Point Aconi surface coal mines, operated by Pioneer Coal Limited, escavating remaining coal resources following the closure of the Prince underground mine.
Nova Scotia continues to offer significant investment opportunities to the minerals industry with proven exploitable industrial mineral, metallic mineral and coal deposits. The province’s Atlantic coast location provides strategic access to North American and European markets with an extensive transportation network, including numerous deep-water, ice-free ports. Additionally, there are opportunities for value-added manufacturing of mineral-based products prior to marketing.
The government of Nova Scotia encourages the responsible use of its mineral resources through a combination of comprehensive industrial development regulations, geoscience programs and support for economic development. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains the Registry of Mineral and Petroleum Titles, which is responsible for the issuance and review of exploration licences and mineral development leases.
DNR also coordinates the review of all mineral development projects through the provincial One-Window Committee on Mineral Development, which comprises representatives from DNR, Nova Scotia Environment and the Department of Labour and Workforce Development. The one-window approach is designed to improve the regulatory review process for both proponents and regulators by facilitating the exchange of information and establishing clear regulatory responsibilities. Other provincial and federal regulatory authorities are invited to the one-window review process as issues are identified.
DNR continues to assist the minerals industry by refining and expanding its geoscience databases and makes them available, free of charge, through the Internet. The province’s long history (of well over 100 years) of formal geoscience programs, including initiatives in environmental geology and hydrogeology, has resulted in the availability of extensive information in various forms. Additionally, because of the province’s relatively small land area, many locations have been examined in detail with numerous reports compiled on local mineral potential.
DNR library services in Halifax include access to all exploration assessment reports on file with the department. The department is actively converting this information from paper to scanned digital files for more convenient long-term archiving. The Provincial Core Library in Stellarton holds over 600,000 metres of core from various geological settings throughout the province. Drill core and other sample materials have been preserved for use by any party interested in examining them. Recently, a water resources database was released in conjunction with Nova Scotia Environment, which complements other data sets such as mineral occurrences and abandoned mines.
Mineral sector activity in 2009
Production: Industrial minerals, led by gypsum, salt, limestone and construction aggregates, continue to make up the bulk of Nova Scotia’s mineral production in terms of value and quantity. Many producing sites are long-term operations, often operating for several decades prior to depletion of the resource.
The province’s gypsum industry, after a long period of record annual production of over eight million tonnes, has recently reduced production due to lighter demand for construction wallboard and the increasing use of “synthetic” gypsum. This resulted in temporary shutdowns at several mines during 2009. The industry has experienced similar patterns of lower demand in the past when new home construction slowed in the United States. Production is expected to increase as the housing industry recovers.
Demand for salt products remained strong as a result of the continuing requirement for road de-icing products for winter use in the Maritime provinces and neighbouring regions.
Coal production increased significantly over the past few years with several reclamation mining projects operating at sites of former underground mines. It is expected that nearly a million tonnes of coal will be mined in 2009 from two larger surface coal mines.
Base metal mining returned to Nova Scotia in 2007 with the resumption of zinc and lead mining at Gays River. However, the province’s only operating metal mine was placed on care and maintenance in 2009, following the steep drop in commodity prices for these metals in late 2008.
The demand for construction aggregate, for both domestic and export markets, continues to grow. A few large operations are complemented by a number of strategically located quarries and pits throughout the province to supply smaller markets. A crushed granite aggregate quarry at Auld’s Cove continues to rank in the top five Canadian crushed stone quarries. Construction aggregates are not considered minerals under the Mineral Resources Act and are owned by the land owner.
Exploration and development: As a result of relatively low mineral commodity prices persisting from 2008, the overall level of exploration activity for 2009 is down from 2008. Mineral exploration is mainly focused on gold and base metals. There continues to be an interest in rare metals associated with the granites of southern Nova Scotia.
In 2009, exploration work continued on the evaluation of the iron oxide, copper and gold (IOCG) potential of the volcanic rocks along the northern boundary of the Cobequid-Chedabucto Fault Zone. Recently, emphasis has also been placed on the potential for development of large-tonnage, bulk-mineable deposits associated with historical gold districts in metasedimentary rocks in the southeastern area of mainland Nova Scotia. Work continued on exploration for lead-zinc deposits in central mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, and for base metals in eastern Cape Breton.
Larger mineral development projects under investigation include a proposed surface gold mine at Moose River and an undersea, long-wall coal mine project at Donkin. Both projects continue with advanced exploration and feasibility studies prior to making a decision to move forward to production.
The outlook for 2010
Policy changes: In 2007, the provincial government passed the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA), which sets a number of stringent environmental protection targets, including sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gas emission limits and the establishment of the minimum land area designated as protected from development. The Act works in conjunction with the government’s economic growth strategy — Opportunities for Sustainable Prosperity — and the framework for social policy called “Weaving the Threads.”
This combination of legislation and policy recognizes the interdependence of social well-being, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability and makes Nova Scotia one of the few provinces in Canada to enshrine environmental and sustainability goals directly in law.
Natural resources strategy: The EGSPA includes a commitment that Nova Scotia will adopt strategies to ensure the sustainability of the province’s natural capital by the year 2010. The new strategy will guide and direct the management of important natural assets over the next decade.
The strategy will include four key components — forests, minerals, parks and biodiversity. The first phase of strategy development, coordinated by Voluntary Planning (Nova Scotia’s citizens’ policy forum), included public consultations to determine public values with regard to natural resources. In 2008, 27 community meetings with more than 2,000 participants were held across the province. These sessions engaged citizens in discussions focusing on what is most valued about these four components of natural resources. Societal values expressed in these conversations form the foundation for the development of the strategy. In addition to these in-person sessions, written comments were also accepted. A final report compiling citizen feedback was provided by Voluntary Planning to the Minister of Natural Resources in April 2009, bringing the first phase to completion.
During phase two, a steering committee will oversee four expert panels, one for each of the four strategy areas. The panels will conduct stakeholder consultation and develop a report and recommendations. Phase three of the process will take place in 2010 with DNR developing a long-term natural resources strategy that builds on information gathered in phases one and two.
Legally protected land objectives: The Government of Nova Scotia recognizes the importance of protecting ecologically significant portions of the province’s landscape. The EGSPA’s ambitious target is that 12 per cent of the total provincial land mass be legally protected by 2015.
In the first EGSPA Annual Report, it was noted that with more than 70 per cent of land in Nova Scotia in private ownership, and with many competing demands for the use of Crown land, there are significant challenges in meeting this target. Currently, approximately eight per cent of the land area of the province is designated as protected.
References to the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA) are extracted from the EGSPA 2009 Annual Progress Report published by Nova Scotia Environment.