joint venture with Champion Minerals. Century recently signed an agreement allowing Chinese-based WISCO Resources to earn a 40% interest in the project by funding further exploration.

Rio Tinto Exploration Canada has an option earn-in agreement with Altius Minerals on a project covering 146 square kilometres in western Labrador. Under the agreement, drilling was conducted on the Goethite Bay Prospect in 2011.

Century Iron and Altius Minerals have signed principal and royalty agreements covering four iron ore projects that collectively cover 1,647 square kilometres in western Labrador. Exploration on the projects is underway.

Grassroots exploration is being carried out in the district (e.g., Golden Dory Resources / Metals Creek Resources) and has yielded positive early results.

A major increase in exploration for iron ore in western Labrador is anticipated for this year. Importantly, much of this effort is directed to more remote areas, further from infrastructure and previously little explored.

Infrastructure Developments

The Port of Sept-Îles is expanding its iron ore ship-loading facility on the Gulf of St. Lawrence by constructing a new multi-user dock with an annual capacity of 50 million tonnes. The Government of Canada recently announced it will invest up to $55 million in the project. New producers will also have the opportunity to participate.

Several companies, including Tata Steel Minerals Canada and Labrador Iron Mines, have reached agreements or are negotiating with existing rail operators to transport their product to port.

Near-term and existing producers are in discussion with Nalcor Energy on arrangements for power needs associated with new and expanded mine development.

Geology and Ore Deposits

Three types of iron ores are known in the Labrador Trough. The bulk of production comes from metamorphosed specularite-magnetite iron formations in the south, near Labrador City-Wabush (Carol Lake, Scully Mine operations). Folding, structural thickening and related metamorphism in this area produced large deposits amenable to open pit mining. Importantly, the coarse-grained metamorphic texture enables easier beneficiation.

In the north, near Menihek, there are high-grade, supergene, direct shipping ores (hematite, goethite, limonite). These are amenable to low cost stripping, washing and screening to yield a saleable product. Weakly metamorphosed magnetite iron formations, or taconite (LabMag, KeMag), occur in the same area. These have yet to be commercially exploited, but large reserves are known, and a feasibility study is in progress.

Government Initiatives

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador currently owns the mineral rights to the Julienne Lake iron deposit, located in the heart of the district. These rights reverted to the crown in the 1970s, and have been held under Exempt Mineral Land status since then.

 In concert with this work, Government has launched a regional metallogenic research project on the iron ores in western Labrador, the first such study in decades. 

As part of its larger mineral promotion and investment attraction program, the Department of Natural Resources recently led several focussed initiatives targeting Asian markets. These include inbound and outbound trade missions focussed on our burgeoning, globally competitive iron ore sector.


Newfoundland and Labrador’s mineral industry is booming, with record levels of mineral shipments and exploration expenditures forecast for 2012. The western Labrador iron ore district is a key part of this success story, and offers many new opportunities for growth and investment.

*Information for this article provided by the Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.


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