Industry at a glance

By Herb Mathisen and Brian O’Hara

Students learning the tools of the trade in Yukon College’s new mineral resources program [see story below] | Courtesy of Yukon College

Syncrude to seek extension of Mildred Lake operation

Syncrude is planning to mine two new oil sands sites on leases it currently holds in Alberta’s Athabasca region. Cheryl Robb, a Syncrude spokesperson, said the proposed Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) project will replace the bitumen supply from its current mining site once it is depleted.

Marcel Coutu, CEO of Canadian Oil Sands (COS), which holds a 36.74 per cent stake in the Syncrude project, said the company hopes MLX will extend “the useful life of the mine trains that we are building today into the 2030s.” According to Coutu, the extension project will “minimize new land disturbance through the utilization of existing environmental and operating infrastructure.”

Robb said mine train equipment, which is currently being relocated closer to its current mine site 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, will be used for future bitumen processing.

Syncrude will seek stakeholder feedback regarding its plans prior to submitting the project for regulatory approval, it hopes, in 2014. Reserves on Syncrude’s leases could take it to 2070, Robb said. – Herb Mathisen

Ontario’s Mining Act modernization becomes law

The Ontario government is phasing in new legislation designed to formalize and enhance consultation between exploration companies and First Nations in the province. While voluntary for now, as of April 1, 2013, companies will be required to submit exploration plans before conducting exploration activities. The new rules serve to inform potentially affected First Nations and private landowners of work such as core sample drilling or line-cutting. As site exploration becomes more extensive, companies will have to apply for an exploration permit, which will be posted to the province’s environmental registry to allow for public feedback, said Cindy Blancher-Smith, Ontario’s acting assistant deputy minister of mines.

“The mining act of yesterday did not regulate early exploration,” said Blancher-Smith, “so this is a first in that once a claim has been recorded, we will now become aware of exploration activities at the very early stages.”

Rob Merwin, mining act modernization secretariat director, said the act’s gradual implementation is intended to educate industry participants.

“We think that there are a lot of really good, positive relationships between industry and First Nations, and a lot of common ground,” he said. Stop-work orders, permit cancellations and fines of up to $100,000 are penalties the government can impose if a company contravenes the act, but Merwin added “that is the last resort.” – H.M.

Inquiry launched to investigate Lonmin strike

The South African government has launched a commission of inquiry to look into what caused the violence that erupted during the Marikana platinum mine strike in August. More than 3,000 workers went on strike August 10 and, over the next 10 days, 44 people were killed, including two police officers. More than 70 others were injured in skirmishes between union members and police. On August 16, police opened fire on striking miners, killing 34.

The commission will look into the actions of the operator of the mine, Lonmin Plc, along with the South African Police Service, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, to examine whether they could have mitigated tensions earlier in the dispute. The judicial panel will make recommendations on how to resolve future conflicts; it also has the authority to refer individuals to law enforcement agencies for prosecution or further investigation. The inquiry, which will include public hearings, has December set as a deadline to complete its work.

On September 18, Lonmin and its workers reached a settlement, with workers gaining up to 22 per cent in wage increases. Since the unrest at Marikana though, strikes have spread to other platinum and iron ore mines and even into the trucking industry. Citing these uncertainties, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s long-term and short-term foreign currency ratings in mid-October. – H.M.

Mining CEOs making less in 2012

This year has not been good to the head honchos of Canadian mining companies. A recent survey by Coopers Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada found overall CEO wages decreased by roughly seven per cent in 2012. While the average base salary for CEOs actually rose to $490,000 this year from $486,000 in 2011, bonus pay dropped 31 per cent to $370,000.

Lou Vujanic, a partner with Coopers Consulting, said disclosure requirements are becoming stricter, and when companies file their executive compensation packages with security regulators, they have to account for the different elements that make up the bonuses. “I think the general practice was that a lot of the bonus allocations were simply left up to the discretion of the board,” he said.

Michael Cinnamond, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, also noted the adverse effects the slowdown in China’s economy, the eurozone crisis, and softer commodity prices all had on some mining companies’ bottom lines. Vujanic added he did not know if CEO pay dropped in other sectors, since the survey was focused on the mining industry. – H.M.

Yukon College adds minerals program

Yukon College has launched a mineral resources program that offers both a one-year certificate and a two-year technologist program. The first class will be limited to 15 students. Graduates of the two-year program will be eligible for accreditation as Professional Geological Technicians. Some of the courses will also be eligible for transfer as university credits.

There is a boom in mining and exploration jobs in the Yukon, which now has three operating hard rock mines with about 750 employees. Prior to the start up of Capstone Resources’ Minto Mine in 2007, there were no large-scale mines in the territory. According to Bryony McIntyre, manager of Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources, there are about 2,500 direct jobs in Yukon placer mines and exploration projects that typically operate between May and October. – Brian O’Hara

Rio Tinto sells off two South African coal properties

Toronto-based Forbes & Manhattan has entered into an agreement to purchase two South African thermal coal properties from Rio Tinto. The deal, worth $52.3 million, will see 74 per cent interest in both the Zululand Anthracite Colliery and Riversdale Anthracite Colliery transfer hands. The Zululand mine, according to Forbes & Manhattan, has produced an average of 700,000 tonnes of ore per year over the last five years. This deal puts the Forbes Coal division closer to its stated goal of becoming a three- to four-million-tonne coal producer per annum.

Rio Tinto also announced its intention to sell off its 57.7 per cent stake in the Palabora Mining Company copper mine located in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The company will not be leaving the country completely though, as it finalized a deal with BHP Billiton to double its interests in the Richards Bay Minerals mineral sands and processing project for $1.7 billion. – H.M.

ERM acquires Canadian environmental consulting firm

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has purchased Vancouver-based environmental consulting firm Rescan Environmental Services. Clem Pelletier, who founded Rescan in 1981, will stay on as president of Rescan’s operations. His son, Pierre, who was the president of Rescan, will become a managing partner with ERM Canada.

“It was kind of a planned strategy on our side – whether to continue to grow Rescan from our side or to merge with a larger company,” said Clem Pelletier, adding that ERM was interested in Rescan due to its foothold in the Canadian mining consultancy business. At the time of the deal, Rescan had increased its workforce to roughly 200 employees, and Pelletier believes this trend will continue.

Rescan, which has two major offices in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Vancouver, BC, and eight regional offices located in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Seattle, Washington, will operate as Rescan, an ERM Group Company. ERM has offices in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

ERM, an environmental consulting company based in the United Kingdom, has more than 4,700 employees and 140 offices in 40 countries. As both companies are privately owned, no financial details of the deal were released. – H.M.

A deadly blow for asbestos in Quebec

Newly-elected Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois has made good on her campaign pledge to end the province’s asbestos industry. Underground expansion at Mine Jeffrey Inc. in Asbestos, Quebec, was slated to go ahead thanks to a $58-million loan promised by the previous Liberal government. However, mine president Bernard Coulombe confirmed the loan was cancelled on October 1 and, as a result, he will shut down the province’s last asbestos mine, which had been in operation since 1879.

Workers will remove equipment, cap the mine’s two shafts and flood the open pit, leaving what Coulombe says are two million tonnes of proven chrysotile ore.

Responding to Marois’s actions, Canadian Industry Minister Christian Paradis said the federal government would no longer oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical in the Rotterdam Convention – a categorization that would impose restrictions on asbestos exports.

Coulombe hopes to one day reopen the mine but says securing investment is tough in a world with “no sympathy for chrysotile.”

Shirley Bishop, a spokesperson for Marois, said the government will invest money back into the region – potentially as much as the original $58 ­million promised by the Liberals – to diversify the economy and help affected workers find employment. – H.M.

Kinross CFO to resign

Little more than two months after it replaced its CEO, Kinross announced the resignation of chief financial officer Paul Barry. Barry, who has held the CFO and executive vice-president positions since March 2011, will be leaving to pursue other interests, according to a company statement.

Former Capstone Mining CFO Tony Giardini will be taking over the role effective December 1, 2012.

In August, the Canadian-based gold mining company appointed J. Paul Rollinson as CEO, replacing Tye Burt, who led Kinross for seven years. – H.M.

New national park pleases local mining industry

The boundaries announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Canada’s newest national park in the Northwest Territories strike a compromise between preservation and development, according to the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. The Naats’ihch’och National Park Reserve­­, designed to protect the upper South Nahanni R iver watershed in the western NWT, encompasses 4,850 square kilometres of wilderness inhabited by grizzly bears and woodland caribou. The region is also home to many high-potential mineral deposits, which include gold, zinc, lead, silver and tungsten.

Through consultations, three boun-dary options were presented to the­­­ ­federal government, with Harper even- tually selecting the least restrictive choice for industry. “The Chamber of Mines strongly supports the development of park boundaries based on the exclusion of resource-rich areas with significant mineral potential so that northerners and all Canadians can take full advantage of future economic opportunities,” said Pamela Strand, chamber president, in a statement. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, a wilderness advocacy group, was upset with Harper’s decision. – H.M.

Baffinland project clears hurdle

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) gave Baffinland’s proposed $4-billion Mary River iron ore project the green light in mid-September. The board passed its recommendation on to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) Minister John Duncan. Along with the ministers of fisheries and oceans, environment, transport and natural resources, Duncan will decide whether to allow the project to proceed to the regulatory stage. No timetable has been given for this decision, according to an AANDC spokesperson.

NIRB’s approval of the company’s environmental and socio-economic impact assessment was the culmination of four years of public consultation. The decision was rendered in a 350-plus page document that includes 184 terms and conditions, ranging from recommendations for increased and continued environmental monitoring, commitments to minimize the project’s impacts on caribou and other wildlife, and a cap of 242 shipping hauls per year. The project, where iron ore will be mined from an open pit at the northern tip of Baffin Island, will require the construction of a railroad to transport the crushed product to a deep-water port located 150 kilometres to the south. From there, the ore will be shipped year-round to European ­markets. – H.M.

Newfoundland institutes forge partnerships with Guyana

Memorial University’s Marine Institute International and the College of the North Atlantic have signed agreements with the government of Guyana to develop training programs for the country’s mining and emerging offshore oil sectors. While Marine Institute International will focus on offshore oil training, the College of the North Atlantic will bring expertise in the mining, and terrestrial oil and gas areas.

Bill Chislett, Marine Institute International director, said he hopes the memorandum of understanding the institute signed with Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources will help maximize employment opportunities for residents of the Caribbean nation.

If all goes well, said Chislett, “we would try to assist training institutions in-country to produce or develop training programs that can increasingly train Guyanese to fill the emerging jobs.” Similar training programs created during Newfoundland’s own offshore oil development have resulted in a 90-per-cent-Canadian workforce today, he added. The institute is currently in discussions with Guyana to identify gaps in the country’s training.

Marine Institute International has conducted more than 200 projects and partnerships in 50 countries over the last 25 years, Chislett said. – H.M.

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