Ontario’s Ring of Fire: Hype and Havoc
Plans to develop deposits in Ontario’s Ring of Fire have dominated the mining discussion in Ontario for the past six years. The discovery of a large chromium deposit and a number of other isolated concentrated deposits of nickel, gold and other metals in the region has led to a classic “bubble” of hype and speculation. Claims of up to $60 billion worth of mineral in the Region are not uncommon.
The bald facts about the Ring of Fire, however, paint a picture of havoc in First Nations communities and the delicate ecology of the Boreal forest where the Ring of Fire is located.
No proof that there are economically feasible mines in the Ring of Fire
With the exception of the Noront Eagle’s Nest deposit, there has yet to be a completed feasibility study or even pre-feasibility study of any of the mineral deposits in the area. The supposed “resource wealth” in the area is still basedon “inferred resources” and is completely speculative.
Noront’s feasibility study depends upon “shared” investment in the access roads to the site, and exceeding low electricity rates. It should also be noted that Noront is not proposing to mine chromite, but nickel, copper and other metals from a carrot shaped deposit within the Ring. Without a substantial taxpayer investment, the Eagle’s Nest Mine is not viable.
Cliffs stopped its feasibility study before it was completed and sold the deposit at bargain basement prices to Noront. Probably a real bonus for Ontarians, as Cliffs has turned out to be an irresponsible mine operator in Canada, shutting down the Bloom Lake operation in Labrador without any reclamation and a bond that may not be available to protect the environment or nearby community.
Cannot proceed without substantial taxpayer investment
To make mining chromite profitable for anyone, taxpayers will have to foot the bill for either rail or road to get the ore out of the area – an investment of $1-2 billion. A ferro-chrome smelter would have to be built in order to make shipping the very bulky metal from Canada to markets economically feasible. A ferrochrome smelter is an enormous consumer of electricity and would also have to be heavily subsidized. These subsidies do not include remote tax holidays and reduced royalty rates, externalized costs such as damages to the rivers in the area from methyl mercury, suspended solids and diversions, and the loss of habitat for wild animals and fish.
Creating undue stresses for First Nations and the environment
Meanwhile, the affected First Nations in the Ring of Fire have been forced to spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to negotiate a decent deal for their communities from governments and whatever companies move into the area, and trying to defend their lands and waters from pillage. Photos released in June 2015 by Wildlands League of the exploration footprint in the Ring of Fire are sobering.
Although Ontario has been paying for expertise in the affected First Nations to deal with Ring of Fire mining issues, the First Nations continue to be seriously underfunded to deal with the social, cultural and economic issues created by residential schools and colonialism. The Ring of Fire diverts energy and money from creating other kinds of economic and social development that the communities need and want. The Ring of Fire has become a cash cow for mining lawyers in the South.
For readers who want a more complete picture of what is going on in the Ring of Fire, we suggest the following links for further reading:
Report of the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario, The Ring of Fire So Far (September 2014).
Jed Chong. Library of Parliament. Resource Development in Canada, A Case Study of the Ring of Fire for the federal government(May 2014)
Huffington Post. Staking Claim: a multi-part series on the Ring of Fire (2013). follow their links for many different perspectives.
Wildlands League.Ring of Fire. Various environmental concerns. (2015)