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As Quebec mining resumes, Canadian companies make open-or-shut decisions

by Greg Klein | April 14, 2020

As Quebec mining resumes, Canadian companies make open-or-shut decisions

A COVID-19 outbreak put Impala’s Lac des Iles on lockdown.
(Photo: Impala Canada)

 

With additional health standards in place and encouraged by a surging gold price, Quebec miners have been given a back-to-work go-ahead. On lifting a three-week suspension, the province allowed ramp-up procedures to begin April 15. A ban on non-essential industrial activities, including mineral exploration, has been extended to May 4.

Mine restarts announced so far include Eldorado Gold’s (TSX:ELD) Lamaque mine, IAMGOLD’s (TSX:IMG) Westwood operation, Agnico Eagle Mines’ (TSX:AEM) LaRonde complex and Goldex mine, and the Agnico Eagle/Yamana Gold TSX:YRI Canadian Malartic JV.

Glencore stated it’s “analyzing options” to restart its Raglan nickel and Matagami zinc operations in Quebec.

As Quebec mining resumes, Canadian companies make open-or-shut decisions

Agnico Eagle and Yamana Gold were quick to announce
Canadian Malartic’s ramp-up. (Photo: Canadian Malartic JV)

New measures mandated by the government and its health and workplace standards agencies require physical distancing, additional protective equipment, health monitoring and enhanced sanitation. The new regimen also calls for additional training and in some cases longer stints in job site accommodations to reduce travel.

But market forces aggravated by the pandemic will keep Stornoway Diamond’s Renard mine on care and maintenance. Prior to the March 24 government-ordered suspensions, Renard operated only through the support of creditors.

“We will continue to monitor the market conditions for improvements which would allow for a restart of mining activities,” said Stornoway president/CEO Patrick Godin. The diamond industry has been hit by broken supply chains as well as plunging prices.

Also on April 14 McEwen Mining TSX:MUX announced restarts of its Black Fox mine in the Timmins camp, along with the San Jose operation in Argentina. Although the Ontario government exempted mining and exploration from its list of suspensions, the company paused Black Fox for two weeks while implementing new policies and procedures.

“Our miners and teams are overwhelmingly supportive of returning to work with the new safety measures,” the company stated.

In northwestern Ontario, Implats subsidiary Impala Canada suspended its Lac des Iles palladium mine on April 13 after learning that a worker tested positive for COVID-19. By April 14 the company announced seven confirmed cases connected with LDI. 

Impala told all employees to go into isolation until April 27, during which time they’d get a $100-a-day bonus on top of base pay for the entire month. The company also arranged free hotel rooms and meals during the isolation period.

As Quebec mining resumes, Canadian companies make open-or-shut decisions

McEwen Mining lifted the voluntary suspension
of its Black Fox operation. (Photo: McEwen Mining)

Industrial operations face numerous challenges in adapting to new health protocols. Last week the Globe and Mail reported concerns about conditions at Teck Resources’ (TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B) southeastern British Columbia coal operations.

A local resident “alleged that shortages of protective equipment, crowded commuter buses, packed site vehicles and ‘an absolute impossibility to self-distance because of the nature of the work,’ are fostering an environment where the virus could spread,” the paper stated.

The company had previously announced precautionary measures including “a temporary slowdown of operations and reduction of crews by up to 50%” at its B.C. mines.

According to the G&M, “Stephen Hunt, director of United Steelworkers union, which represents almost all of Teck’s B.C. workforce, said some members are satisfied the company’s mines are safe, while others are worried. He said Teck has made decent strides to reduce the risk for employees, including staggering shift start times to reduce congestion at the mine site as well as removing some of the seating on buses to ensure people are sitting at least six feet apart. Despite these precautions, he’s still on edge.”

On April 13 Cameco Corp TSX:CCO announced that the suspension of its 50%-held Cigar Lake uranium mine in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin would continue indefinitely. Orano Canada also lengthened the suspension of its 70%-held McClean Lake mill, which processes Cigar Lake ore.

The global challenges posed by this pandemic are not abating—in fact, they are deepening.—Tim Gitzel,
Cameco president/CEO

“The precautions and restrictions put in place by the federal and provincial governments, the increasing significant concern among leaders in the remote isolated communities of northern Saskatchewan, and the challenges of maintaining the recommended physical distancing at fly-in/fly-out sites with a full workforce were critical factors Cameco considered in reaching this decision,” the company stated.

President/CEO Tim Gitzel added, “The global challenges posed by this pandemic are not abating—in fact, they are deepening.”


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