Amid nickel boom, Vale moves forward with underground mine at Voisey's Bay

Brazilian mining giant Vale is moving forward with its nickel underground mine at Voisey's Bay, Premier Dwight Ball announced Monday morning.

First ore expected no later than April 2021

From left, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, Eduardo Bartolomeo, Vale's executive director of base metals, and Minister and Natural Resources Siobhan Coady at the Vale announcement at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's on June 11. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Brazilian mining giant Vale is capitalizing on a nickel boom and moving forward with its underground mine at Voisey's Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball announced Monday morning.

It's a "momentous announcement" for the mining industry, Ball said at the announcement at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown St. John's.

Past and present Newfoundland and Labrador premiers gather at the Vale press conference: from left, Brian Tobin, Ball, Roger Grimes and Clyde Wells. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"Vale is proceeding with its underground mine," Ball said.

"This is a province that's open for business, and people are showing up."

The move will extend the mine's operating life by at least 15 years, Ball said. Over the five-year construction, more than 16,000 person-years of employment will be created.

Once operational, direct employment will hit 1,700 jobs, including the Long Harbour processing plant, Ball said.

Construction will begin later this summer, with first ore expected no later than April 2021.

Eduardo Bartolomeo, Vale's executive director of base metals, said the Voisey's Bay mine is a "huge source of pride" for the company, including the established relationship with the Inuit and Innu communities.

"They are not only our neighbours, but also our employees, our service providers, our partners in so many aspects of our operation."

Vale always had a commitment to Voisey's Bay, Bartolomeo said, but a worldwide nickel decline forced the company to put plans on hold.

"Unlike downturns in the recent past, this one took much more than ever predicted it would be. So everybody in the world from the nickel miners went into preservation mode. Vale was no exception," he said.

The project was cast into uncertainty 10 months ago when the company announced it was reviewing its worldwide operations amid a persistent downturn in nickel prices.

Nickel prices, though, have solidly rebounded over the last year, with the commodity moving Monday around $15,240 US per tonne, or more than 70 per cent over a 52-week low set last year. 

Bartolomeo said the company is ready to go. 

"We are ready to start hiring, ready to begin construction and ready to fulfil a long-standing commitment to this project."

The Voisey's Bay mine and concentrator is located south of Nain, on Labrador's northern coast.

Voisey's Bay, one of the world's richest deposits of nickel, was discovered in 1993. 

Surface mining at the site began in 2005. 

Indigenous groups, construction sector welcomes expansion

Vale plans to spend more than $2 billion on the expansion, and that's welcome news for Indigenous groups in Labrador.

"The expansion is certainly going to help Labrador Inuit," said Johannes Lampe, president of the Inuit government in Nunatsiavut.

"The spinoffs will certainly help Labrador Inuit continue to see the benefits."

The president of the Innu Nation, Gregory Rich, also welcomed the expansion, but believes there could be more benefits for his people.

"I would like to see more Innu people, especially the trades people, hired in that project," said Rich.

Meanwhile, the construction industry is breathing a sigh of relief.

"There's a lot of construction workers unemployed. And of course construction workers make good money, and they spend good money," said Darin King, executive director with the Newfoundland and Labrador Building and Construction Trades Council.

Vale is the latest global giant to expand its footprint in the province, joining companies like Husky, Rio Tinto and ExxonMobil.

"This is a province that's open for business, and people are showing up," said Ball.

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With files from Terry Roberts