A $15 million geoscience study recently announced by Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines could help boost mineral exploration in the province’s largely unexplored James Bay and Hudson Bay Lowlands.
The three-year Far North Geological Mapping Initiative will include airborne geophysics in selected areas, followed by feet on the ground bedrock mapping, surficial mapping, till sampling and surficial geochemistry.
“Geoscience information in the area is out of date and there are a lot of areas where we have no information at all,” said Jack Parker, senior manager of Pre-Cambrian Geoscience with the Ontario Geological Survey. “We don’t have many recent geophysical surveys of the region and some of our mapping up there goes back as far as the 1940s.
“Improvements in exploration technology and the evolution of our understanding of geology require that we go in there with new eyes,” said Parker.
“For example, when some of those areas were mapped up there, we didn’t know we had diamonds.”
The study will also produce geoscience compilation maps and investigate the possibility of purchasing proprietary geoscience data, including airborne surveys conducted by the private sector.
“If a mining company has flown an airborne survey and has finished exploring targets of interest to it, we would consider buying it and making it
available to the public.”
The OGS hopes to conduct an airborne survey this year and deploy four mapping crews this spring.
The study program was fleshed out with input from mining industry representatives and other stakeholders through geoscience gap meetings held late last year in Red Lake and Thunder Bay.
The first data releases are scheduled for the spring of 2007.
One component of the study will focus on the testing of new technology for assessing the nature of gas deposits in the region.
The research will build on work by the OGS’s Stewart Hamilton, who has found a link between forest rings and underground gas deposits. The rings are visible from the air, caused by naturally occurring electrochemical cells, and often indicative of negatively charged gas.
Whether there is sufficient gas to warrant commercial exploitation or use by remote communities as an alternative to imported diesel fuel is still to be determined.
“We’re hoping that our surveys produce results that spur oil and gas companies to go in and investigate further,” said Cam Baker, the OGS’s senior manager of sedimentary geoscience.
“Is it old gas that may have come from deep in the Earth, or is it younger gas that comes from more recent vegetation decaying? This is what we hope to learn,” said Baker.
Approximately 20 per cent of the funds allocated for the Far North Geological Mapping Initiative will be set aside for communication and awareness activities aimed at encouraging First Nation participation in the mining industry.
“The intent is to raise awareness of government geological mapping and mineral sector activities, as well as employment and business opportunities,” said OGS director Andy Fyon. “The other purpose is to make sure the government is aware of the concerns and issues that we need to understand in order to conduct geoscience in a way that is consistent with community values and principles.”
Some First Nation communities have embraced the opportunity to participate in the mining industry. Others have publicly declared that they are not ready.
The OGS surveys will steer clear of communities not yet ready to welcome mineral exploration in their traditional territories, but “fortunately, the Far North is very large and we have a lot of geoscience knowledge gaps to fill,” said Fyon.