The new Stantec mining practice, formerly McIntosh Engineering, has made a quick recovery from the recent recession and the resulting downturn in the mining industry.
Acquired by Stantec in July 2008 just months before the recession took hold and companies began putting new mine development projects on the back burner, the North Bay and Sudbury-based practice was forced to downsize, resulting in a layoff of 28 people.
However, the clouds began to part a little more than a year later as the group snagged contracts from the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and BHP Billiton. Thirty employees have been hired since November 2009 to tackle the workload and a satellite office has been opened in Saskatoon.
PotashCorp is moving aggressively to ramp up production at several of its mines in Saskatchewan to meet global demand for fertilizer. Stantec is providing engineering services for a $350 million debottlenecking project at the Allan Mine that will increase production capability by one million tonnes per year. It has also completed project work at PotashCorp’s Lanigan Mine in Saskatchewan and is providing engineering services for the company’s $1.65 billion Picadilly project in New Brunswick. The last-named project will replace an existing 800,000 tonne operation with a new mine that will boost annual production capacity to two million tonnes per year.
Stantec is also working on BHP Billiton’s Jansen potash project in Saskatchewan that is being designed for an annual capacity of eight million tonnes. Located 140 kilometres east of Saskatoon, the Jansen project is expected to begin production in 2015.
The acquisition of McIntosh Engineering by Edmonton, Alberta-based Stantec has been a win-win proposition for both groups, said Keith Vananenen, managing principal for the company’s North Bay and Sudbury offices.
“As McIntosh Engineering, we weren’t involved in environmental or geotechnical work,” he said. “We had to either subcontract the work out to other engineering companies or our clients were forced to go elsewhere for a lot of the things our clients needed at the front end of their projects. Now, we can provide a full suite of services.”
As part of the much larger Stantec group consisting of 9,500 employees and 150 offices across North America, the North Bay and Sudbury-based mining practice can team up with colleagues to do the engineering for surface buildings, waste water treatment and sewage plants, power systems, airstrips for remote locations and port facilities.
Stantec, on the other hand, benefits by acquiring “better inroads into the mining industry with our name and the work we’ve done in the past and continue to do,” said Vaananen.
The company’s capabilities have also been expanded as a result of the January 2009 acquisition of Jacques Whitford, an environmental consulting services firm with 1,700 employees and 40 offices. Several former Jacques Whitford employees based in Sudbury have already relocated to Stantec’s office in Sudbury and Vaananen expects Stantec personnel from other practices to relocate to Northern Ontario.
“There has been a Stantec presence in the region, but they’ve never had an office here, so now that there are offices in North Bay and Sudbury, Stantec employees on assignments here have an opportunity to move in, set up shop and get closer to the action.”
Aside from its offices in North Bay, Sudbury and Saskatoon, the Stantec mining practice operates a branch office in Tempe, Arizona that focuses on work in the U.S., Western Canada and overseas. The Tempe office has done a lot of work in Indonesia over the years for Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold and has recently submitted a proposal for further work on the Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe Mines’ Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project in Mongolia.
“We have worked on almost every continent at some point in time,” said Vaananen. “A lot of our clients are mining companies we have worked with in the past in Canada and the U.S. who have gone overseas. Or, they’re individuals who have left one major mining company and gone to work for another company. It’s all about relationships we have developed over time that have allowed us to follow our clients around the world and provide them with the services they require.”
The Stantec mining practice has a proven track record for designing, building and operating mines, said Vaananen. Its capabilities range from mine conceptualization through to feasibility studies, detailed engineering and design for construction, as well as procurement and construction management. Specialties include underground mining methods, mine development, deep shafts, material handling systems and complete infrastructure in support of underground operations.
Nickel Rim South
One major project the Stantec mining practice worked on was Xstrata’s Nickel Rim South Mine in Sudbury. Operating as McIntosh Engineering at the time, the firm entered into an alliance with Hatch in 2004 to design and build the mine.
“Hatch’s focus was primarily the surface infrastructure, while we focused on the underground component of the project,” said Vaananen, a mining engineer with a degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Xstrata brought the two of us together to make sure they had a complete design package. Their feeling was that no one engineering consulting company could complete the work they needed done.”
Stantec prides itself on its customer-focused mindset.
“Sometimes, clients will hire someone who will look at things from a contractor’s perspective,” said Vaananen. “We take it beyond just building a mine. We look at each project from a long-term operations perspective.
McIntosh Engineering originated in 1985 as the engineering arm of J.S. Redpath, a North Bay mining contractor and was spun off in 1993 when Scott McIntosh acquired a controlling interest in the company.
The Tempe office has 55 employees, while the three Canadian offices employ a total of 165 people.
Vaananen is optimistic about the mining industry and heartened by the volume of business coming on stream, especially in Western Canada.
“I don’t think we’re entirely back to where we’d like to be, but we’ve definitely turned the corner,” he said.