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Ring of Fire, demand for critical elements driving future of Ontario mining

Ontario has mined 18 elements on the critical list for high-tech use

Despite a report from the Fraser Institute listing Saskatchewan and Manitoba as No. 1 and No. 2 in mining in Canada, Ontario continues to be the driving force of the Canadian mining industry according to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines

Minister of Northern Development and Mines Bill Mauro, of Thunder Bay, opened the Ontario Mining Pavilion on Monday and spoke about the importance of the mining industry for Ontario, including future potential of the Ring of Fire.

“We are bringing $1 billion to the table to help prepare the infrastructure that will make the Ring of Fire a reality,” Mauro said. “We are committed to the project and we are looking to put shovels in the ground.”

“I am proud of the 90 Ontario-based companies in the mining and mining supply sectors, who are participating at PDAC and are showcasing our knowledge and expertise,” he added.

Information provided by MNDM, indicates Ontario has 39 mines operating in the province and has a diversity of mineral products including 10 base metal mines, 17 gold mines, and one diamond mine.

Figures produced by MNDM in 2016 indicate mining in Ontario produced $10.6 billion in metals and minerals. That amounts to more than 25 per cent of Canada's total value of mineral production.

Mining firms also invested $371 million in mining exploration in Ontario accounting for one quarter of all Canadian exploration expenditures.

“This will ensure that Ontario's status as national leader in mineral production continues well into the future,” Mauro said.

Mining in Ontario employs 26,000 workers in mining and 50,000 people are employed in related manufacturing and processing industries.

Ontario has Canada’s largest gold mining areas centred along the Abitibi Greenstone belt which includes Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Chapleau-Wawa areas; and the Sudbury nickel belt is the centre for base metals such as nickel, zinc and copper.

The success of gold exploration by Probe Mines, near Chapleau, Ontario, which led to the property being purchased by Goldcorp’s Porcupine Gold Mines operation, has led to a renewed vigour of exploration in the area, with companies such as Red Pine Exploration and Argo Exploration among others.

Beyond the existing mining areas, the remote northwestern Ontario area popularly known as the Ring of Fire is slowly moving toward producing its to vast mining potential. Some estimate it to be worth $50 billion dollars in chromite, nickel, silver and gold.

Noront is currently leading the way toward production with a nickel mine proposal. The lack of a permanent, all-weather road or rail line is the main stumbling block.

The drive toward a green economy is creating a demand for cobalt, lithium, graphite, magnesium, talc and rare earth elements. These elements are crucial for development of batteries to power electric cars and other high-tech products, like smart phones.

Shortly after Minister Mauro opened the Ontario Pavilion, a presentation was made by Peter LeBaron, the District Geologist for Southern Ontario. LeBaron identified areas where Ontario has great potential to be a supplier for the green economy revolution.

LeBaron said that In recent years, there has been a rapid growth in the demand for metals and minerals used in high-tech products. Collectively this grouping of chemicals is called “critical minerals.”

Critical minerals are commodities that are important to the economy and have a high risk of having their supplies interrupted.

LeBaron said Ontario has the potential for securing Canada’s supply of these critical minerals.

He pointed out that In the past Ontario has mined 18 elements on the critical list including cobalt. Cobalt production is associated with the presence of nickel. As a result the Sudbury nickel belt is being heavily explored for cobalt as is the historic Cobalt, Ontario site.

Some of the companies actively looking for cobalt include Global Energy Metals Corp, Green Swan Capital Corp, Cobalt Power Group and Sunvest Minerals Corporation.

In addition, Ontario, has produced and continues to produce graphite in two mines one near Kearney and Bisset Creek, Ontario. A third graphite exploration effort is being undertaken by Zenyatta Graphite in the Kapuskasing-Hearst area of Northern Ontario.

Magnesium and talc are needed for producing hard plastics for the auto industry. Globex Inc. has property in Timmins, Ontario with quantities of magnesium and talc. Another company, General Magnesium was about to open its magnesium talc operation, but the untimely death of its President and CEO William Quesnel has resulted in the closure of the project in Whitney Township, and the winding down of the company.

Lithium is another highly sought after mineral that is vital for battery production. There are five locations in Northern Ontario that have promising potential for lithium production including one in the Hearst-Cochrane area which is currently being explored.

Timmins is a main source of zinc in Ontario, through Glencore’s Kidd Creek mine. But the mine is scheduled to close in 2021.

As Garry Clark, the president of the Ontario Prospectors Association indicated, the future success of mining in Ontario depends on the mining exploration sector, whether it be for gold, base metals, diamonds or increasingly import critical elements group, exploration is the key.

"The mining exploration industry is a boom and bust based industry,” said Clark. “Recently the high demand for Green Energy metals have spurred exploration.”