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New mining institute planned for northwest

September 1, 2012
by Brigitte Petersen
In: Skills & Knowledge with 0 Comments

Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University is preparing to establish a new Centre of Excellence in Mineral Exploration and Sustainable Mining Development to address mining challenges in Northern Ontario.

Rod Hanley, Lakehead University’s provost and vice-president academic, said planning for the centre started in the fall of 2011 when university administrators and faculty began discussing the idea. “We realized that we have substantial expertise in the areas of mining and exploration, as well as environmental restoration and First Nations issues,” said Hanley.

The centre, which will likely be headquartered on Lakehead’s Thunder Bay campus, will serve a “fair broker” role in aiding economic development related to mining, particularly regarding the controversial Ring of Fire area. According to Hanley, it makes sense for the university to play an active part when it comes to economic development, and to interface among First Nations communities, mining companies and government agencies.

“This interfacing has not always gone smoothly,” he noted. “The government has an interest in supporting mining, economic development and Aboriginal issues. The university does have a role to play. We want to get ourselves into a listening mode.”

Part of this plan will be to meet with people representing mining companies to identify what they need and what the university can provide, and also to develop a relationship with First Nations communities to understand their needs.

Northern Ontario’s mining sector is currently undergoing a boom, and companies, governments and First Nations are facing challenges in terms of how to best maintain sustainable economic development while safeguarding the environment and respecting Aboriginal and treaty rights.

The proposed new Centre of Excellence, currently in its infancy, is designed to address these challenges while bringing together community partners and researchers from industry, government and First Nations.

The centre’s goal is to collaborate with all partners to carry out “cutting-edge research in discovery, advanced exploration and development, and address the environmental and social aspects of mineral extraction.”

Lakehead’s geology department will play a vital role in the development and operation of the centre. Enrolment in the department has increased by 665 per cent during the past decade, largely due to the exploration and mining boom.

Participation in the centre’s operation is also expected to involve Lakehead faculty members and graduate students in other departments including anthropology, biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, natural resources management and geography.

The next steps will be to establish a governance structure for the centre and to identify and secure public and private funding.

According to a Lakehead University brochure, one of the centre’s major goals is to “facilitate research into the sociological and economic aspects of the development, including the vulnerability of single-industry towns, the broader environmental impacts of mineral exploration and northern infrastructure development.”

A Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada industrial research chair specializing in mineral exploration will form the core of the centre and will work with the Canada Research Chair in Mining Remediation and Aqueous Geochemistry. The centre will also provide a base for other research chairs including one focusing on social and cultural aspects of sustainable mining development.

“We hope to build a centre that is sustainable in the long run,” said Hanley.

Thunder Bay currently hosts 26 exploration company offices and more than 80 service and supply companies, including contractors and consultants who work with the exploration and mining sectors.

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