November 2008

Land of opportunities

Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore project

By M. Eisner

Aerial view of Mary River project site

In a keynote speech to the Nunavut Mining Symposium last spring, Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation president and CEO Gordon McCreary said that he has always viewed the challenges of the North as opportunities that, under the right circumstances, would bring economic prosperity for both mining operations as well as the native community. Well, if this self-professed “Canadian from the south that has been seriously bitten by the northern bug,” has anything to do with it, the company’s Mary River iron ore project will play a major role in realizing those opportunities.

Over the past four years, McCreary and the Baffinland team have been very busy putting into place all the elements needed to start production at Mary River, about 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Four iron ore deposits were identified in the area and the current focus is on Deposit #1.

Since 2004, Baffinland’s efforts have been concentrated on resource delineation, environmental and socio-economic baseline data collection and the completion of engineering and related studies. Construction of the full-scale operation is slated for 2010, with an anticipated first commercial shipment in 2014.

The mining of Deposit #1 will use conventional open pit drilling and blasting techniques, electric shovels and 210-tonne haulage trucks. A cutoff grade of 59 per cent iron will be used for initial open pit design and life-of-mine schedulling, with the remainder of the material classified as waste, which will be stored in rock piles adjacent to the open pit. There will be no further processing of the ore before shipment, which means that there will be no need for tailings management facilities.

Ore from the pit will be hauled to a primary crusher, crushed to less than 200 millimetres in size and conveyed to two secondary crushers for further size reduction. Lump ore is expected to constitute approximately 75 per cent of the crusher product, with the balance being sinter feed or fines. Once in production, ore will travel over a still-to-be-built 143-kilometre rail line from the mine to the coast at Steenby Inlet. There, it will be loaded year-round onto project-dedicated, ice-strengthened ore carriers for shipment, primarily to European steelmakers.

To date, the company has spent nearly $400 million on setting up preliminary infrastructure to support geotechnical drilling, using eight diamond drills. Approximately $200 million has been spent this year alone on various initiatives including data collection programs, and drilling and shipping 112,000 tonnes of bulk samples to European markets. It has also taken two years to build a number of project sites that spread out over 250 kilometres of tundra, stretching from Mary River to Milne Inlet for sea lifts and re-supply, and to the port at Steensby Inlet. The project sites have the capacity to manage 400 people, including the engineers who are currently working on geotechnical drilling.

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