Dec '10/Jan '11

Nova Scotia

Industrial minerals and aggregates sustain production

CGI Inc. operates a gypsum and anhydrite mine at Miller Creek supplying rock to wallboard and cement manufacturing facilities on the east coast of North America | Photo courtesy of NS Department of Natural Resources

Following a six-year period of steady growth, mineral production in Nova Scotia was 25 per cent lower in 2009 and 2010 than in 2008. This decline was largely attributed to a substantial downturn in gypsum mining and suspension of production in 2009 at the province’s only base metals mine at Gays River.

Nova Scotia’s minerals industry is currently dominated by the production of industrial minerals and structural materials throughout the province. Production of commodities such as coal, salt, anhydrite, limestone and silica sand have remained relatively consistent in recent years.

Construction aggregates produced from crushed rock and sand and gravel deposits have also remained consistent and now represent one-third of the value of all minerals produced in the province, overtaking gypsum production as the highest value commodity. The province exports approximately a third of construction aggregates produced.

Exploration expenditures and mineral claim-staking were also down from 2008 levels during 2009 and 2010. However, increasing commodity prices for gold, base metals and rare earth minerals have resulted in renewed interest in exploring for these commodities. The Touquoy gold mining project continues to refine its mining plans as a detailed feasibility study is being conducted. The project was approved through the provincial environmental assessment process in 2008.

Gypsum and coal

Gypsum mining in Nova Scotia has been one of the most consistent industries over the past 100 years. The quality and size of Nova Scotia gypsum deposits, combined with economical water-based transport options, has made Nova Scotia the North American leader in gypsum production for decades. The outlook for natural gypsum-mined rock has changed quickly over the past few years, mainly as a result of the substitution of natural gypsum with a by-product called “synthetic gypsum,” which is generated at a number of electrical power generating plants that burn coal containing sulphur.

Historically, gypsum mining and coal usage were never directly related; however, recent environmental air-emission standards have required a number of coal-fired power plants in the United States and Canada to reduce emission limits for sulphur dioxide released through flue gases. A consequence of this regulation has been the production of synthetic gypsum following the “scrubbing” of flue-gas emissions. Some power plants produce large volumes of synthetic gypsum, which initially was managed through the establishment of land-fills. More recently, gypsum wallboard producers have begun to collaborate with power-plant operators by replacing naturally occurring gypsum rock with synthetic gypsum created from the power-plant emission. Although this arrangement benefits both industries, gypsum mining activity throughout the world has been impacted negatively by this change. The rate of substitution is expected to increase until the practice of flue-gas scrubbing at power plants is no longer required and synthetic gypsum is no longer produced as a by-product.

Coal is expected to be the primary fuel source for electrical power generation in Nova Scotia for the foreseeable future, although a number of alternatives are being developed or proposed, including wind, tidal and solar-based options. A special lease for coal was issued in 2009 to the developers of the Donkin coal mine project where, to date, underground exploration has been initiated and a mine feasibility evaluation undertaken. News releases from the project indicate that several million tonnes per year of metallurgical coking coal could be produced, and barge and rail transportation options are currently under consideration.

Social/environmental trends

Since 1981, government policy has imposed a moratorium on exploration for uranium. In November 2009, the provincial government passed the Uranium Exploration and Mining Prohibition Act, which prohibits mining of mineral deposits where the average concentration of uranium exceeds 100 ppm (parts per million). In 2010, Mineral Resources Act regulations were amended to clarify how encounters of uranium would be managed to allow for exploration of other metals and commodities that could also contain low levels of uranium.

In April 2009, the provincial government extended a hold on new surface coal mining projects in Cape Breton County to allow for further study of the environmental effects of this type of mining activity in the region. The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources (NSDNR)-led Surface Coal Mine Reclamation Enhancement Initiative (SCMREI) was extended for an additional three-year period to evaluate reclamation practices taking place at the Point Aconi surface coal mine. The mine operator is

currently implementing some of the leading practices identified by SCMREI, including the transplantation of large areas of existing forest vegetation. The results of concurrent reclamation practices at the Point Aconi Mine will be used by the government to develop future policy on surface coal mining in the province.

After a three-year public consultation process, NSDNR is in the final phase of preparing a natural resources strategy to provide guidance for each of the theme areas: minerals, forests, parks and biodiversity. It is expected that the strategy will be completed in late 2010 and early 2011 with a focus on improving integrated resources management processes.

By Dan Khan, planning and development officer, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, Mineral Development and Policy Section

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