CEDC prepares a community to support a surge in mining activity
By J. Kevin Palmer
When it comes to mining, northwestern Ontario has a lot to offer. The mineral endowment ranges from lode gold deposits to magmatic copper-nickel-palladium-platinum deposits, as well as critical elements such as lithium. The region’s geology and mining friendly policies are attracting miners from the U.S., Europe and Australia. Mergers and acquisitions have brought a lot of fresh faces and ideas to the region.
Foreign explorers and developers should note all the various supports available to them, including geologic databases, a solid Ontario Mining Act, high mineral potential areas that can be staked or acquired by option, and a robust land tenure system available to assist in mine readiness and more. All of this has been designed to bring mines into production in a timely fashion. While Toronto may be the financial capital for mining projects, communities like Thunder Bay have all the exploration and mining services and suppliers that explorers and developers would need.
During early February, the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) launched its Mining Readiness Strategy. Based on input from six operating mines and 15 exploration projects in the region, the strategy outlines significant regional economic growth and their requirements as they advance. Thunder Bay’s proximity to the active mines, exploration projects, critical minerals, workforce training abilities, service and supply businesses, and available land all play an essential role in being the mining hub for northwestern Ontario.
“Knowing that exploration and mining companies purchase 70% of their required goods and services locally, we at the CEDC felt it was timely to evaluate the potential economic impacts the mining sector will have on the region and city of Thunder Bay,” Thunder Bay CEDC CEO Eric Zakrewski said. “Opportunities were identified by the study that can help local existing businesses and employers expand their workforce, products and services to meet the growing needs of the industry. Certainly, the new and overall employment opportunities identified are some of the best news pieces Thunder Bay has seen in some time. If conditions are favorable for projects to continue being developed, the next 10 years could be very good for our economy.”
The Mining Readiness Strategy will be used as the guiding framework to support the growing northwestern Ontario mining sector and ensure Thunder Bay remains a mining activity hub. It considers procurement opportunities, workforce development (education/training) and growth, electricity and transportation infrastructure challenges, research opportunities, analyzing economic impact, and value-added opportunities.
“The exploration and mining industry, led by gold, palladium and lithium projects, will be a growing economic driver for Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario,” said John Mason, project manager, mining services, Thunder Bay CEDC. “The Mining Readiness Strategy will be an important tool to maximize benefit.”
The Mining Readiness Strategy highlights significant benefits to Thunder Bay. During the peak mine production period between 2026 to 2028, northwestern Ontario is expected to see a direct economic output of $5.22 billion and total economic output (direct, indirect and induced) of $8.71 billion.
In 2023, the mining sector is expected to create more than 2,000 construction jobs with most of the 15 major exploration projects maturing to production. At the peak of production, northwestern Ontario is expected to host a workforce of more than 7,000 mining jobs between 2023-2028. “That’s an additional 3,400 jobs above the 3,600 people currently employed by the mines,” Mason said. “And, these new mines will generate a 180% increase in the electricity demand by 2026.”
“Often drilling is a leading indicator for mining activity,” Mason said. “We’re seeing significant development in the Red Lake district with several dozen drills turning and there is more activity taking place in other areas like Greenstone, Marathon, Pickle Lake and Dryden. There are probably 40 exploration drills in these mining camps at the moment.”
For prospectors looking to begin exploration activities in northwestern Ontario, Mason said several associations can be very helpful, such as the Ontario Prospector’s Association (OPA). That group works with eight regional associations in Ontario, providing advisory service to the exploration and development industry. “They administer the Ontario Exploration Corporation Program, which provides up to $50,000 for exploration to prospectors or juniors,” Mason said.
A previous program called the Junior Exploration Assistance Program (JEAP), which has been modeled by other provinces, and was highly successful in Ontario, is being promoted by the OPA for a return, Mason explained. “Early in their exploration days and prior to any drill intercepts, Great Bear Resources received funding for its Dixie project, which assisted in eventually making spectacular gold discoveries,” Mason said.
“At the Provincial level, Greg Rickford, minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, has provided a 15% price reduction for miners, which is ideal,” Mason said. “For new mines in Ontario, there is a three-year tax holiday (up to $10 million profit) and a 10-year tax break for remote mines as well.”
The Ontario Geological Survey provides regional experts, at no charge, to assist grass roots to advanced exploration projects and proponents, through the Resident Geologists Program.
Explaining his role in developing mining and exploration programs for northwestern Ontario, Mason said his group is often the bridge linking supply companies to help everyone advance their projects.
Mason is part of a municipal economic development group, that works to stimulate and support the exploration and mining sector. “We now have 900 to 1,000 people living in Thunder Bay working directly in mining,” Mason said. “This includes miners from the Musselwhite, Lac des Iles, Rainy River, Hemlo and Sugar Zone mines.”
Supply and service companies have grown significantly in Thunder Bay, Mason explained. “We have more than 400 companies here now in that space,” Mason said. “Some are building mines, erecting head frames, performing mechanical and civil engineering work. We also have safety firms as well as Indigenous training firms. Two of the local mines, Rainy River and Musselwhite, employ significant numbers of indigenous people.”
The Thunder Bay CEDC also works with local institutions like Confederation College’s TEC HUB and Lakehead University to train future workers as well. “We are working with trade unions, indigenous training organizations and private training organizations,” Mason said. Overall, Mason believes that northwestern Ontario is the place to be for mining and will remain so for a very long time.
Enersoft Streamlines Exploration Workflow With Geologic AI
By J. Kevin Palmer
In general, sulphides do not typically present a great hyperspectral signature, but Enersoft’s GeologicAI systems can easily see these sulphides with its XRF and RGB sensors. “One of the biggest things that set us apart from our competition is that we combine multiple sensors co-locating all data pixel by pixel,” said David Henderson, geoscience director with GeologicAI. “And, because we use multiple sensors in our scanners, we are able to lower our sensor costs and allow more tools to help identify more minerals.”
Enersoft developed GeologicAI for the oil and gas sector about eight years ago. More recently, they decided to branch out into the hard rock mining sector and the technology has proved to be incredibly valuable in this area as well.
The real value for exploration geologists with this system is that they get their geological data before they interpret the core. Because they get such great results instantaneously, sampling frequency is lowered significantly as lower volumes are sent to the lab on a weekly or monthly basis. With GeologicAI, there’s never a wait for lab results — the trailer is on-site.
GeologicAI claims to be cost-neutral in a $20/m model. The largest cost savings is at the lab sampling stage and overall time spent on the core. With GeologicAI, RQD is automated, which eliminates the need to manually measure the core, Henderson explained. “Not only that but all the guess work has been removed — so geologists can interpret the core, removing the variance between geologists’ opinions as to the mineral makeup of any given core,” Henderson said.
GeologicAI also saves money by creating resource certainty with instantaneous results, decreased lab sampling costs. It gives geologists the ability to make quick, accurate and consistent logging decisions faster than ever.
The system also reduces assay costs. “While using it, the geologist knows precise percentages of key minerals and they only sample areas of interest, which decreases the amount of overall samples,” Henderson said. “Identifying non-interpretive rock early is another huge benefit to geologists.”
GeologicAI can be used to map the ore coming from the stopes, giving mill operators an early warning as to what they can expect with incoming feed. Having this information has improved recovery rates in the mills where stope mapping with GeologicAI was employed.
Current lead time for GeologiaAI is about eight to 12 weeks. The 4- x 16-ft trailers are easily transportable. This technology can be delivered anywhere within a four- to five-month time frame.
The company is currently setting its sights on properties that have a lot of drill core, who also might be a little short-handed. “We can offer a massive improvement on the workflows,” Henderson said. “This isn’t just scanning software. We also have logging and interpretation software built right into the system and we feel we can help those projects that are producing a ton of core.” At this point, Enersoft is North American focused and next year they hope to be sending GeologicAI trailers overseas.