A plan to resume mining for zinc and lead at Pine Point, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, has formally entered the environmental assessment process.
Environmental assessment is a key stage in the approval of new mines in the Northwest Territories. The assessment will be overseen by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.
Pine Point, located between Hay River and Fort Resolution, is currently little more than the footprint of its former mining town. The community was once home to almost 2,000 people but disappeared when the mine, which opened in 1964, ceased operations in 1988.
Osisko Metals now wants to reopen a mine at Pine Point. Osisko triggered the environmental assessment by writing to the review board at the start of February, saying it wanted to get the process going.
Letters have been sent to the Akaitcho First Nations, Dehcho First Nations, Dene Tha’ First Nation, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Mountain Island Métis, North Slave Métis Alliance, Northwest Territory Métis Nation, Salt River First Nation, and Smith’s Landing First Nation, all of which will be expected to participate in the assessment. Federal funding is available to assist them.
In a short news release earlier this month, Osisko – which took on the project two years ago – said it expected the assessment process to last approximately 18 months.
The initial mine produced more than 64 million tonnes of zinc-lead ore and was considered a world-class producer at the time.
Robert Wares, Osisko Metals’ chairman and chief executive, said in January he believes the proposed mine holds “the potential for a top-10 global zinc producer.”
Commodity prices have picked up in recent months and investment has been flowing steadily toward base metals like zinc. Osisko forecasts a zinc supply crunch in the next five years and expects Pine Point to help fill that gap, with few other zinc projects in development elsewhere.
The new Pine Point, like the old one, would rely primarily on open-pit mining.
Osisko expects to spend a year and a half building the mine if the project successfully comes through environmental assessment, then 10 to 15 years operating the mine – extracting some 40 million tonnes of ore in that time.
The company hopes to have completed both the environmental assessment and the subsequent permitting process by late 2024, allowing the company to open the mine shortly afterward.
Osisko currently estimates wrapping up mining operations in 2037 and completing closure and reclamation by 2052.
The forthcoming environmental assessment is expected to pay particular attention to water management.
Ensuring water at the site doesn’t become unduly contaminated and is carefully controlled will be one of Osisko’s biggest challenges, previous assessments have found.
While Pine Point won’t create quite the same employment as the NWT’s largest diamond mines, Osisko says it’ll still be a major job creator for the South Slave.
Documents submitted by the company to trigger the environmental assessment process claim construction will employ at least 280 people at the mine, with a peak of 500, while the operational mine will need about 460 people in two shifts of 230.