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Wynne: Turn Sudbury's Laurentian Into Global Harvard of Hardrock Mining (Part 2 of 2)

02/12/2015 01:12 EST | Updated 04/14/2015 05:59 EDT

Four Mineral Clusters in the "Paris of the Mining World"

While I can't remember who coined the phrase "Sudbury, the Paris of the Mining World," there is an amazing amount of truth to the statement. Obviously, in no uncertain terms, does any part of Sudbury remind anyone of Paris, even in a "mind-altered state".

However, this lake-filled, mid-sized community does have a wide variety of retail, tourist, educational and other amenities that most tiny isolated mining towns do not and it is located only 400 kilometres north of Canada's largest city, Toronto.

A few years ago, a colleague who moved from Red Lake to Sudbury almost considered herself in "mining heaven" with the abundance of amenities not found in that tiny gold mining centre.

In addition to the Ontario government's new differentiation and international student outreach policies, there are many other reasons why all post-secondary mining programs should be relocated to Sudbury's Laurentian.

There are four major mining clusters located in the Sudbury Basin. The first is the primary mineral producers, Vale, Glencore, KGHM and two juniors, First Nickel and Wallbridge and their many mines, two mills, two smelters and one refinery.

When you include the geological terrain between Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake and North Bay no other place on the planet has the concentration of hardrock mines and expertise except for two regions in South Africa, the Witswaterand gold mining district and the Bushveld platinum/chromium mineral belt and the Antofagasta copper region in northern Chile. While not as large, the cluster of underground gold mines in Nevada's Carlin Trend also needs to be mentioned.

And on a historical note, we must not forget the many uranium underground mines that were built in Elliot Lake -- only 120 kilometres west of Sudbury -- during the cold war era of the 1950s and 1960s that greatly contributed to the underground mining expertise in the Sudbury/North Bay corridor.

In 2014, Vale opened its first new mine -- Totten is its sixth local mine -- in the Sudbury Basin in 40 years while Glencore opened its exceptionally rich Nickel Rim South mine in 2010. Both of these operations embody the high-tech digital mines of the future, integrating highly sophisticated data and communications systems and using cutting edge technology for ground control and ventilation systems that significantly improve worker productivity and safety.

KGHM is spending almost a billion to develop its Victoria deposit while Vale is looking towards another new mine, Copper Cliff Deep. While the Vale mine has yet to receive board approval, it has the potential of a low-risk, long-term source of feed for their operations.

Mining Supply and Service Cluster

The second major cluster is the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) established by Dick DeStefano in 2003. DeStefano estimates that there are roughly 13, 000 people directly employed locally by about 300 mining supply and services companies -- significantly more than the mines themselves. Throughout the rest of northeastern Ontario, which has often been called the hardrock mining heartland of North America, approximately 23, 000 jobs and 500 plus businesses are part of this thriving cluster.

The supply and services industry is composed of a wide variety of companies that include shaft sinkers, specialty pipe manufacturing, developers of wireless sensor detection programs, robotic and automation systems, specialty mine software and numerous mine engineering and design firms, just to mention a few.

On an annual basis, the mining supply and services industry has been averaging roughly $4 billion in sales in the Sudbury Basin and about $5 billion throughout Northeastern Ontario. A new generation of entrepreneurs is looking beyond the local and regional mines and focusing on advanced technologies and innovation that can be globally exported.

Mining Education and Research Clusters

The final two clusters are mining education and research and innovation which are done within the mining companies, post-secondary facilities, supply and service companies and as stand-alone institutes.

Laurentian University's well respected Bharti School of Engineering and Earth Sciences faculties are supported by the recently established Goodman School of Mines, being lead by Dr. Bruce Jago. He is supporting the expansion of mining-related programs in occupational health and safety, Indigenous relations and mine finance and mine and mineral exploration management.

Establishing new alliances with other mining schools across Canada and the world, further enhancing the University's international reputation and a commitment to doubling mining related enrolment by the end of the decade is also part of Dr. Jago's mandate.

Both Cambrian College and French language Collège Boréal offer mining engineering technician and technology programs, alongside a wide variety of welding, civil engineering, mechanical, other trades and environmental related programs. In addition, both conduct some mining related research and product innovation and closely consult with the local industry.

The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) is a leading private, non-profit centre that concentrates on innovation, entrepreneurship and life-long learning with a strong focus on the mining sector and health and safety training. The centre has an operating mine that is used for training, project demonstration and the development of new products.

Both Vale and Glencore conduct some underground mine research at their Sudbury operations while XPS Consulting, owned by Glencore International, focuses on metallurgical testing and challenges.

The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) conducts "step-change innovation in areas of exploration, deep mining, integrated mine engineering, environment and sustainability." It is part of the ultra-deep mine consortium which is focused on economically and sustainably mining at extreme depths in excess of 2.5 kilometres or 8,200 feet. Vale's Creighton mine is at the 8,000 foot level and intends to go to 10,000 feet.

There are extraordinary challenges operating at these depths and the consortium is focused on rock stress risk reduction, energy costs due to cooling requirements, transporting material at these great depths and managing the enormously hot environment for the workers. The research work being done is as innovative as any done in the high-tech hot spots of the world or in the Kitchener/Waterloo technology hub.

The Mineral Exploration Research Centre (MERC) which is associated with Laurentian's Earth Sciences department conducts leading-edge, field-based collaborative research on mineral deposits. This semi-autonomous research centre is one of the largest clusters of mineral exploration and education. Its facilities are adjacent to the world-class Ontario Geological Survey and the provincial Geoscience laboratories.

Other hardrock mine research facilities include the Canadian Mining Industry Research Organization (CAMIRO) which works on innovations to help improve productivity and lesson environmental impacts and the Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) which focuses in the field of geotechnical engineering to promote safer and more economical mineral development and underground construction.

The Vale Living with Lakes Centre works closely with Vale, Glencore and other academic institutes to study the effects and potential remediation of northern wetlands impacted by mining activities. Of particular interest is the eventual mineral development in the Ring of Fire located in the James Bay swampy muskeg.

Mining lands restoration research and implementation by the universities and local government, alongside with company tailings regreening and expertise in tailing dam management need to be mentioned and the billions spent on sulphur pollution controls - current and past projects - by both Vale and Glencore all contribute to Sudbury's world-class environmental expertise.

This is why Sudbury is sometime called the Silicon Valley of the hardrock world. Without a doubt the city has the largest concentration of highly skilled mining technocrats in the country, per capita, if not North America. They are an extraordinary human resource that Laurentian's privileged mining students are able to access sometime during their university careers.

Premier Wynne Must Act With Vision

By default, the lack of an Ontario mining education strategy only encourages the wasteful duplication of three mining engineering faculties and 11 earth science/geology programs across provincial universities that are not sustainable in the current deficit-plagued era.

Does Premier Wynne have the same vision and determination as her Liberal predecessor and is she ready to place her own mark on history by consolidating all of Ontario's university mining programs at Laurentian and creating a global powerhouse of underground educational expertise that will benefit the entire province?

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, mining columnist and owner/editor of www.republicofmining.com He can be reached at stan.sudol@republicofmining.com