POLITICS

Officials say mining sector in Saskatchewan being affected by wildfires

07/15/2015 09:18 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT
SASKATOON - As hundreds of wildfires tear through northern Saskatchewan, the province's mining sector is being affected in more ways than one.

Claude Resources had to suspend operations at its Seabee gold mine as one of the over 100 fires came within eight kilometres of the site. Most of the roughly 355 employees were removed, with some essential personnel remaining behind.

Mining giants Cameco and Areva have had to stop shipping uranium from their northern operations as highways and airstrips are periodically closed by smoke and flame.

"It's a bit of a juggling act, but we're managing to get through it," said Cameco spokesman Gord Struthers.

Though fire has not directly threatened Cameco's mines, northern residents make up roughly half of the company's workforce. Struthers said they have tried to remain flexible in the face of widespread evacuations.

"It's a major ordeal for many of the people who work for us," he said. "You know, they have family members evacuated, and they may have fires threatening their communities or property."

Both Cameco and Areva did not expect their uranium deliveries to suffer thanks to their large inventories, and Struthers said they have managed to maintain the inflow of essential supplies.

Greg Poelzer is the executive chair of the international centre for northern governance and development at the University of Saskatchewan.

"A lot of the work around any kind of expansion or refurbishing ... the summer's a very important time of year for that," he said. "This puts limitations on mines to be able to do those kind of operations."

Poelzer added that these impacts have a ripple effect on all of the businesses which serve the mining sector.

"In terms of the whole chain, the economic chain around the mining sector, it has fairly wide-ranging implications," he said.

Though wildfires are hardly a new phenomenon in the north, Poelzer said changing climate patterns may mean that more severe fire seasons represent "a new normal."

"We're going to have to come up with some policies as a province ... for the long haul to protect these assets and to protect that economy," he said.