The area where the Mary River Project is located has long been known to Inuit as Nuluujaat (ᓄᓘᔮᑦ), a landmark used to guide travel through North Baffin Island. The Mary River iron ore deposits were first discovered by mining prospectors in 1960’s. Following their original discovery, tests conducted demonstrated that the iron ore was of very high quality. However, given the area, lack of transportation for a bulk commodity like iron the cost of further exploration and development made it unrealistic to open a mine.
Many things have changed in recent years. There is a high world demand for iron ore and the market price has significantly increased. New technologies are also available making access to arctic resources possible, which lessens some of the risks associated with working in a location and severe climate.
In 2008 Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation (BIMC) conducted a Bulk Sampling Program where 113,000 tons of iron ore were mined, trucked and shipped to Europe for testing in blast furnaces. The tests conducted on this ore were very positive further confirming the high quality of the iron ore. In conjunction with the Bulk Sample Project in 2008 BIMC also filed a formal Project Description with the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) seeking permission to develop a full-scale mining operation at Mary River. Ownership of BIMC was taken over in early 2011 by ArcelorMittal and Nunavut Iron Ore Acquisition Inc. ArcelorMittal in addition to being the largest steel producer in the world, ArcelorMittal mining division is one of the largest producers of iron ore mining.
The current Project Proposal is focused on Deposit No. 1. Mining of Deposit No.1 is expected to produce approximately 18 million tons of iron each year with operations estimated to last for 21 years. In addition to operations, project construction is expected to last for four years. Once mining is complete the mine site would need to be reclaimed followed by post closure monitoring.
The Project Proposal is based on an open pit mine. Since the iron ore is such a high grade no processing will be involved. The production procedure involves blasting, crushing and screening and transportation.
Plans are for a 150 km railway to be constructed from Mary River to Steensby Inlet. During operations there would be several train sets each carrying ore to the project port-site on a daily basis. The trains would consist of up to 110 ore cars. Trains would also be used to transport people, supplies and fuel. Once transported to site, the ore would be stockpiled at Steensby Inlet.
BIMC’s project plans call for an all season deep water port and ship loading facility will be built at Steensby Inlet. The ore will be loaded onto ice reinforced cape-sized ore carries and shipped through Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait and then to Europe. Shipping will be year round with a ship passage approximately every day either in or out of the port. A fleet of ice-reinforced ships will be built specifically for this Project. These will be the largest ships ever to be seen in the area. Each vessel will be approximately 310 meters long.
In addition to shipping through Foxe Basin, there will also be some shipping on the northern end of the project, through Milne Inlet. Most of the shipping planned through Milne Inlet is planned during the construction period. During operations shipping in Milne Inlet will be limited. BIMC’s plans state that shipping through Milne Inlet is required to transport oversized equipment along the existing tote-road. The Tote Road will be maintained during the life of the Project.
During operation there will be permanent work camps at Mary River, Milne Inlet and Steensby Inlet. During construction additional camps will be required along the rail line. At the peak of construction over one-thousand employees will be required. Later, during the operation of the mine there will be between 700-900 workers required for all project activities.
Finally, it is anticipated that additional exploration activities will be conducted which would support planning to prolong the life span of the mine beyond the current Project Proposal.