Geologist lauds benefits of mining industry

FORT FRANCES—With a resurgence in mining exploration in the area because of rising commodity prices, a regional land use geologist with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has been making the rounds in Northwestern Ontario to inform communities about the potentially lucrative industry.
“I’m here essentially for education,” said Peter Hinz, who spoke to town council during its regular meeting Monday night. “Generally in Northwestern Ontario, outside of Red Lake, the understanding of mining is not good.
“[But] it’s a sector that is really starting to boom now with a lot of exploration going on throughout the northwest.
“Mineral exploration is a good business to have in the area, especially if there’s good rocks,” Hinz added. “And there’s good rocks east of town here [near Mine Centre] and further over to Rainy River and north of Emo.
“And that’s where we’re seeing exploration going on.”
Hinz explained the road from prospecting to starting advanced exploration is a long one, beginning with staking a claim, then collecting data to produce maps of the claim, and stripping away dirt to allow geologists to map rocks.
Rock samples have to be taken (either smaller samples from the near surface or larger “channel samples” carved out of the rock bed).
As well, the land has to be mapped geologically (to determine possible concentrations of ore) and surveyed geophysically (taking readings using magnetic or electromagnetic waves) to get a better idea of what’s below the surface.
If samples look promising, a prospector then may move on to “advanced exploration,” which includes the excavation of an exploratory shaft, extraction of material in large quantities, and the installation of a mill for test purposes.
But before this can be done, plans must be submitted and approved by the MNDM and other provincial and federal agencies, public consultations must be held, and any environmental concerns must be addressed.
The prospector also must provide sufficient funds upfront to pay for site rehabilitation once the mining activity there is finished.
Hinz noted there’s definitely benefits to communities when advanced exploration gets underway.
“Those exploration companies need accommodations for their crews, they need heavy equipment, they need supplies,” he said. “A significant portion of exploration dollars will come to the community in services.
“If, and it’s a big ‘if,’ because they say only one in 10,000 properties actually makes it to a mine, if it would make it to a mine stage, you’ll see high-paying wages and secure jobs.
“The average mine is 15-25 years. Red Lake’s been going since the 1920s, but that’s an amazing deposit,” acknowledged Hinz.
“It’s a major industry. But it depends on the product, the type of mine,” he stressed. “If there’s a milling facility, that would be even larger, meaning more jobs.”
Hinz said if there’s promising mining activity in a community’s vicinity, that town must promote itself as a source of services to exploration companies.
“Many Northwestern Ontario communities forget they were founded as mining towns,” he remarked, adding that with the state of the forestry industry, mining is an lucrative alternative industry.
But despite the increased interest in mining lately, Hinz said it’s too early to tell if any recent finds in the region actually will develop into full-blown mining operations—adding it usually takes 10-15 years from discovery to development.
And that’s assuming the right ores or minerals end up showing up at all during advanced exploration.
“Towns are always interested in mining, but the potential lies solely on where the rocks are,” Hinz said. “Some communities are blessed, like Red Lake, and others aren’t. It’s like a roll of the dice.
“If I could look in a crystal ball and say, ‘Definitely, there’s going to be a mine here,’ I’m sure any town would be thrilled to have 350 high-paying jobs come into the community,” he added.
“But one thing you won’t hear from me is ‘Buy these stocks.’ There’s no sure things because even with the best deposits, something can happen and it turns out to be non-economic,” he warned.
“It’s a high-risk business where lots of money is made and lost.
“There are projects that have gone on where millions of dollars have been spent and at the end of the day, it’s found to be a non-economic deposit and they walk away from it.”
More information, including monthly and annual reports on mining activity in the region and elsewhere in Ontario, can be found at the ministry’s website at www.mndm.gov.on.ca
(Fort Frances Times)

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