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Ring of Fire Need for Critical Minerals Spurs Development

Aug 23, 2022

By Frank Giorno
With billions at stake and financial windfalls for First Nations communities within reach throughout Northern Ontario, the next four years will likely be the watershed era for the Ring of Fire.  The re-election of the Doug Ford government last June, elevated the Ring of Fire prominently as a major objective for Ford’s second term.
Announcing his new Cabinet in late June 2022, Premier Ford reiterated his commitment to developing the Ring of Fire by bringing in his new cabinet ministers with the skills and experience to build the infrastructure necessary to unlock the full potential of Ontario’s economy and that includes highways, transit and the road to the Ring of Fire.
Ford named former Timmins mayor George Pirie to the newly created Minister of Mines portfolio; a ministry tasked with a special mandate to develop the Ring of Fire. Pirie, before entering municipal politics, had been the President and CEO of Placer Dome Canada, a major Canadian company that at one time operated 13 gold mines in seven countries around the world. During his tenure as Timmins mayor, Pirie also developed and maintained excellent relations with the area’s First Nations leaders.
“With big challenges ahead, including an uncertain global economic climate, now is the time for unity and working together,” said Premier Ford. “Our government will be relentless in delivering on our ambitious plan to grow our economy and build infrastructure as we leave no stone unturned when it comes to solving the historic labour shortage. It’s all hands-on deck.”
What’s at stake in the Ring of Fire has been known for decades since the area was first discovered by Spider Resources back in the 1990s and nurtured along by Noront Resources through the 2000s. It was Richard Nemis who gave the region the name The Ring of Fire when he was with Noront.


Geopolitical importance of Critical Minerals

The region is located approximately 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay and 1,000 kilometres north of Toronto. The area covers about 5,000 square kilometres. It has critical metals and minerals that are essential for a greener future for Canada.
Minerals like nickel, cobalt and copper for example are key ingredients in building electric batteries for the electric car industry an industry Ontario wants a slice of. In March 2022 the Ontario government released its plan to build electric cars in Ontario. This increased the importance of securing critical minerals that are vital to building electric vehicle batteries such as nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium and others.The Ring of Fire contains massive quantities of these critical minerals. This gives Ontario electric car manufacturers a stable, safe and local supply.
The ROF region also has long-term potential to produce chromite used to make stainless steel and the substance that gave it its initial allure, especially as an export product to the U.S. or China. A ferro-chrome refinery was proposed for Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario by Noront Resources in 2018.
 Noront which acquired the holdings of Cliff Resources from Cleveland Ohio after it failed to get approval for the construction of a privately owned road in 2014 has since sold its holdings to Wyloo Resources of Australia in 2021 after a heated bidding war with BH Billington.


The Federal Government Support of the Ring of Fire as Part of Canada’s Critical Mineral Policy

The federal government also has jurisdictions to the environment and resources in the Ring of Fire and has voiced support especially for extracting critical minerals in Canada.
In June 2022 while speaking at PDAC 2022 convention in Toronto, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, John Wilkinson underscored the importance of critical minerals by releasing a discussion paper.
“Critical minerals are essential to powering the green, digital economy of tomorrow,” Wilkinson told the audience gathered by the Government of Canada display booth at PDAC.
“Increasing demand and constrained supply of these all-important minerals are presenting Canada with a generational economic opportunity,” Wilkinson said, “and the Government of Canada is committed to seizing that opportunity while delivering on its ambitious climate and nature goals.”
The discussion paper builds on the Canadian government’s nearly $3.8-billion commitment on critical minerals earmarked in Budget 2022.


Construction of a Road from the Ring of Fire to Provincial Highways to the South

Today, critical minerals for electric car batteries have surpassed chromite as the desired mineral in the Ring of Fire, but one thing hasn’t changed over the last decade, the key to unlocking the vast potential of the Ring of Fire is construction of a road from the most advanced exploration area near the Eagle’s Nest and Black Horse mines, now owned by Wyloo Mining after it purchased them from Noront to the provincial highway system or rail system to the south.
The road has been a contentious and controversial component of opening up the Ring of Fire since Cliff Resources proposal for a privately owned road was rejected by the Ontario Mining Commissioner in 2013.
Today, two First Nations Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation are the proponents leading the environmental assessments for their individual proposed all-season road projects. They are also co-proponents for the planning and development of a proposed Northern Road Link to the Ring of Fire. The Northern Road Link would connect to the proposed Marten Falls Community Access Road at the south end, and to the proposed Ring of Fire developments and Webequie Supply Road at the north end.
Unlike the Cliff Resources proposal, Ontario is working directly with First Nations through bilateral agreements that support each community’s unique needs and priorities. The all-season road will not only open mining in the Ring of Fire, but it will also help nearby communities by reducing the cost of delivering consumer goods, fuel and construction materials; giving communities access to primary health care and other services; reducing the overall cost of living.


Proposed Routes

Three proposed road study areas, Webequie Supply Road Project, Marten Falls Community Access Road Project and Northern Road Link Project, are being led by Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation as proponents and/or co-proponents.
The proposed study areas represent areas identified for environmental assessments only and do not reflect any actual infrastructure routing.
Any actual final routing of a proposed road within these study areas is subject to the completion of an environmental assessment, including satisfaction of the Crown’s duty to consult and other regulatory requirements.


The status of the environmental assessment

Earlier this year, the two proponents filed their terms of reference for their portions of the road.  Ontario Premier Doug Ford at that time said the filing of the terms of reference of the Northern Road Link a “historic milestone to unlocking jobs and economic opportunities in the Ring of Fire region.”
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada which oversees federal environmental assessments will work with the Province of Ontario, Indigenous groups, federal authorities, non-government organizations and the public to determine the appropriate activities, outcomes and boundaries of the regional assessment. This will streamline the assessment process and reduce duplication.
The public comment period for the road terms of reference runs until September 2022.
The filing of the terms of reference means the actual work on the detailed Environmental Assessment may begin once the public comment period is complete.


Timing for Completion of Road and Start Up of Wyloo Metal’s Eagle’s Nest Mine

In terms of a schedule for the projected start of mining at the Eagle’s Nest Nickel Mine, Noront Resources — which was purchased by Wyloo Metals --- projected a start date of road construction as being mid-2023 and its completion by mid-2027. It envisioned the start of commercial production at the Eagle’s Nest nickel mine at the end of 2027.
However, the proposed schedule as envisioned by Noront may have been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors such as Wyloo Metal’s assessment of its Ring of Fire priorities


Sites in the Ring of Fire Closest to Start-Up

Wyloo Metals has two near-term development projects in the Ring of Fire. The first being the Eagle’s Nest a high-grade nickel-copper-platinum-palladium deposit. It is expected to produce 3,000 tonnes of ore per day, from an underground mine. It proposes to deliver between 150,000 to 250,000 tonnes of nickel-bearing concentrate per year. The mine is expected to reach commercial production three years after permits are received with an anticipated mine life of 11 years and the potential for nine additional years.
The Blackbird chromite deposit was discovered in 2008 and will be the second mine in Wyloo’s pipeline if it follows Noront’s original plan. It is one of many large tonnage, high-quality chromite discoveries in the Ring of Fire. It is located less than a kilometre from the Eagle’s Nest mine.


Other Mining Exploration Companies Active in the Ring of Fire

As of January 2022, there are about 26,167 active mining claims held by 15 companies and individuals, covering approximately 4,972 square kilometres.
In addition to Wyloo Metals other key players in the Ring of Fire include but are not limited to Juno Resources, KWG Resources and Bold Ventures.

Juno Resources
Over the past three years, Juno accumulated vast mineral land holdings in the Ring of Fire by acquisitions from junior mining companies and staking crown land. It is the largest mineral claimholder in the Ring of Fire with approximately 16,500 mineral claims covering 3,200 square kilometers, or approximately 62% of the mineral claims in the region.
Juno has established what it believes to be respectful and inclusive working relationships with nearby First Nations communities and has signed Memorandum of Understanding Agreements with Webequie First Nation and Kasabonika Lake First Nation.

KWG Resources
KWG Resources owns the Black Horse chromite project, after acquiring a 50% interest through Bold Ventures Inc. KWG also owns 100% of Canadian Chromite Corporation which staked mining claims between Aroland, Ontario (near Nakina) and the Ring of Fire.  CCC has conducted a surveying and soil testing program to assess the prospects for the engineering and construction of a railroad along that route between the Ring of Fire and Aroland, Ontario.

Bold Ventures Resources
The Bold Ventures has a significant holding in the Ring of Fire located in the James Bay Lowland. Bold Ventures interest is in exploring for precious metals, battery minerals and critical metals.


Visit the CEN CAN Expo September 15th for the Ring of Fire, Critical Minerals, and the Central Role of Two Indigenous communities conference. The event will feature Key Note Speaker, Ontario Minister of Mines, George Pirie, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations and Industry representation such as Wyloo/Noront, and your Host/Chair, Michael Fox and Qasim Saddique, Principal of Suslop Inc. Reserve your seat today as seats are limited. Visit www.cancanexpo.ca today.


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