The torch is being passed between Agnico Eagle's Kivalliq gold mines.
After years of exploration, planning and construction, Agnico Eagle poured its first gold at the Meliadine mine, 25 km north of Rankin Inlet, on Feb. 21. The celebratory occasion came slightly ahead of schedule and construction is expected to be under budget, according to Sean Boyd, vice-chair and CEO of Agnico Eagle.
"This is a historic day and a very proud day for Agnico, and also for Nunavut and for Canada," Boyd said while addressing workers at the Meliadine site. "It was an example of outstanding teamwork."
Employees admired and held a hefty 64-pound gold and silver bar – consisting of 80 per cent of the former precious metal – formed from that initial February gold pour.
Meliadine, which has 3.7 million ounces of proven and probable gold, is expected to remain in production for close to 15 years and will require close to 1,000 workers until phase two begins in 2022, at which point the workforce is projected to double.
Agnico Eagle budgetted $1.2 billion to advance Meliadine and the Amaruq gold deposit to the mining stage.
At Amaruq, 64 km from Meadowbank by road, lies an estimated 2.9 million ounces of gold. Mining at the Whale Tail deposit has already started. Commercial production is expected by third quarter of 2019. Agnico Eagle has publicized plans for extracting Amaruq gold into 2024, but exploration could extend the mine life beyond that.
At Meadowbank, where commercial production was achieved in 2010, gold production reached the three million ounce mark in the final quarter of 2018. Mining will stop at Meadowbank before the end of the year but the site will be used for processing Amaruq ore.
"Nunavut has the potential to be a strategic operating platform with the ability to generate strong gold production and cash flows over several decades," Agnico Eagle stated in its most recent quarterly report.
The Kivalliq Inuit Asssociation (KIA) has Inuit Impact Benefit Agreements (IIBA) with Agnico Eagle for each of its mining operations in the region. The KIA and Agnico Eagle are working toward an implementation and monitoring plan to "clearly define what roles are required of each organization as it relates to implementation of each specific IIBA," said KIA executive director Gabriel Karlik. "This new plan will set clear timelines on action items and how reporting is managed. It will also aid in the collection of statistical data related to mine operation and monitoring plans moving forward."
The KIA's lands department and the planning and implementation department work very closely with Nunavut Tunngavik and the other co-management bodies to ensure mining and exploration companies comply with the rules, regulations and statutes protecting Inuit rights to the land, including water and wildlife, Karlik added.
Prospects for cleaner power, high-speed internet
The federal government announced in February it would commit $1.6 million toward a Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link Project feasibility study, spearheaded by the Kivalliq Inuit Association. The initiative would bring hydroelectric power and high-speed internet to Agnico Eagle's mine sites, Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove. The electric and fibre line would be routed through Gillam, Man.
In the legislative assembly on Feb. 27, Premier Joe Savikataaq said the hydro-fibre study is expected to be complete in a year.
Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said "one can foresee tremendous benefits to local businesses, to our governments as well as for the mining companies" if the project comes to fruition.
Agnico Eagle, as the largest consumer of electricity in the Kivalliq, stated that it's researching a wind farm at Meliadine as a short-term method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from diesel until the hydroelectric line is in place.