Monday 17th December 2018

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘nwt’

Drill-ready money

November 19th, 2018

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

by Greg Klein

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Osisko Mining’s (TSX:OSK) Windfall project offers one reason why
Quebec leads Canada and gold leads metals for exploration spending.
(Photo: Osisko Mining)

 

Blockchain might offer intrigue and cannabis promises a buzz, but mineral exploration still attracts growing interest. A healthy upswing this year will bring Canadian projects a nearly 8% spending increase to $2.36 billion, the industry’s highest amount since 2012. According to recently released data, that’s part of an international trend that puts Canada at the top of a worldwide resurgence.

The $2.36 billion allotted for Canadian exploration and deposit appraisal forms just a small part of the year’s total mineral resource development investments, which see $11.86 billion committed to this country, up from $10.61 billion in 2017.

Those numbers come from Natural Resources Canada, which surveyed companies between April and September on their spending intentions within the country for 2018. The $2.36-billion figure includes engineering, economic and feasibility studies, along with environmental work and general expenses.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Trial extraction for Pure Gold Mining’s (TSXV:PGM)
Madsen feasibility studies encourages interest in
Ontario’s Red Lake region. (Photo: Pure Gold Mining)

Of that number, Quebec edges out Ontario for first place with $623.1 million in spending this year, 26.4% of Canada’s total. Ontario’s share comes to $567.5 million or 24%. Last year’s totals came to $573.9 million for Quebec and $539.7 million for its western neighbour. Prior to that, however, Ontario held a comfortable lead year after year.

Third-place British Columbia gets $335.5 million or 14.2% of Canada’s total this year, an increase from $302.6 million in 2017.

On a per-capita basis, Yukon’s enjoying an exceptional year with an expected $249.4 million or 10.6% of Canada’s total. That’s the territory’s second substantial increase in a row, following $168.7 million the previous year.

Saskatchewan dips this year to $187.2 million (7.9%) from $191.2 million in 2017. But the Fraser Institute’s last survey of mining jurisdictions placed the province first in Canada and second worldwide.

Nunavut drops too, for the third consecutive time, to $143.9 million (6.1%), compared with $177 million in 2017. The Northwest Territories’ forecast declines to $86.2 million (3.7%) this year after $91.2 million last year.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Among companies leading Yukon’s exceptional performance
is White Gold TSXV:WGO, with substantial backing from
Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM and Kinross Gold TSX:K.
(Photo: White Gold)

Especially troubling when contrasted with Yukon’s performance, data for the other territories prompted NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Gary Vivian to call on federal, territorial and native governments and boards to help the industry “by creating certainty around land access, by reducing unnecessary complexity and by addressing the higher costs they face working in the North. Sustaining and growing future mining benefits depend on it.”

The pursuit of precious metals accounts for $1.5 billion in spending, nearly 64% of Canadian exploration. Ontario gets almost 31% of the precious metals attention, with 27% going to Quebec.

Base metals, mostly in Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, get 15.5% of the year’s total. Uranium gets 5%, almost entirely in Saskatchewan. Diamonds get nearly 4%, most of it going to the NWT and Saskatchewan. But nearly 11% of this year’s total goes to a category vaguely attributed to other metals, along with coal and additional non-metals.

Getting back to this year’s exploration total ($2.36 billion, remember?), senior companies commit themselves to nearly 55%, compared with nearly 51% last year. But the juniors’ share remains proportionately much larger than the pre-2017 years.

Additional encouragement—and on an international level—comes from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Using different methodology to produce different results, the Metals and Mining Research team found worldwide budgets for nonferrous exploration jumping 19% this year to $10.1 billion.

Juniors have been reaping the biggest budget gains at 35%. Over 1,651 functional exploration companies represent an 8% improvement over last year and the first such increase since 2012. But that’s “still about 900 companies less than in 2012, representing a one-third culling of active explorers over the past five years.”

The most dramatic spending increase hit cobalt and lithium, this year undergoing an 82% leap in exploration spending. That’s part of a 500% climb since 2015, SPGMI says.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Nemaska Lithium’s Whabouchi project in Quebec
contributes to the enthusiasm for energy metals.
(Photo: Nemaska Lithium)

Even so, precious and base metals retained their prominence as gold continues “to benefit the most from the industry recovery.” The global strive for yellow metal will claim $4.86 billion this year, up from $4.05 billion in 2017. Base metals spending will grow by $600 million to $3.04 billion. “Copper remained by far the most attractive of the base metals, although zinc allocations have increased the most, rising 37% in 2018, the report states. “Budgets are up for all targets except uranium.”

SPGMI finds Canada keeping its global top spot for nonferrous exploration with a 31% year-on-year budget increase. Second-place Australia achieved a 23% rise. The U.S. total places third, although with a 34% increase over the country’s 2017 performance.

In each of the top three countries, over 55% of the budgets focused on gold.

“Improved metals prices and margins since 2016 have encouraged producers to expand their organic efforts the past two years,” commented SPGMI’s Mark Ferguson. “Over the same period, equity market support for the junior explorers has improved, leading to an uptick in the number and size of completed financings. This allowed the group to increase exploration budgets by 35% in 2018.”

NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mining president Gary Vivian extols the benefits of the world’s third-largest diamond-producing region

November 9th, 2018

…Read more

Out crops opportunity

October 31st, 2018

Outcrops, pegmatites and spodumene mean lithium and tantalum for 92 Resources

by Greg Klein

Outcrops, pegmatites and spodumene mean lithium for 92 Resources

92 Resources’ James Bay-region Corvette property features
drill-ready targets as well as 15 kilometres of potential strike to evaluate.

 

An early-stage but steadily advancing project shows 92 Resources TSXV:NTY focusing firmly on northern Quebec’s lithium. Successful field work so far has inspired two large property expansions, one in a deal with Osisko Mining TSX:OSK. Now with about 15 kilometres of potential strike length in one package, 92 hopes to prove up grade and tonnage to bring its Corvette property to an advanced level.

A series of outcrops reveals lithium along with tantalum occurring in spodumene-bearing pegmatite over at least two sub-parallel structures, explains Darren Smith. “We have drill-ready targets as well as lots of highly prospective ground to explore.” Having worked with the company for about two years through Dahrouge Geological Consulting and been a 92 advisory board member since July, he’s obviously enthusiastic about the project.

Outcrops, pegmatites and spodumene mean lithium for 92 Resources

Surface showings have 92 Resources
optimistic about Corvette’s deeper potential.

And as a resident of Quebec City, he likes the jurisdiction too. “Quebec offers a lot of provincial support for mining,” Smith points out. “Also our Quebec projects fall within the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, which has structures in place for First Nations engagement and resource management.”

Corvette marked a change of direction for the company, after 92 optioned its Hidden Lake lithium property in the Northwest Territories to Far Resources CSE:FAT last January. Despite that project’s favourable sampling and metallurgical results, 92 saw even greater potential in its Quebec acquisitions. The theory found support from subsequent channel sampling grades and widths.

In September 92 released assays from 40 channel samples taken on the property’s CV1 pegmatite that averaged 1.35% Li2O. Tantalum showed up too, grading an average 109 ppm Ta2O5. Some highlights revealed:

  • 1.54% Li2O and 136 ppm Ta2O5 over 8 metres

  • 1.77% Li2O and 54 ppm Ta2O5 over 6 metres

  • 1.36% Li2O and 128 ppm Ta2O5 over 11 metres

  • 1.2% Li2O and 128 ppm Ta2O5 over 4 metres

  • 1.02% Li2O and 95 ppm Ta2O5 over 11 metres

About 50 metres north, the CV2 pegmatite showed:

  • 0.73% Li2O and 140 ppm Ta2O5 over 4 metres

  • 0.55% Li2O and 136 ppm Ta2O5 over 4 metres

True widths weren’t known.

Another promising development was the discovery of two more spodumene-bearing pegmatites. A grab sample grading 1.61% Li2O came from CV3, about 250 metres south of CV1. A 0.74% grab sample marked CV4, about three kilometres northeast and along strike of CV1.

Outcrops, pegmatites and spodumene mean lithium for 92 Resources

Corvette outcrops can host a helicopter
as well as spodumene-bearing pegmatite.

“We’re looking for tonnage and grade, and the grade has been demonstrated to be quite favourable,” Smith says. “The program added more tonnage potential through the CV3 and CV4 pegmatites, which show there might be multiple parallel structures. Because we have large occurrences over a three-kilometre strike length, it is inferred that it could be decent depth and that’s how to build tonnage. So now we have a structure over three kilometres along strike with mineralized spodumene-bearing pegmatite at either end. This is very positive because pegmatites tend to occur in swarms and congregations.”

The potential strike could be much greater yet, thanks to recent property expansions. In August the company staked another 4,918 hectares, more than doubling Corvette’s size. The following month 92 announced a 75% earn-in on Osisko’s neighbouring FCI claims, adding 14,034 hectares to the project and putting a potential strike of 15 kilometres into one package.

“Satellite imagery suggests favourable-looking outcrops there as well, so we’re pretty excited about that. We now have a lot of strike length that remains to be evaluated on the joint venture with Osisko, as well as drill-ready targets on the CV1 and 2 pegmatites.”

With a $250,000 work commitment for year one, FCI might take precedence over CV1 and 2. Plans will be determined shortly by a committee made up of two reps from each company. Osisko will act as operator on FCI in accordance with a previous ownership agreement.

Outcrops, pegmatites and spodumene mean lithium for 92 Resources

An earn-in with Osisko Mining
expands Corvette’s size and potential.

Gold and base metals possibilities also merit attention. An earlier grab sample from FCI reported by Virginia Mines brought historic, non-43-101 results of 38.1 g/t gold, while another graded 0.3 g/t gold, 150 g/t silver, 1.89% copper, 11.15% lead and 1.45% zinc.

Interestingly, that was the report that tipped off 92 about Corvette’s lithium potential. Not focused on the energy metal, Virginia just briefly noted the presence of pegmatite. Intrigued, 92 made an initial one-day visit in October 2017 “and saw massive spodumene sparkling on this big outcrop,” remembers Smith. Grab samples revealed 0.8%, 3.48% and 7.32% Li2O from the then-unnamed CV1 pegmatite and 1.22% from CV2, which also returned 90 ppm Ta2O5.

Currently helicopter-accessible, the exploration area sits about 15 kilometres south of the all-season Trans-Taiga Road and transmission line.

92’s also been busy with lithium-bearing pegmatite on its Pontax project, roughly 260 crow-flying kilometres southwest of Corvette. A week of work curtailed by last summer’s forest fires brought one grab sample grading 0.94% Li2O and 520 ppm Ta2O5, while another taken 600 metres away showed 0.72% Li2O and 87 ppm Ta2O5. A third sample taken another 1.3 kilometres along strike assayed 631 ppm Ta2O5 and an anomalous 0.02% Li2O.

“The samples come from an area of large outcrops that likely connect. The samples are random and separated by a decent distance, so they’re probably representative,” says Smith. “It’s a very good secondary project that complements Corvette.”

The company holds two other James Bay-region properties hosting pegmatite, Eastmain and Lac du Beryl. Looking at an entirely different energy-related commodity, 92 filed a 43-101 technical report for the Golden frac sand project in southern British Columbia last April. Located adjacent to the Moberly silica mine where Northern Silica restarted operations last year, Golden “hits the criteria for grade, rail and other infrastructure, proximity to markets and commodity demand,” says Smith.

As for Corvette, “I think it has enormous potential. It has a lot of tonnage potential, it’s in a new area, the geology works and the next program could really make the difference. So it’s positioned with a maximum amount of upside. The Osisko deal is very positive too and they’re a good partner to have, so I think 92 is well-positioned to really maximize the value of this asset.”

92 Resources expands Quebec lithium potential with new pegmatite discovery

October 25th, 2018

by Greg Klein | October 25, 2018

While remaining focused on its flagship Corvette project, 92 Resources TSXV:NTY announced surface exploration results from another Quebec lithium property. A week of field work at the James Bay-region Pontax project found pegmatite hosting lithium along with tantalum. One outcrop grab sample graded 0.94% Li2O and 520 ppm Ta2O5, while another taken 600 metres away assayed 0.72% Li2O and 87 ppm Ta2O5. A third sample taken another 1.3 kilometres along strike revealed 631 ppm Ta2O5 and an anomalous 0.02% Li2O.

92 Resources expands Quebec lithium potential with new pegmatite discovery

Last summer’s field program found lithium-bearing pegmatite
at surface on 92 Resources’ Pontax property in northern Quebec.

The program followed a review of historic work, satellite imagery and last spring’s tightly spaced airborne magnetic survey. Satellite imagery suggests the presence of several outcrops which might indicate a larger body under thin overburden, the company stated.

Further prospecting brought samples grading up to 141 ppb gold. Forest fires limited work, leaving some geophysical targets yet to be assessed.

The 5,536-hectare property sits in a region hosting other lithium projects including Nemaska Lithium’s (TSX:NMX) Whabouchi mine now under construction about 90 kilometres east.

Last month 92 Resources announced channel sample results from Corvette, another James Bay-region project and the company’s flagship. Forty samples taken from the property’s CV1 pegmatite ranged between 0.02% and 3.85% Li2O, averaging 1.35%. CV1 samples also averaged 109 ppm Ta2O5, while CV2 pegmatite samples averaged 138 ppm Ta2O5.

CV3 and CV4, two recently discovered spodumene-bearing pegmatites, showed grab samples grading 1.61% Li2O and 0.74% Li2O respectively. The company has permitting underway for an initial drill program on CV1 and CV2, and plans follow-up surface work on CV3 and CV4.

Earlier last month 92 Resources signed a 75% option on adjoining claims that make up the eastern area of Osisko Mining’s (TSX:OSK) FCI property. The acquisition would place the entire pegmatite trend currently defined by Corvette’s four known pegmatites in one project.

In April 92 Resources filed a 43-101 technical report on the Golden silica property in eastern British Columbia.  The company has optioned its Hidden Lake lithium project in the Northwest Territories to Far Resources CSE:FAT, which earned an initial 60% on completing last summer’s 10-hole drill campaign.

Tom Hoefer of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines points out that northern miners must create their own infrastructure

October 9th, 2018

…Read more

Looking up, up north

October 5th, 2018

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.”

Gary Vivian of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines celebrates Ekati’s 20th year of production and Diavik’s new A21 operation

September 17th, 2018

…Read more

How to flog glitter to the young and affluent: A De Beers special report

September 14th, 2018

by Greg Klein | September 14, 2018

Last year’s global market for diamond-encrusted jewelry rose 2.2% to a new high of $82 billion, largely due to the planet’s most populous age groups, says the world’s largest purveyor of the bling. But as “consumer power” shifts from elderly Boomers and middle-aged Generation X to Millennials and Gen Z, manufacturers and retailers must meet a new set of consumer expectations, De Beers’ Diamond Insight Report warns.

Americans again demonstrated the largest demand for diamond jewelry, splurging $43 billion, up 4.2% from the previous year’s $41 billion extravagance in a market that’s expected to show steady growth.

How to flog glitter to the young and affluent: A De Beers special report

(Photo: Matt Crabb/Anglo American)

Looking at diamonds’ pre-jewelry market, rough sales to cutting and polishing facilities rose 2% to $16.6 billion. De Beers claimed 34% of the total, down from its 2016 portion of 37%. Alrosa’s share came to 25%, compared with 27% the previous year. This year’s H1 sales to cutting centres, however, have surpassed the same period in 2017.

Last year’s global production climbed 15% in value to $17.5 billion and 14% in volume to 164 million carats. De Beers took credit for the largest increase of 6.1 million carats, followed by Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO with 3.7 million and Alrosa with 2.3 million carats. The top three diamond mining countries remained Russia, Botswana and Canada.

Forecasts see this year’s global production slipping “due largely to Alrosa’s suspension of operations at the Mir mine and Rio Tinto’s guided fall in production at its operations. Looking further ahead, production is expected to continue falling as new projects and expansions fail to replace lost output from closing mines. By 2025, several large mines will reach the end of their life, while only a few new projects are in the pipeline.”

With the younger consumers’ desire for qualities that diamonds can perfectly embody—including love, connections, authenticity, uniqueness and positive social impact—the most exciting times for the diamond industry are still ahead of us if we can seize the opportunities.—Bruce Cleaver,
De Beers Group CEO

Much of the report focuses on Millennials and Gen Zedders, and why they matter more than those doddering old Boomers and clapped out Gen Exers. Not only are the newcomers more numerous than their predecessors (64% of the planet’s 7.39 billion potential customers) but they’ll soon have more money to splash around. Additionally “they represent more than two-thirds of total diamond jewellery demand value in the four largest diamond-consuming countries,” the U.S., China, India and Japan.

But don’t mistake these affluent upstarts for status-conscious materialists with more money than values, the report emphasizes. Those who would sell to them must recognize four key traits: “Love is meaningful to them in many ways; they are digital natives; they value authenticity, individuality and self-expression; they are engaged with society and social issues.” Indeed, crass marketing’s passé as enlightened purveyors appeal to young adults’ desire for “love, connections, authenticity, uniqueness and positive social impact.”

Still, differences persist between the two groups. Millennials multi-task across two screens and think in 3D. Gen Zedders do that stuff across five screens and in 4D. Now-focused, idealistic and expectant Millennials contrast with future-focused, pragmatic and persistent Gen Z. The divide continues, pitting Millennials’ Harry Potter/armchair activist lifestyle and their team orientation versus Gen Z’s Hunger Games/active volunteer approach credited with collective consciousness.

De Beers doesn’t divulge the methodology for its detailed but seemingly subjective analysis. Buried in the report, however, might be one of the most important traits for a marketing pitch to consider.

Millennials boast an attention span reaching all of 12 seconds, 50% higher than Gen Z’s eight-second feat of endurance.

Related: Could synthetics bring death to diamond mining? Or a kind of reincarnation?

As ice recedes, the Arctic isn’t prepared for more shipping traffic

September 10th, 2018
As ice recedes, the Arctic isn’t prepared for more shipping traffic

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past an iceberg in Lancaster Sound in 2008.
(Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

 

by Edward Struzik | Queen’s University | posted with permission of The Conversation | September 10, 2018

I was aboard the 111-metre Russian research/cruise ship Akademik Ioffe when it came to a violent stop after grounding on a shoal in a remote region of the Gulf of Boothia in Canada’s Arctic. Fortunately, none of the 102 passengers and 24 crew members was injured. Chemical contaminants that may or may not have been pumped out with the bilge water seemed to be minor.

It could have ended up a lot worse. I was on the ship representing Yale Environment 360, which commissioned me to report on climate change in the Arctic and the research that scientists and students with the U.S. National Foundation-sponsored Northwest Passage Project were to be conducting on that three-week voyage.

It took nearly nine hours for a Hercules aircraft to fly in from the Canadian National Defence Joint Rescue Centre in Trenton, Ontario, 12 hours for another DND plane to come in from Winnipeg and 20 hours for a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter to fly over. By then we were boarding the Akademik Vavilov, a Russian sister ship that had come to the rescue.

As ice recedes, the Arctic isn’t prepared for more shipping traffic

Passengers aboard the Russian research/cruise ship Akademik Ioffe
watch a Canadian military aircraft fly overhead as they wait to be
rescued after running aground on a shoal in the Arctic.
(Photo: Edward Struzik)

Dangerous scenarios

Had the weather not worked in our favour and had there been thick ice such as the kind we had sailed through hours earlier, we would have faced a number of challenging and potentially dangerous scenarios.

Powerful winds could have spun us around on that rock, possibly ripping a hole into the hull that might have been bigger than the one that was presumably taking in the water we saw being pumped out of the ship. Thick ice grinding up against the ship would have made it almost impossible to get everyone off into lifeboats.

I had warned about a scenario like this in my book Future Arctic, Field Notes from A World On The Edge. Only 10% of the Arctic Ocean in Canada, and less than 2% of the Arctic Ocean in the United States, is charted. Only 25% of the Canadian paper charts are deemed to be good. Some of the U.S. charts go back to the days of captains Cook and Vancouver and the time when the Russians owned Alaska.

I’m not the only one who has been raising the red flag. Arctic experts such as Rob Huebert, Whitney Lackenbauer, Michael Byers and the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development have all highlighted the rising risks of shipping in the Arctic, and the formidable challenges associated with timely search and rescues and the staging of oil spill cleanups.

Groundings have increased

Since the catastrophic grounding of the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska in 1989, the list of groundings of fuel tankers, drilling ships, cargo ships and passenger vessels plying the waters of the North American Arctic has risen significantly.

Most notable among them were the cruise ship Hanseatic which ran aground in the Canadian Arctic in 1996, the Clipper Adventurer which ran aground in Coronation Gulf in 2010 and the Nanny, a fuel tanker that ran aground near Baker Lake in 2012 in an area where marine investigators say there is little margin for error. It was the fifth grounding in that area since 2007.

As sea ice continues to recede in the Arctic, it provides cruise, cargo and tanker companies with new opportunities, and emboldens small vessels to venture into uncharted areas. A recent analysis suggests that the average arctic ship route has moved more than 290 kilometres closer to the North Pole in the past seven years. Mines such as the one at Mary River on Baffin Island use ships to transport their ore. Bigger cruise ships such as the Crystal Serenity that sailed through the Northwest Passage with 1,000 passengers and 600 crew members in 2017 are beginning to test these opportunities.

No rescue ports

There are other factors portending future disasters. There are no ports in the North American Arctic from which to stage a rescue or an oil spill cleanup.

Icebreakers are few and far between. The U.S. Coast Guard has just one in operation. Canada has a few more, but many of them are well on their way to being decommissioned.

Weather forecasting capabilities are poor due to the shortage of meteorological stations and the increasingly unpredictable nature of arctic weather. Powerful summer storms such as the record-breaking cyclone that tore through the Arctic in 2012 are on the increase. Stable shorefast ice is letting go in unpredictable ways.

Our ship, for example, was forced to make a last-minute change to the starting route because of ice that was blocking passage into Resolute Bay. Recognizing the challenges, two cruise companies reportedly cancelled their expeditions this year on short notice.

There is a lot that can and needs to be done to reduce future risks. The Canadian government could compel ships to use forward-looking multi-beam sonar with Bluetooth technology. Charts can and need to be updated rapidly. More weather stations are needed. The dumping of bilge water should be banned. A search and rescue team should be seasonally based in a strategic part of the Arctic. An arctic port is needed sooner rather than later.

There is also a need to determine what impact future shipping will have on beluga and narwhal migrations.

There is time to play catch-up because there are few signs that shipping companies are in a hurry to exploit the shortcuts that the Northwest Passage offers between the Atlantic and the Pacific. But the number of partial transits will increase as cruise ships, mining companies and future oil and gas activity focus their eyes on the Arctic.

As things stand now, we are not prepared.

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

Related:

The Conversation

Reaching arctic mines by sea

September 10th, 2018

Operating in northern Canada often means creating your own transportation routes

by Greg Klein

Amid all the controversy over spending $4.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy a pipeline project whose $9.3-billion expansion might never go through, Ottawa managed to come up with some good, if relatively minor, infrastructure news. Rehab work will begin immediately on an idled railway connecting with a port that together linked Churchill, Manitoba, with the rest of Canada by land and the world by sea. Should all go to plan the private-public partnership would be one of just a few recent success stories in northern infrastructure.

Operating in northern Canada often means building your own infrastructure

The arctic Quebec riches of Glencore’s Raglan mine
justify an especially roundabout route from mine to market.

Denver-based owner OmniTRAX shut down Churchill’s deep-water port in 2016, blaming the demise of grain shipping through that route. The following year the company said it couldn’t afford rail repairs after a flood washed out sections of the line. Now the railway, port and an associated tank farm come under new ownership in an “historic” deal involving the Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership and the Fairfax Financial Holdings & AGT Limited Partnership.

“The consortium brings together First Nations and community ownership and support, along with significant private sector leadership and global investment capacity, and further, short line rail operation and shipping experience,” Ottawa enthused. As stakeholders heaped praise on the federal government, the source for much of the money seemed clear. But not even the purchase price, let alone details on who pays how much, have been disclosed.

Still the revitalization program, which could re-open the railway this coming winter, heightens the potential of resource projects in northern Manitoba and Nunavut’s Kivalliq region. As such, the apparent P3 success contrasts with a northern infrastructure setback to the northwest.

In April Transport Canada rejected a request to fund the bulk of a $527-million proposal to build another deep-water port at Grays Bay, Nunavut, along with a 227-kilometre year-round road leading to the territory’s former Jericho diamond mine. The Northwest Territories offered to build its own all-weather link, where a winter road now connects Jericho with three operating diamond mines in the NWT’s portion of the Lac de Gras region.

However the federal refusal prompted Nunavut to pull its support for Grays Bay. Undeterred, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association joined the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines at last month’s Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference in Iqaluit to argue the case for Grays Bay and other infrastructure projects. Chamber executive director Tom Hoefer said that with the exception of the NWT’s 97-kilometre Tlicho all-season road, the two territories have gone more than 40 years without government support for major projects. The last came in 1975, when Ottawa partnered with industry to build the world’s first ice‐breaking cargo ship, serving the former Nanisivik and Polaris mines in present-day Nunavut, he said.

With no power grids to our remote mines, [companies] must provide their own diesel-generated power, or wind in the case of Diavik. Being off the highway system, they must build their own roads—whether seasonal ice roads or all-weather roads. The ice road melts every year and must be rebuilt annually for $25 million…. Some of our mines must build their own seaports and all provide their own airports.—Tom Hoefer, executive director
of the NWT and Nunavut
Chamber of Mines

Hoefer compared the Slave geological province, home to deposits of precious and base metals along with rare earths and Lac de Gras diamonds, to the Abitibi. Kivalliq, he added, also offers considerable potential in addition to the regional operations of Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM.

But while mining plays an overwhelming role in the northern economy, he stressed, it’s been up to northern miners to build their own infrastructure.

Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore mine co-owners ArcelorMittal and Nunavut Iron Ore want to replace their hauling road with a 110-kilometre railway to the company’s port at Milne Inlet, where ore gets stockpiled prior to summer shipping to Europe. Now undergoing environmental review, the railway would be part of a proposal to increase extraction from four million tonnes to 6.2 million tonnes annually and finally make the mine profitable. An environmental review already recommended rejection of the increased tonnage proposal, but the final decision rests with Ottawa. (Update: On September 30, 2018, Ottawa approved the increased tonnage application for a one-year trial period.)

The rail line, if approved in its separate application, could be in operation by 2020 or 2021.

That would make it Canada’s only railway north of 60, except for a CN spur line reaching Hay River, NWT, from Alberta and a tourist excursion to Carcross, Yukon, from the Alaska Panhandle town of Skagway. (Also connected by highway to the Yukon, Skagway provides year-round deep-water port facilities for the territory, including Capstone Mining’s (TSX:CS) Minto copper mine.)

Projected for production next year, Amaruq comprises a satellite deposit for Agnico’s Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut. The company has built a 50-kilometre all-weather road linking Amaruq with Meadowbank’s processing facility and the company’s 110-kilometre all-weather road—by far the territory’s longest road—to Baker Lake. Interestingly that’s Nunavut’s only inland community but the hamlet has seasonal boat access to Chesterfield Inlet on northwestern Hudson Bay. From there, still restricted to the ice-free months, ships can reach Churchill or the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Also primed for 2019 gold production is Agnico’s Meliadine, 290 kilometres southeast of Meadowbank. The company’s 25-kilometre all-weather road connects with summer shipping facilities at Rankin Inlet, 90 klicks south of Chesterfield Inlet.

With its Doris gold operation only five kilometres from the Northwest Passage port of Roberts Bay, TMAC Resources TSX:TMR hopes to mine two more deposits on the same Hope Bay greenstone belt by 2020 and 2022 respectively.

But the most circuitous route from northern mine to market begins in arctic Quebec using trucks, ship, rail and more rail, then another ship. Glencore hauls nickel-copper concentrate about 100 kilometres by road from Raglan to Deception Bay, roughly 2,000 crow-flying kilometres from Quebec City. That’s the next destination, but by water. From there the stuff’s offloaded onto rail for transport to a Sudbury smelter, then back by rail to Quebec City again. Ships then make the trans-Atlantic crossing to Norway.

This is Part 1 of a series about northern infrastructure.

Related reading: