A west-established research facility in a Quebec mining hub will soon close its doors, leaving some in the community to wonder how the shutdown will impact local mine research and training. Underground research activities at the CANMET-MMSL (Mining and Mineral Sciences Laboratory) experimental mine in Val-d’Or, Quebec, were slated to end by mid-December and all equipment and infrastructure is expected to be removed in February.
The Beacon gold mine was turned into an underground testing and research facility in 1991, giving companies an opportunity to try out new equipment and training and safety techniques in a true mine setting. The experimental mine was part of the mandate for CANMET – a branch of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) – to support underground mining extraction technology development. Innovations in drilling and fragmentation, underground communication, remote vehicle guidance, automated ventilation and alternative energy vehicle development helped further the industry’s ability to operate effectively and efficiently across the country.
“We remain committed to ensuring that we have a strong science and technology capacity in the mining sector,” said NRCan spokesperson Joshua Kirkey, when asked about the closure. Shutting down the mine, which the government said was too costly to keep operating, will save nearly $300,000 each year. The Val-d’Or site has mining equipment and surface facilities that include offices, laboratories and workshops to assist companies conducting mine testing and research. Kirkey said the on-site laboratories and workshops will remain open.
Jean-Yves Poitras, industrial commissioner of Val-d’Or’s industrial development corporation, said despite the fact that the facility had been underused in recent years, the city attempted to keep it running by way of a pay-for-use service that companies could employ to continue their underground research. But the federal government said the facility posed insurance problems due to accident risks, and the city was unable to meet the necessary deadlines to submit a business plan.
“If you don’t innovate, you’re going to get killed by the competition in your sector,” said Poitras, who added the experimental mine had a proven research and development record over the past two decades. He still sees an opportunity for Val-d’Or to find other customers, namely the local school board that offers a mine training program, to use the site.
Money can be spent on resource development, he said, “but with knowledge, you can use it and pass it on, and it’s important for small communities like this to have something for the future. By taking over operations, we could bring back training at the facility and become innovators ourselves.”
Marcel Jolicoeur, president of the Val-d’Or Chamber of Commerce, said the continued commitment by the federal government to offer mine training opportunities for Canadians should translate into a willingness to work with Val-d’Or in establishing the site as a potential camp to train future mine workers – not to mention new and innovative equipment. “To train students on the job site,” said Jolicoeur, “would be extraordinary.”