Ontario Could Get Burned by Flawed Ring of Fire Process

In paired press releases the Ontario Government and U.S. mining company Cliffs Natural Resources today announced plans to proceed with the next step in the development of a chromite deposit in the area dubbed the “Ring of Fire”. The remote area of northern Ontario and the various access routes to it are in the traditional territories of several Ojibway, Oji-Cree, and Cree First Nations.

The announcements confirmed earlier indications that Sudbury could be the location of a proposed ferrochrome processing facility and that Cliffs’ proposed transportation corridor, known as the North-South Route could be developed to link the mine to the existing road and rail systems to the south. This transportation route is competing with another that would make greater use of existing roads and is being proposed by Noront Resources. Each route has its supporters among various First Nations in the area. Northern municipalities and First Nations have also suggested alternative locations for the processing plant.

If the mineral resources of the Ring of Fire are to be developed, value added processing done in Ontario – in accordance with Section 91 of the Mining Act – is certainly in the best interest of the province. Value added processing of mined minerals can greatly increase employment and taxation opportunities. We remain concerned, however, that Cliffs is only proposing to process half the volume of concentrated chromite at the Ontario ferrochrome facility. The other half would be shipped overseas for processing.

We are also deeply concerned that the Ontario government has indicated its support for the North-South Road Corridor when there has not yet been any public review process to examine social and environmental issues of the proposed developments and the free prior informed consent of affected First Nations has not been obtained. The road is a major undertaking that has the potential for significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts and has serious implications for First Nations communities. Endorsing the corridor at this time is a betrayal of commitments and expectations created by the government to pursue development in the Ring of Fire in a responsible manner.

In cooperation with First Nations and other NGOs, MiningWatch has been advocating for a regional review of the various proposed projects in the Ring of Fire through a federal-provincial Joint Review Panel. Key government agencies also recommended this approach but the federal and provincial governments have refused to adopt this recommendation. The recommended process could inform provincial decisions on infrastructure and allow for a thorough review of potential cumulative impacts of the various alternatives.

Recognising that chromium is a toxic metal that has never been mined in Canada, MiningWatch has conducted a literature review of environmental and human health issues associated with mining and processing the metal. The complete literature review and three summary fact sheets are available on our website.

While today’s press releases are very optimistic, it is important to recognise that this is just an announcement to proceed to the phase a completing a feasibility study of the project. Moving forward, MiningWatch expects the Ontario Government to live up to its commitment for a responsible approach to development by:

  • Making no firm or binding commitments to support major infrastructure prior to conducting environmental and social impact assessments and achieving the free prior informed consent of affected First Nations.
  • Conducting a review of existing environmental and workplace regulations and their adequacy for dealing with the toxicity of chromite mining and processing.
  • Ensuring complete transparency about commitments to subsidize transportation infrastructure.
  • Complete transparency about power rates and any preferential rates given to new developments.
  • Respecting the integrity of the Ontario Mining Act and require 100% of the Ring of Fire chromite be processed in Ontario.
  • Reviewing the Ontario Mining Tax and other taxes applied to the mining sector, and raising mineral royalties to ensure an appropriate economic return to from new and existing mining operations.

Additional Links:

Matawa First Nations

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency