JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The Mackenzie Valley review board has recommended the approval of TSX-listed Fortune Minerals’ Nico gold/cobalt/bismuth/copper mine and mill in the Northwest Territories, following the conclusion of an environmental assessment (EA).
The review board, which is the authority responsible for all EA and review in the Northern Territories, concluded that a full environmental review of the project was not necessary and that it should proceed to the regulatory phase for approval.
The board’s Report of Environmental Assessment and Reasons for Decision found that, while the Nico project had the potential to cause significant adverse impacts on the environment, the measures the review board recommended would ensure that no significant adverse impacts resulted from the project development.
The report and recommendation had been submitted to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada John Duncan, as well as to the Tlicho government for approval. If approved by the Minister and the Tlicho government, the project would progress to the licensing and permitting phase.
The 100%-owned Nico project comprises an openpit and underground mine and mill, near the Hislop lake, in the Northwest Territories, as well as a hydrometallurgical refinery near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where Fortune Minerals would process concentrates from the mill to high-value metal products.
The review board’s report stated that: “…this area is culturally and spiritually significant to the Tłįchǫ people.
“Having carefully considered the evidence, the board is of the opinion that it is likely that community perceptions of environmental contamination and persistent avoidance may result in reduced use of the Hislop Lake area,” it read.
However, the board recommended measures to prevent such impact.
It was suggested that increasing traditional-knowledge studies and the sharing of these results would minimise the reduction of use of the Hislop Lake area and offset the impact on the Tłįchǫ people.
“The review board considered the Tłįchǫ government’s request that Fortune Minerals provide funding for additional-traditional knowledge and use studies prior to the finalisation of the mine plan and permitting process,” the document highlighted.
The proposed Nico project would have an 18-year mine life and involve the construction of a 27 km access road; construction, management and closure of a tailings and mine rock co-disposal facility; as well as the construction, operation and maintenance of, besides others, a crusher and mineral processing plant and a fresh-water intake and potable water treatment plant; and finally, mine site closure and reclamation activities.
Other proposed measures to mitigate the environmental impact of the project, included that it be designed and operated by Fortune Minerals throughout all stages, so that the Tłįchǫ people’s traditional water uses were not adversely affected.
The company would also have to prepare a dust mitigation and monitoring plan and develop a wildlife and wildlife habitat protection plan, as well as a wildlife effects monitoring programme to reduce or prevent the impact on caribou and caribou habitat, and inform an adaptive approach to mitigation management.
Another key design modification that came from the EA included Fortune Minerals’ commitment to limit the footprint and visibility of the mine by developing a combined tailings and mine rock co-disposal facility.
A socioeconomic agreement would also have to be signed with the Government of the Northwest Territories, which would, along with the Tlicho Government, be required to establish and co-chair an expert working group to develop a response framework for managing cumulative impacts.
Meanwhile, Fortune Minerals proposed to construct and operate a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant designed to ensure that all treated water met the identified site-specific water quality objectives for the receiving environment.
In response to parties’ concerns about a 120-year passive filling of the openpit, Fortune Minerals also committed to fill the openpit over a period of about 12 years.
“This is a landmark decision for Fortune, as we have successfully demonstrated to the review board that the Nico project can be constructed, operated and decommissioned without significant impact to the surrounding environment. Fortune is confident these measures can be successfully implemented since they were already part of the project development plan,” Fortune Minerals’ regulatory and environmental affairs director Dr Richard Schryer stated.
To date, about C$100-million of work had been completed, including test mining, metallurgy and process pilot plants. The front-end engineering and design study had determined that about C$441-million would be required to develop the project.
Fortune Minerals further indicated that it was working with audit firm Deloitte & Touche to attract strategic partners to provide project financing.
The company stated that the countercyclical hedge provided by the about 1.1-million ounces of gold contained in the deposit, together with the low cash cost for metals net of byproduct credits, would contribute to the sustainability of the operations during periods of low metal prices.
Use of cobalt in superalloys and of cobalt sulphate in the manufacturing of high-performance lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries was growing.
The Nico project also contained 15% of the world’s bismuth reserves, which was increasingly being used as an environmentally safe replacement for lead in various metal alloys, industrial materials, as well as other specialised products that leveraged its physical and chemical properties.