Baffinland’s iron ore mine in Nunavut readies to start production

Baffinland’s iron ore mine in Nunavut readies to start production

Ridge of iron ore on top of deposit number 1 overlooking the vast area in proximity to Mary River. ( Courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mine)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation may start operations at its Canada's Nunavut-based Mary River iron ore mine this summer, after the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt gave the final approval for the project last week.

The ore mined, CBC reports, will begin to be transported up to Milne Inlet, where it will wait to be loaded onto ships during the open water season of 2015.

The ambitious $4-billion rail and port project, located in the Qikiqtani Region of Nunavut, almost 500 kilometres inside the Arctic circle, is expected to ship 18 million tonnes of iron ore annually. In 2012, however, the company — owned 50 % by ArcelorMittal and 50 % by Nunavut Iron Ore (NIO)— decided to go ahead with scaled-down version of the mine, as the mining downturn and lower iron ore prices made the full project difficult to finance.

Baffinland is now developing Mary River in stages. The first —known as the "Early Revenue Phase"— aims to export a much more modest quantity of 3.5 million tonnes of ore per year through Milne Inlet, using ships that carry between 70,000 and 90,000 tonnes.

The company's intentions to ship ore non-stop throughout the year were initially questioned by locals who feared the operation would have direct and indirect negative impacts on the marine life.

Baffinland says these concerns were part of both public and technical discussions held throughout Inuit communities during the approvals stage of the initial, larger project.

In an e-mailed statement, the firm said that since that time, the project has received approval from the Nunavut Impact Review Board and Baffinland has signed an Inuit Impacts and Benefits Agreement with the Qikitani Inuit Association, the group that represents the Inuit of North Baffin.

"The more recent approval has been received following an assessment of the smaller Early Revenue Phase which will see iron ore shipped out through the open water season only," it adds.

The Mary River proposed mine, one of the world's richest and largest iron ore deposits, contains  approximately 365 million tonnes of high-grade ore that can be shipped with icebreakers directly without requiring processing that produce tailings.

The life of the mine is expected to be more than 20 years for the first deposit.