Once called Canada's 'next oil sands', the Ring of Fire mining development area in northern Ontario has yet to live up to its promise.

hi-tony-clement-852

Treasury Board Chair Tony Clement said the Ring of Fire has a potential similar to the oil sands.

Federal Treasury Board Chair Tony Clement called the Ring of Fire "a game-changer for Canada" with "potential impact...akin to what the oil sands did for Alberta and Canada" just last year. 

But that was before Cliffs Natural Resources halted its plans for a chromite mine in November 2013. Now the future of the Ring of Fire is far less certain, and even less likely to live up to what some say were always overinflated claims of its potential.

Here are three big 'whoppers' told about the Ring of Fire.

  • 1. Chromium is a rare and valuable mineral.

From the Ontario Chamber of Commerce 2014 report 'Uncovering the economic potenital of Ontario's Ring of Fire : "The most promising discovery [in the Ring of Fire] is the first commercial quantities of chromite in North America. Based on current projections, the deposit is significant enough to sustain activity for a century."

This statement may be true if, and when, the price for chromite (or chromium) is high. Right now it is not.

"There's really an oversupply of chromium," Northern Miner newspaper editor John Cumming told CBC. "You can mine chromium by going to a waste dump in South Africa, so there's not a great need for a new source."

Cumming said dropping chromium prices have far more to do with stalling the project than the oft-cited relations with First Nations.

  • 2. An agreement between Ontario and First Nations would smooth the path to development.
    Ring of Fire Framework Agreement signing

    A photo from the signing of a framework agreement for negotiations in the Ring of Fire between Ontario and Matawa First Nations' chiefs, last spring. (Government of Ontario)

Ontario called the March 2014 Regional Framework Agreement  "an historic agreement to move [the] Ring of Fire development forward."

But since then, First Nations and Ontario haven't agreed on much, including the process for permits required for companies to continue working in the area.

"Once again it appears that we will be forced into another agenda that is not First Nations-centred," Long Lake 58 Chief Allen Towegishig wrote to Mines Minister Michael Gravelle in September. His was one of several letters critical of the province's actions since the agreement was signed.

Despite the presence of two high-profile negotiators, Bob Rae for Matawa First Nations and former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci for the province, the parties are a long way from seeing eye-to-eye.

  • 3. Noront Resources and KWG Resources could fill the void left by Cliffs' departure.
    Dalton McGuinty

    Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty was among the first to call the Ring of Fire "the most promising mineral development opportunity in a century." THE CANADIAN PRESS (Canadian Press)

When Cliffs was interested in the project it was a healthy, multinational corporation with a lot of financial fire power. Its stocks have dropped, but still trade at more than $7 US on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

By comparison, Noront and KWG are smaller mining companies. In the last year, Noront's stocks peaked at 70 cents (CDN) and KWG's hasn't broken the 10 cent mark (CDN) in the past year.

Noront's plan for a nickel mine north of Pickle Lake may be the most viable project currently in the Ring of Fire, but it still has to get over some regulatory hurdles.

Cumming said he never bought the province's claim that the area is the "most promising mineral development opportunity in a century."

"It was never true and it was very irresponsible of [former] Premier Dalton McGuinty to say that. Likening it to the oil sands is just ridiculous," Cumming said. "It could never be that big. It's as big as any other mine in the north, which people never talk about."