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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ontario’s Ring of Fire

Chromite the mineral of interest in Ontario's Ring of Fire
Photo by Andrew Silver   USGS

Located in northwestern Ontario the Ring of Fire promises to become a decades long mining project.  Although the project promises to become a benefit to the local community it is alarming the local residents and the environmentalists.  These extensive deposits have been discovered just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario causing the mining participants to circle the area, and positioning them to share in the future steel market.

The mineral of attention is chromite, a dark colored ore of chromium that is used for the manufacture of stainless steel and to a lesser extent for chrome plating.  To a lesser extent it is used for tanning leather making use of potassium or sodium chromate in the chrome tanning process.  The chromite deposits found in the Ring of Fire have been dubbed as the greatest deposits of chromite in North America by the Ohio based company Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF) that is convinced the deposits of chromite are worth fighting for,  The potential deposit is located under water and rocks close by to major highways and railroads making shipping the ore simple and cost effective.

The region is located near Kenora in western Ontario in an area of muskeg known as the James Bay Lowlands centered on McFaulds lake 500 kilometers northwest of Thunder Bay. The first discovery was made by Noront Resources LTD, a mining company that was in the area in 2007.  On August 28th they announced they had made a large find on the basis of two holes that were drilled.  The first core revealed a strong showing of copper sulfides, and the second had similar results.  A bit later Noront announced they had copper, nickel, platinum and palladium.

Cliffs call this monstrous deposit of chromite the Black Thor Deposit that would place Canada as a player in the worldwide chrome market of which South Africa is the world’s largest producer.  They declare this is the largest deposit to be found in North America.  Chromite is used in the steel industry to produce ferrochrome a precursor of stainless steel where it is battling with China to maintain its dominance of the market.

There are many roadblocks facing Cliffs that is based in the US, not least of which is satisfying both federal and provincial environmental regulations, but it has the added burden of satisfying the members of the First Nations locals that live right in the middle of the deposit.

The representatives of the First Nations communities in the area have called for participation in the review for development of this deposit of chromite in their region.  The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has recently issued a statement that the locals are being overlooked in the permitting process.  It is this agency that will take the reigns to study that will determine the access, if any, that the chromite miners will have in the area.

Cliffs wants to construct a processing plant at the site of a former iron mine that will be known as Moose Mountain that was closed over forty years ago.  The proposed plant would process the ore from the McFaulds Lake mine that has been dubbed the “Ring of Fire.”  The proposed plant is located near Caproel, Ontario.

If the project is approved construction of the mine would commence in 2015 with a large enough deposit capable of being mined for at least thirty years.  The deposit produce an estimated million tons of chromite concentrate per year as well as several hundred thousands of ferrochrome per year as reported in the Sudbury, Ontario Star.

Opening the area to development could produce approximately 1000 new jobs if the project is allowed to go foreword with about 500 of them near Caproel.  The other 500 jobs would be at the McFaulds Lake mine.  Needless to say Ontario’s Ring of Fire has attracted a lot of junior explorers to the region having potential world class deposits of chromite.

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