The Sudbury mining district is one of the most mineral rich areas in the world and has been supplying the world with important metals like copper and nickel for over 130 years. The district has produced more than 8 million tonnes each of nickel and copper, and over 3,200 tonnes of silver, 300 tonnes of platinum and 100 tonnes of gold. Mineral explorers have had tremendous success and countless mining operations have been seen throughout the decades. The dense number of mines in the area have all contributed to the world class mining infrastructure that mining companies enjoy today. With mining being the primary industry in Sudbury, the largest city in Northern Ontario, mining companies enjoy the plethora of mining related services, experienced consultants and the world class infrastructure that is needed to refine minerals and ultimately bring them to market. This blog summarizes the history of Sudbury mining district, the different mines and infrastructure that are currently operational in the city as well as the geology of the region that attracts miners and international capital markets participants to Sudbury.
It all started in 1883 when a Canadian railway worker spotted a patch of rusty rocks during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1884, samples were analyzed by the Geological Survey of Canada and iron ore was identified. This led to the first mine in the Sudbury area, the Murray Mine. Prospectors fled to Sudbury and shortly a second mine was brought to life, the Copper Cliff Mine. During the same time, Sudbury had started a smelting operation and by 1910 the Sudbury area was producing 80% of the world’s nickel. In two decades, Sudbury had changed from a remote mining camp to the world’s leading nickel producer. Thayer Lindsley, often referred to as the greatest explorer of all time, purchased mining claims containing rich deposits of nickel-copper ore in the area northeast of Sudbury, Ontario. Lindsley incorporated Falconbridge Nickel Mines Limited and a town by the name of Falconbridge was constructed to house and service workers.
Sudbury Basin History
Sudbury is home to a major geological structure called the Sudbury Basin. The famous Sudbury Basin was formed by a meteorite approximately 1.85 billion years ago in the Paleoproterozioc era. After impact, a several kilometre thick molten rock sheet formed and as the molten sheet cooled, the heavier metal-rich elements sank to the crater floor. These metal-rich elements that formed on the crater floor formed the famous copper-nickel sulfide ores Sudbury is known for. For over 130 years these ores have been mined for nickel, copper, platinum group metals and more.
There are a large number of mafic intrusions and volcanic rocks in the footwall of the Sudbury Igneous Complex (SIC), which is part of the Sudbury basin. The majority of these intrusions belong to one of the two large igneous events: the 2.45 billion year old East Bull Lake Suite of Intrusions or the ~2.2billion year old Nipissing Diabase Suite of Intrusions.
Mining Operations and Juniors in the Sudbury Basin
Vale, a Brazilian based mining company, runs the largest operations in the Greater Sudbury area with five mines, a mill, a smelter, a refinery and nearly 4,000 employees. It is also one of the largest integrated mining complexes in the world. Their products include nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group metals, gold and silver. Glencore, one of the world’s largest globally diversified natural resource companies, has the Integrated Nickel Operations (INO) in Sudbury which has been operational since 1928. The INO has 2 underground mines, the Nickel Rim South Mine and Fraser Mine. Glencore also has 1 mill, 1 smelter, one mine under development and employs around 2,500 people in the area. Glencore also works with 4 Indigenous communities and pays around $570M in wages and benefits to Sudbury locals annually. This signifies the economic importance of the mining industry in the Sudbury area. Polish KGHM owns a number of assets in the Sudbury basin with richly mineralized deposit zones. KGHM’s most important asset in Sudbury is the McCreedy West underground mine which has been mined since 2011.
In addition to the 3 companies operating mines in the Sudbury region, there are various junior explorers involved in the area, exploring for nickel, copper, PGMs, and gold. The active participation of the explorers in the region speaks to the confidence they have in finding minerals in one of the most mineral rich districts in the world.
With nine operating mines, two mills, two smelters, and a nickel refinery, Sudbury is arguably the hard rock mining capital of the world. The area has extensive power and transportation, including both road and rail networks which are critical for Canada due to harsh winters. Also, because Sudbury has over 130 years of mining, highly skilled local mining services are prevalent. Specialized mining equipment is made right in the Greater Sudbury area and is used around the world. Over the last 50 years the expertise and experience from Greater Sudbury’s mining supply companies has transformed the Greater Sudbury area into a global mining technology and service center for North America.
River Valley Project, Sudbury, Ontario
The New Age Metals River Valley Palladium Project is located 100 kilometres northeast of the City of Sudbury and is part of the Paleoproterozoic East Bull Lake Intrusive Suite. The three largest mineralized bodies of the East Bull Lake Suite Intrusives are the East Bull Lake and Agnew Intrusions, and the River Valley Intrusion. Mineralization occurs on the contact between the River Valley Intrusion and the Archean basement rocks in a breccia unit that has been identified along a 16 kilometre strike length. The Project hosts a multi-million ounce deposit of Platinum Group Metals and base metals. The NI43-101 compliant mineral resource includes 2.9 million ounces of palladium equivalent (PdEq) in the measured plus indicated classification and another 1.1 million ounces PdEq in the Inferred classification. The Project’s proximity to Sudbury makes it unique in its peer group of Canadian PGM exploration stage projects.
A long history of mining, availability of experienced mining professionals, and strong community support makes Sudbury and the surrounding region a highly attractive place for companies to do work. Having the option to potentially outsource operations such as refining, smelting and milling will not only save costs but may accelerate our ability to bring metals to markets. The Project is at the Pre-Feasibility stage and the study is slated for completion on or before the end of the first half of 2022. The surface facilities in Sudbury have extra capacity to take concentrates and PGM-containing concentrates are generally highly sought after due to recent PGM metal prices. To date, River Valley has been evaluated as an open pit mining operation that would produce a bulk concentrate. This is a unique project located in a tier one mining jurisdiction with a colorful mining history that is poised for development to feed the transition to a clean energy future.
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