Thursday 9th April 2020

Resource Clips


Work suspended

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

by Greg Klein

Shut Down Canada has largely been achieved, but not by the forces that advocated it nor—until someone finds a way of blaming this on climate change—by the doomsday belief they were pushing. Residents of our strangely quiet cities and towns watch the horror unfold elsewhere while wondering how long and hard the pandemic will hit Canada. Meanwhile, workers and business owners might consider themselves lucky if the economy fares no worse than a very serious recession.

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

A reminder that one crisis can trigger another unwittingly came from FortisAlberta on March 23. The company that provides 60% of the province’s electricity “is taking the necessary actions and precautions to protect the health and well-being of its employees and to provide electricity service to its customers.”

The obvious but demoralizing question arises: What happens if too many key people get sick? That danger could apply to any number of essential services. Economic collapse, social disorder, a breakdown of supply chains add to the nightmarish possibilities.

All of which might not happen. In the meantime we can thank the front line workers who keep our society functioning to the extent that it does. Those one- or two-buck-an-hour temporary pay raises hardly acknowledge society’s debt to retail staff who interact constantly with a potentially plague-ridden public. Care workers for the elderly constitute another group of low-paid heroes, several of whom have already made the ultimate sacrifice.

In the meantime here are some reports on Canadian mining’s response to the crisis.

Inconsistent closures suggest an ambivalent industry

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

IAMGOLD sidelined its Westwood operation in Quebec but
continues work on its Coté project in Ontario. (Photo: IAMGOLD)

Mining hasn’t actually been banned in Ontario and Quebec, although shutdowns of non-essential services continue to April 8 and April 13 respectively. Extensions, of course, look likely. Quebec has ordered the industry, along with aluminum smelting, to “minimize their activities.” Ontario specifically exempted mineral exploration, development, mining and their support services from mandatory closures.

Interpreting Quebec’s decree as a ban, IAMGOLD TSX:IMG suspended its Westwood gold mine in that province but continued work at its 64.75%-held, advanced-stage Coté gold project in Ontario as an “essential service.” Production continues at the company’s Burkina Faso and Suriname operations.

But regardless of government bans or directives, voluntary suspensions take place. Restrictions on travel and social distancing have made projects non-viable, while the threat of localized outbreaks looms large—not just at the job sites and accommodations, but in the isolated communities that supply much of the labour.

In Canada, that often means native communities. “They have a bad history with disproportionate impacts from epidemics,” a Vale Canada spokesperson told the Financial Post. The company put its Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador on care and maintenance, and planned reductions at its associated Long Harbour nickel-copper-cobalt processing plant in Newfoundland.

So far alone of the Northwest Territories’ three operations, Dominion Diamond Mines announced an indefinite suspension for Ekati on March 19. The Union of Northern Workers stated its intention to grieve the manner in which its members were laid off.

Some Canadian mining and exploration dispatches during the pandemic

Having laid off its native staff, Agnico Eagle continues its Nunavut
operations largely with workers from Quebec. (Photo: Agnico Eagle)

Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM made the ramp-down decision a day after Quebec’s March 23 order, after discussions with government “to get additional clarity.” The suspensions applied to three Quebec mines but the company planned “reduced operations” at Meliadine and Meadowbank in Nunavut, largely under Quebecois workers.

Five days earlier Agnico Eagle began sending home Nunavummiut staff from its Nunavut mines and exploration projects to prevent virus transmission “from a southern worker to a Nunavut worker, with the risk of it moving into the communities,” explained CEO Sean Boyd. Production was expected to continue under the remaining staff.

The following day residents blocked a road from Rankin Inlet airport to Meliadine to protest the use of replacement workers from Mirabel and Val d’Or, Quebec. Although the territory has banned travel from other jurisdictions, critical workers may apply for an exemption. They’re also required to undergo two weeks of isolation in their own region prior to travel.

From boots on the ground to fingers on the keyboard

Exploration suspensions haven’t come at a bad time for some projects, which had completed or nearly completed winter programs. Where labs remain open, assays might provide some badly needed good news.

Much of the crucial work of analyzing results and planning future exploration can be done by desktop. One example of a company with a multinational work-at-home team is Turmalina Metals TSXV:TBX, which completed a seasonal field program at its San Francisco de Los Andes gold project shortly before Argentina imposed a nation-wide quarantine. “While Turmalina maintains a corporate office in Canada our technical and managerial team operate remotely from individual home offices located in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Asia,” states a March 23 announcement. “The current compilation, analysis and modeling of recently collected data is being done on a physically decentralized basis from these individual home offices as the company prepares for drilling.”

Follow the money

No one’s saying so out loud, but travel restrictions just might divert money from conferences, trade shows and expense accounts to actual work. Then again, money can still be squandered on low-IQ promotional campaigns produced at the kitchen table.

Every metal and mineral has a silver lining

This isn’t a sector that overlooks opportunity. Two days after Vanstar Mining Resources TSXV:VSR reported that drilling “continues without stopping” at its 25%-held Nelligan project in Quebec, the company acknowledged that majority partner IAMGOLD had suspended work. But “it should be noted that current events can also bring certain opportunities for acquiring gold projects at a lower cost,” Vanstar pointed out. The junior was merely echoing comments made by others, including BHP Group NYSE:BHP earlier this month.

With the economic outlook as confused as a professional stock-picker’s thought processes, mining’s future remains profoundly uncertain. But diminished supply can certainly help chances of rebounding demand.

And suspensions might encourage advantageous awareness, as noted by Uranium Energy Corp NYSE:UEC president/CEO Amir Adnani. “The recent global events and supply disruptions further underscore the importance of domestic supply chains for vital resources,” stated the U.S. purveyor of U3O8.

How could we live without them?

Endeavours deemed essential by Ontario and Quebec include capital markets services and agencies like the TMX Group and securities commissions. The provinces also consider alcohol and cannabis retailers essential. As if the world wasn’t already facing worse consequences, Toronto medical officer Eileen de Villa said banning booze “would lead to pretty significant health consequences.”

She didn’t specifically mention geoscientists.

The experts speak

Some fatuous remarks at PDAC provided retrospectively grim humour, as well as an exhibition of prognosticator pomposity. Here’s Mickey Fulp’s take on COVID-19, as quoted by IKN:

  • “I think it’s overblown.”

  • “All these shows are flu incubators, anyway.”

  • “I think it (i.e. infections) are going to be less this year, because people are doing things like washing their hands.”

  • “This is a blip on the radar screen. Especially in the U.S. where I’m from, because our economy is absolutely roaring and virus fears are not going to do major damage to the U.S. market.”

  • “I think it absolutely is an overreaction and the quicker it’s realized, the better.”

  • “This is a variety of flu.”

Of course to sheltered North Americans, the first week of March might seem a long time ago. So here’s Doug Casey’s insight, as published by Kitco on March 24:

“The virus itself isn’t nearly as serious, I don’t know how serious it’s going to be, but not terribly in my opinion. What I’m really shocked at, Daniela, is the degree of hysteria on the part of the powers that be. They’ve actually just gone insane.”

Click here for objective data on the coronavirus pandemic.


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