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Cliffs Faces Blockades at Mining Projects in Canada's Ring of Fire

Lake Superior Mining News

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Cliffs Natural Resources is facing blockades at some of its chromium exploration sites in a region of northwestern Ontario known as "the Ring of Fire," located 150 miles west of James Bay.

The area has seen an incredible surge in mine exploration activity, with 4,000 claims staked in the past two years, alone, as part of an effort by over 35 companies to get in on the action before Ontario modernizes its antiquated mining laws. Many of the claims are located on traditional native land, amid concerns that companies and the provincial government have not adequately consulted them, as required by law, before moving ahead with plans.

"Exploration on our traditional land is getting out of hand," said Marten Falls First Nation Chief Elijah Moonias. "Mineral Exploration companies are not respecting our interests."

Late in 2009, while many of its iron workers in Minnesota and Michigan were without work, Cliffs invested $800 million in an effort to open a new chromite deposit. Chromium, when processed into ferrochrome, is used to make stainless steel. Cliffs is the primary shareholder of KWG Resources, which owns Canada Chrome. Cliffs also recently purchased Freewest Resources, another company active in the Ring of Fire, for roughly $225 million.

"My community members are not opposed to development but they need to be included in any development that's in traditional territories," Webequie First Nation chief Cornelius Wabaesse said. "We have been on this land since time immemorial - we would like to be part of its benefits."

Several companies, including Freewest Resources, are exploring 80 miles north of Marten Falls. Freewest has reportedly found the largest chromite deposit in the world and is staking claims along a 220-mile corridor between McFauld's Lake and the Town of Nakina where the company wants to build a controversial railway. With little, if any, oversight, companies are illegally dumping waste in their frenzy to find new deposits.

"We are hearing reports of 200 fuel drums sinking into the wetlands because they were placed clumsily on bog mats," Anna Baggio of CPAWS Wildlands League said. "Who will be responsible for cleaning up and restoring these lakes and wetlands?"

According to David Euler, from the group Ontario Nature, the northern boreal forest is "one of the last intact, original forests remaining on the planet," with none of the projects requiring a full environmental assessment. The Ring of Fire houses the headwaters of two major rivers that flow into James Bay and borders the Hudson Bay Lowlands, one of the world's largest wetlands. v "The impact of mining activity in this region will have a legacy that will last hundreds of years into the future and there is the potential for irrevocable harm," said Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada's program co-ordinator. "We have this opportunity, at this juncture, to do it right, with proper planning, environmental controls, and consent and accommodation of First Nations. This is an opportunity we can't afford to lose."

The controversial Cliffs Natural Resources was cited earlier this week for pollution at some of its facilities on Minnesota's Iron Range that have been violating federal water pollution laws for years, without enforcement from environmental agencies that knew about the violations. In 2008 Cliffs, which owns coal mining projects in West Virginia and Alabama, failed in an attempt to form a multi-billion dollar merger with Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest producers of coal in the US. Cliffs' attempt coincided with production cuts at iron ore mines in Minnesota, while the company laid-off workers and cut production at the rest of its Minnesota and Michigan iron ore operations shortly after.

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