Sustainable mineral resource development: a key component of the Plan Nod
On May 9, 2011, the Québec government launched the Plan Nord, an ambitious project for the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of northern Québec. There is no doubt that it will become know as the most important development project of our time. It will be implemented over a 25-year period, generating investments of over $80 billion and creating or consolidating an average of 20,000 jobs each year.
The Plan Nord will have positive spin-offs in several sectors of activity north of the 49th parallel, especially in the field of mining, which already represents a major component of the economy in northern Québec and in Québec as a whole. All of the nickel, cobalt, platinum group elements, zinc, iron ore and ilmenite mined in Québec, as well as most of the gold, comes from the North. The area also has deposits of lithium, vanadium and rare earths, which are used in a wide range of applications in the energy, transportation and hi-tech fields. There is also strong potential for uranium and diamonds, as demonstrated by the development projects in the Monts Otish sector.
At least 11 new projects are ready for implementation in the coming years in the area covered by the Plan Nord. Overall, these projects alone will lead to $8.24 billion in investments and 11,000 new jobs during construction, followed by almost 4,000 jobs each year during normal operations.
With this level of development, it is clear that infrastructures north of the 49th parallel will have to be improved. The government intends to focus on the creation of an integrated transportation network to provide access to the areas with the greatest economic potential. It will adopt a new approach, involving the establishment of innovative partnerships with the private sector, in order to maximize the deployment of infrastructures connected with economic development projects.
The transportation priorities are as follows:
Feasibility studies will also be completed to examine the construction of a land link (by road or rail) from Kuujjuaq southwards, the construction and cost-effectiveness of a deep-water port close to Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik, and the construction of a land link from the port to Radisson.
The development of northern Québec and the arrival of workers from outside the region will create challenges for Plan Nord partners in terms of the temporary accommodation and housing needed throughout the area. Promoters will be required to include a “housing” component in their projects to help increase the supply of accommodation in the communities that will become home to workers and families from outside the region.
Geo-scientific data collection and compilation in the geo-mining information system (SIGEOM)
Although there is a number of projects under way in northern Québec, the mineral potential of the region is still not fully known. To facilitate research and improve access to mineral potential in the North, Géologie Québec has launched an ambitious plan to gather geo-scientific data and stimulate exploration. The area will be mapped, and aerial geo-scientific surveys will help identify and delimit geological units with economic potential. This should provide a boost for exploration work.
This measure will be implemented thanks to the Mining Heritage Fund, which collects some of the royalties paid by mining companies. Over a ten-year period, the Fund will devote $120 million to the acquisition of geo-scientific data throughout Québec. The work will involve geological mapping, and geo-physical and geo-chemical surveys, mainly in James Bay and Nunavik and on the North Shore.
Protected areas and environment protection
Since the development of northern Québec will involve the designation of new protected areas in order to meet the 12% target, and since 50% of the land will be set aside to protect it from all forms of industrial activity, it is extremely important to establish mineral potential and historical and cultural potential in Aboriginal communities before selecting the areas that will remain undeveloped. For this reason, the Plan Nord Mining working group considers that before a new protected area is created, it should be mapped by the government and explored, taking all “multi-element” substances into account.
The priorities for action in the mining sector are as follows:
The Plan Nord offers striking opportunities for the development of the land north of the 49th parallel. The current mining boom will support and accelerate the plan’s implementation, thanks to the involvement of the mining industry. On the other hand, the measures included in the Plan Nord will ensure that exploration, and the extraction of mineral resources in the area, will take place in a responsible way, while offering support for the mining companies that decide to make the move. Everything appears to be ready to ensure that the “project of a generation” lives up to the expectations of all involved and generates benefits for all Quebecers.