Location: An area 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont., in the James Bay lowlands, in the traditional territories of several First Nations. Chromium is the Ring of Fire's main claim to fame, but there are also proposals to mine nickel there, and hopes for copper, zinc, gold and palladium. There are about 100 mining companies with holdings in the Ring of Fire, but only 35 of them are actively exploring, and just two of them have actually proposed mining.
Chromite: Ore containing chromium used to make ferrochrome, the "stainless" in stainless steel. It has a very high melting point, high corrosion resistance, and when exposed to air it reacts to form a thin protective oxide surface layer that prevents rusting.
Demand: Growth in emerging markets such as China has ensured that the market for stainless steel is somewhat stable for the coming years. China buys about half the world's ferrochrome. About 14 per cent of the world's chromium is consumed in the United States, although there is almost no domestic production, making the Ring of Fire deposit look attractive.
Supply: About 70 per cent of the world's chromium reserves are in South Africa and Zimbabwe, with additional resources in Finland, Kazakhstan, Turkey, India and Brazil. The global market for ferrochrome is dominated by South Africa, Kazakhstan and India. It is also supplied through recycling. The earth is rich with chromite, and world resources of shipping-grade chromite are already sufficient to meet world demand for centuries.
Environment: The Ring of Fire area is pristine, having never experienced industrial development before, making it one of the last intact, original forests on the planet. Its muskeg — sponge-like ground cover that frequently gives way to lakes and rivers — is notoriously difficult to build on. The wetlands are home to half of Canada's largest rivers. The area supports many species at risk, including lake sturgeon, bald eagles, yellow rails, black terns, woodland caribou and wolverines. The massive expanse of peat is a major carbon sink for Canada.
Potential: Stainless steel in North America has long been produced with imported ferrochrome. The Ring of Fire deposits represent the most significant chromite discovery made in North America, and possibly one of the largest chromite discoveries in the world.
Sources: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Government of Ontario.