Ten new mines to boost Nunavut’s infrastructure: NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines
"A tremendous opportunity for local arrangements to construct, to maintain and to operate this infrastructure"
Ten huge mines, poised to move into production in Nunavut within the next 10 years, may fuel the ports, roads and other infrastructure Nunavut badly needs: that was the message from Tom Hoefer, executive director of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, at the recent Nunavut Trade Show and Conference in Iqaluit.
“Hopefully, the time has come for some of these projects, the majority of which are more than 20 years old,” Hoefer said in his Sept. 27 presentation at a panel discussion on “Nunavut: The Next Decade — Getting Your Share of Major Developments,” now posted on the chamber’s website.
Mines can be a powerful driver to new infrastructure, he said, leading to the construction of ice roads, all-weather roads, ports, railroads and hydoelectric developments.
In Nunavut, some 600 kilometres of roads could be required, he said.
And the opening of mines in the Kitikmeot region could lead to the chain of microwave towers providing high-speed telecommunications to be brought north to Nunavut from the NWT, he suggested.
“Surely this presents a tremendous opportunity for local arrangements to construct, to maintain and to operate this infrastructure.”
That’s an opportunity which continues to appeal to the first Inuit-owned development corporation, the Nunavut Resources Corp., said its chairman Charlie Evalik, also the Kitikmeot Inuit Association president.
The NRC wants to boost Inuit participation and ownership in Nunavut’s major resource developments, through investments of money or through the development of infrastructure to support projects.
Evalik said in a Sept. 30 interview in Cambridge Bay that the NRC plans to work closely with some of the mining giants, like Newmont, Minmetals and Xstrata, on joint infrastructure projects for their future mines.
As these companies’ mines head into operation, there’s a chance that the Bathurst Inlet port and road project, now “on hold,” may still be built, he said.
The port facility, 35 km to the south of the community of Bathurst Inlet, would include the construction of a dock, 18 large fuel storage tanks, the 211-km. road to Conwoyto Lake, a 1,200-metre airstrip and two camps for about 200 workers.
Its cost was estimated at $270 million a few years ago, but like everything else, the price tag of the project known as BIPAR has risen.
But Evalik pointed out that since the baseline studies have already been completed for BIPAR, the project could move ahead quickly when the timing is right.
That time could be soon, Hoefer said at the Nunavut Trade Show.
In southern Canada these metal and mineral projects would have been mined long ago, he said.
Now, if metal and mineral prices stay strong, if capital is available, if regulatory approvals go smoothly, “that bodes well for these projects to finally come into production,” he said.
Rising world prices for metals like iron have been the major drivers behind the push to develop mines in Nunavut.
And much of this is due to China, which today accounts for 40 per cent of global metal demand, Hoefer said.
“Demand, in particular for steel as well as luxury items such as diamonds, is now being driven by an urbanization process in China,” he said.
Some analysts believe may take six to nine years before that demand peaks, he said — but the marketplace remains unstable, with prices that can rise and fall overnight.
As well, other places are competing with Nunavut to develop mines.
“Other countries are also actively exploring and developing mines, and, in time, that supply will affect prices,” he said.
In the NWT, Hoefer said there is a “worrisome downwards trend” in mining exploration and development, which is being felt in the overall economy.
But, in Nunavut’s favour, “a good mix” of silver, uranium, zinc, lead, copper, iron, and diamonds can be found in the territory, he said: “this diversity can help provide some protection during downturns.”
Nunavut’s big challenge — a lack of infrastructure, he said.
Nunavut covers about two million square kilometres, about the same size as the combined areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, France and Germany, Hoefer noted.
“Building 10 mines in this vast area without the same kind of infrastructure as Europe for example, will be challenging.” he said.
And the lack of infrastructure means the cost of building those 10 mines balloons to an estimated $12 billion.
But Nunavut remains in a favourable position, Hoefer said, as many of its major projects will hopefully begin construction within the same time frame.