“At the end of the day, it’s about the rocks.”
It’s simple advice delivered by TMAC Resources CEO Catharine Farrow, but insight that’s carrying the company forward in its quest to become the next major gold mining camp in Canada.
As the second in a succession of visiting lecturers to the Goodman School of Mines at Laurentian University, Farrow spoke about how miners have to understand data gleaned from the rocks before they can be mined effectively.
Miners can no longer operate in silos, and integrating all the stages of mining, from exploration through to production and the selling of product, is integral, especially in the Far North territory of Nunavut, a developing gold mining jurisdiction.
“If you’re going to, in this day and age, manage your money and corporate strategy, and understand what you’re delivering to your shareholders, you really do have to have all of these working together,” said Farrow, the former chief operating officer of KGHM International and a current director at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.
“They all have to be communicating and everybody has to know what the overall game plan is. If one of these is not working, you lose the scope and the wheel is not operating properly.”
Toronto-based TMAC acquired a trio of mineral deposits along the Hope Bay Greenstone Belt in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut in March and is working steadily to bring the first mine, Doris North, into commercial gold production by 2016.
The first crews went onto the property on March 23 and TMAC undertook compliance environmental programs through the summer, Farrow said.
The company is now running a four-drill exploration program in the northern region and around the Doris North camp and is set to ship its processing mill to site late next summer.
Critical to a successful project, especially in the Far North, is social responsibility, Farrow said. The rules have changed when it comes to operating in Inuit and Aboriginal territories, and miners have to respect traditional knowledge.
“It’s your home but it’s been somebody else’s home for a long time as well and they’re proud of it,” she said.
There are measures companies can take, like building infrastructure and offering training opportunities to local populations, that can help build capacity and improve conditions for the communities in which they will be working, Farrow said.
Nunavut is the only territory or province in Canada that has settled land claims, Farrow said, which makes the territory a very different working environment than most places in Canada.
“It’s something that people don’t realize. We’re in a very unique situation and it’s a very valuable situation to be in,” she said. “Everything’s structured; we know who owns what.”
All of the Hope Bay Greenstone Belt is comprised of Inuit-owned land, and companies must consult with a variety of organizations to put appropriate approvals in place, Farrow said. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. oversees Inuit land rights, while surface rights are administered by the Regional Inuit Association. Water rights are determined under the Inuit Water Compensation Agreement.
Overall project approvals go through the Inuit organizations, as well as federal and territorial regulators. It takes roughly two years to get a project certificate and three years to secure a water permit, but all the impacted communities get a say through the entire process.
The permits are then in place and a company can move forward with development.
“It sounds scary, but it’s not really because there is a process,” Farrow said.
TMAC’s initial estimated mine life is 10 to 12 years, but drill results demonstrate there is expansion potential.
Future plans could include a permanent settlement, making operations at Hope Bay “multigenerational,” Farrow said.
A traditional Inuit settlement is located close to the belt, and there has been talk of returning families that originated in the area back to that site. There is also potential for a deepwater port.
Farrow said TMAC has learned from the experiences of Agnico Eagle, whose Meadowbank gold project is the only mine currently operational in Nunavut.
The company has provided training for local populations, figured out a secure logistics and supply chain, and adapted to challenges posed by wildlife.
“I think they see the same thing we do and that is momentum is good and they want to see success because it will create the opportunities that the people of Nunavut do need,” Farrow said.