Mary River Mine – Summary

Mary River Mine – Summary

The Mary River Mine is a massive and unprecedented mining development for Nunavut (and the Arctic region in general). On the one hand, it represents a major opportunity for potential benefits to workers and their families, to Inuit communities and designated Inuit organizations, as well as to the territorial and federal governments. On the other hand, there are risks of negative impacts related to the environment, socio-economic conditions and human rights. Therefore, all of the relevant actors should have strong and shared interests that the Mary River Mine will become a good example of responsible and rights-respecting northern development.

The Mary River Mine is an open pit iron mine on North Baffin Island on Inuit owned lands in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, located mid-way between the Inuit communities of Pond Inlet and Igloolik.

The iron ore deposit was discovered in 1962, but due to current high commodity prices it only has become economically viable to develop the mine. Climate change is also making the Arctic region more accessible for natural resource extraction.

The iron ore from Mary River is very high quality and does not require further processing, so it can be shipped immediately to European customers.

The Mary River Mine is owned by the Baffinland Iron Mine Corporation, a private company headquartered in Toronto, Canada. The company is jointly owned: 50% by ArcelorMittal (the world’s largest steel-maker headquartered in Luxembourg) and 50% by Iron Ore Holdings LP (backed by a U.S.-based private equity firm).

The Baffinland company began exploration and early mining activities in the Mary River region in 2004. They submitted the original proposal for the Mine to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) in 2008. The proposal included construction of an all-year shipping port at Steensby Inlet, and a 150 km. railway between port and mine.

After a long and important review process by the NIRB, including public hearings in the summer of 2012, the company’s proposal for the mine was approved by Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in December 2012.

Shortly afterwards, however, the company submitted a proposal to change the project by adding an “Early Revenue Phase” for the mine. The company is postponing its plans to build the railway and new port, and wants to start hauling iron ore by truck to the Milne Inlet port, stock-pile, and ship to Europe during the open-water season.

The Baffinland company has submitted a new Environmental Impact Statement for the “Early Revenue Phase” at the end of June 2013. Afterwards, NIRB is conducting a reconsideration process to see if the mine’s certificate needs to be changed to protect Inuit from impacts on environment and communities. Additional public hearings will be held in the late summer or fall of 2013.

The Mary River Mine is an unprecedented mining development for Nunavut—and for the Arctic region in general.

That the mine will be developed more slowly now because of the “Early Revenue Phase” has some positive aspects from a human rights perspective. For example, there will be more opportunities for formal consultation with the affected peoples through the NIRB process; earlier opportunities for jobs and training for Inuit who want to work at the mine; and, more time to complete studies and prepare monitoring programmes related to the environmental impacts of the railway and shipping route out of Steensby Inlet.

There will inevitably be other changes over the mine’s lifespan, and therefore Inuit need to be informed and consulted on an on-going basis if they are going to participate successfully in the development of the mine.