Saturday 20th October 2018

Resource Clips


Looking up, up north

The territories reap tangible and intangible benefits from their biggest industry

by Greg Klein

The territories reap tangible and intangible benefits from their biggest industry

Baffinland president/CEO Brian Penney joins QIA president P.J. Akeeagok
and others at a signing ceremony for Mary River’s amended benefit agreement.
(Photo: Baffinland Iron Mines)

 

Nunavut’s environmental review said no to a mining proposal but Ottawa said yes. What happened?

Hoping to finally make a profit at its four-year-old Mary River operation, Baffinland Iron Mines asked permission to boost production from 4.2 million tonnes annually to six million tonnes. Worried about possible environmental effects, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended in late August that the federal government reject the proposal. But it was the NIRB recommendation that got rejected. Five cabinet ministers approved the mine’s request, for the time being anyway.

Swaying the decision was the support of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, whose members “strongly support the Production Increase Proposal as a method of furthering Inuit aspirations in the region,” Ottawa stated. Support also came from Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, who urged a swift decision in favour.

The territories reap tangible and intangible benefits from their biggest industry

It wasn’t long coming. Just one month after the NIRB forwarded its recommendation, Ottawa announced its approval, expressing concern about the socio-economic effects of shutting down the mine for part of the year once the 4.2-million-tonne limit is reached and about the mine’s long-term viability. Increased production will “allow the Inuit of the region the opportunity to maintain and more fully realize the economic and other benefits of the mine.”

That’s not to dismiss environmental concerns. Monitoring will take place until the end of next year, when permission comes up for review. Among other considerations will be the effects of dust on wildlife along a 100-kilometre trucking route from mine to port and of increased shipping on marine life. Considered one of the world’s richest iron ore deposits, Mary River also ranks as one of the planet’s northern-most mines.

The company received additional permission to build a 15-million-litre fuel tank and a 380-person camp at the Milne Inlet port, projects which the NIRB supported. Still under consideration by the board is Baffinland’s proposal to replace the truck route with a 110-kilometre railway.

The QIA, which will participate in environmental monitoring, represents some 14,000 people in the Baffin region. Baffinland, co-owned by Nunavut Iron Ore and ArcelorMittal, employs about 2,000 staff and contractors at Mary River and Milne Inlet. This year the QIA’s Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement with Baffinland brought in $11.65 million, a considerable jump from $3.11 million the previous year. The group netted another $3.7 million in leases and fees, most of it from Mary River. That, from a mine that’s yet to turn a profit.

The benefit agreement looks even better with amendments announced just days after the production increase approval. “Our goal was to increase training and employment opportunities, and we have done that and much more,” said QIA president P.J. Akeeagok. 

The agreement comes up for review every three years. Apart from a modified royalty structure, these amendments call for Baffinland to spend $10 million on a state-of-the-art training centre, significantly expand the Inuit training budget, provide four communities with research vessels currently priced at $300,000 each and fund a $200,000 annual monitoring program. The amendments intend to “increase Inuit employment in all aspects of Baffinland’s organization” as well as provide “improved support for all residents of the Qikiqtani communities,” the company stated.

The same day the agreement was announced came news from the Northwest Territories of diamond mining’s benefits, tangible and intangible. Compiling information from recent socio-economic reports for the territory’s three mines, the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines reported 3,450 person-years of employment in 2017, 46% of that going to northerners. Natives comprised 51% of the northern workers and women 15% of all jobs.

Altogether the three operations—the Washington Group’s Ekati, Washington Group/Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO) Diavik and De Beers/Mountain Province Diamonds’ (TSX:MPVD) Gahcho Kué—brought $1.2 billion in spending last year, $834 million spent in the north and $325 million to northern natives.

“In addition to jobs, business spending and training, the diamond mines have also contributed billions of dollars in community contributions and in taxes and royalties paid to public and Indigenous governments,” pointed out Chamber president Gary Vivian. “With continued progress on infrastructure investment, and regulatory and land access improvements, mining in the north is truly a sunrise industry. Our mining potential is huge.”


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