When CIM first took me on as an editor at the magazine in 2009 and I went headlong into mining, Ontario’s Ring of Fire district was the animating force for the industry. Two years prior, Noront Resources had discovered the nickel-copper deposit it called Eagle’s Nest. Soon after Noront’s success, Freewest Resources located two chromite deposits in the same region and the talk was that the Ring of Fire could become a mining camp that would sustain operations for generations.
The story of the discovery, the origins of the Ring of Fire name, the silver-tongued promoters baiting the hook all were a compelling introduction to the mining world. Equally fascinating and puzzling was seeing all the momentum of that modern-day rush be lost.
As the Ontario Mining Association notes in the “Mining 101” section of its website, the timeline to develop a mine from discovery to production is “typically 10 to 15 years.” We are well into the 16th year since Noront made its discovery and there is still no clear timeline for development.
How did we get to this point?
To her credit, writer Virginia Heffernan has taken on the challenge of documenting the geological origin story of the Ring of Fire as well as the many plot lines and the tensions in them in her newly released book Ring of Fire: High Stakes Mining in a Lowlands Wilderness. A book is the ideal format to tackle this subject. It provides the space to explore the formation of economic mineral deposits, introduce the many actors involved, and bring a historical context that is indispensable in understanding the broad significance of the resource and the concerns that have frustrated its development. And Heffernan, formerly a geoscientist and Northern Miner reporter, is well suited to draft it. She understands the geology and business central to the story and that being inside that world limits one’s perspective.
“As an exploration geoscientist turned mining journalist, I was naturally drawn to the fevered excitement of the 2007 Ring of Fire mineral discovery,” she explains in her introduction. “As years passed and Indigenous communities across Canada exercised their constitutional right to be consulted on resource development, the fate of the remote region became increasingly uncertain and the implications of the ongoing discoveries more intriguing. The mineral rich area encapsulates all the challenges of resource development in Canada: the potential for environmental damage, a lack of infrastructure that leaves resources stranded, and a regulatory and Indigenous consultation process that can be opaque.”
What she delivers in just over 200 pages is a deep dive into the Ring of Fire, a great foundation for understanding the forces at play in the mining industry and some very talented storytelling.
As someone who found himself dropped into the industry and trying to get his bearings, I would have loved to have been handed such an essential and engaging guidebook as this. There are, no doubt, many drawn in by our current critical minerals frenzy for whom Heffernan’s work could help them find their way.