More must be done for the Ring of Fire, says MacDonald Mines’ Kirk McKinnon
by Greg Klein
“The Ring of Fire truly has an array of mineralization unlike any other in the world, says Kirk McKinnon, president/CEO of MacDonald Mines Exploration TSXV:BMK. “Our scientists tell me the Bushveld in South Africa has many of these attributes but the James Bay lowlands has all of them.”
There’s even talk of rock worth some $30 billion to $50 billion. But despite the region’s potential for a “suite of minerals” including chromite, vanadium, nickel, copper, zinc and titanium, exploration and development are stymied by a lack of infrastructure. McKinnon discussed these challenges with ResourceClips following news that Cliffs Natural Resources had suspended work on Black Thor, by far the area’s largest project. That June 12 announcement re-kindled debate on how best to build access to the Ring of Fire—from the south or southwest, by road or rail—and whether governments effectively address the region’s challenges.
About 35 kilometres west of Black Thor, MacDonald drills its Butler property, focusing on the Butler 3 volcanogenic massive sulphide target. McKinnon also heads Energizer Resources TSXV:EGZ, whose wholly owned and joint venture claims in Madagascar undergo feasibility for one of the world’s largest known flake graphite deposits. The property also hosts the world’s third-largest known vanadium resource. Yet he can’t speak highly enough about the Ring of Fire’s potential. Another discovery comparable to Cliffs’ could be the catalyst for stronger government commitment to develop infrastructure, he says. But lack of infrastructure makes those discoveries more difficult.
Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines struck a Ring of Fire Secretariat specifically to work “with all levels of government, industry and aboriginal peoples to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development in the region.” Last February the federal government appointed Treasury Board president Tony Clement as the go-to guy who would untangle the web of various bureaucracies and stakeholders. But McKinnon says, “For all the conversations we’ve had with the federal and provincial governments focusing on the Ring of Fire, I haven’t seen [commitment] manifested in a vigorous way.”
Not that they’ve lost interest. “I don’t think the zeal for development is gone,” he points out. “The manufacturing sector, which used to drive the province, has significantly shrunk. Because of that they’re looking for secondary activity that will replace that historic engine. The only place it can come from is the development of resources.”
If you’re going to get government funding, a transportation corridor coming out of Pickle Lake would benefit communities like Webequie and something like five to seven different communities overall.—Kirk McKinnon, president/CEO of MacDonald Mines Exploration
Backing the region’s biggest player, the Ontario government supported Cliffs’ proposed road south to the CN TSX:CNR rail line at Nakina. McKinnon thinks a comparable discovery by another company might make the province consider other approaches. Certainly, the transportation debate continues. KWG Resources TSXV:KWG studies the feasibility of a southbound railway while Noront Resources TSXV:NOT promotes an east-west road. McKinnon also favours the east-west route, although he’d prefer rail.
“If you’re going to get government funding, a transportation corridor coming out of Pickle Lake [roughly 260 kilometres southwest of Butler] would benefit communities like Webequie and something like five to seven different communities overall,” he says. “The route that Cliffs is talking about interacts with one community called Marten Falls. Now Marten Falls has about 250 people living there. There are over 600 at Webequie alone.”
The native communities currently rely on light plane service and, during winter, ice roads.
Exploration would benefit too, he maintains. The east-west corridor “would spread along the breadth of a much bigger mineralization opportunity.”
As for electricity, he believes the province could do more to connect the region with the grid. But failing that “there has to be a deal with Manitoba or Quebec.”
“We’ve been up there 10 years and I think we know the people very well,” he adds. Governments could work harder to find “common ground with the natives for development so that after a discovery they can come in and get the appropriate partnership arrangements that they’re looking for. But to do that the government has to stimulate exploration through infrastructure and taking a much more pro-active approach to opening up the country to development.”
As it stands now, “it’s damnn expensive to operate up there,” he says. “But there are very big prizes to be had.”