North

Agnico Eagle eyes hovercraft to look for gold in Nunavut

A mining company is looking to ship two hovercraft to Nunavut this summer to make it easier to search for gold year-round on the tundra.

Gold mining company says hovercraft cheaper, safer than helicopters

Agnico Eagle is looking to use hovercraft, similar to the one picture here, to explore for gold year-round in Nunavut. (Submitted by Dale Coffin)

Agnico Eagle is hoping a pair of hovercraft will allow the gold mining company to conduct year-long exploration in Nunavut's Kivalliq region.

The company is planning to ship two hovercraft this summer to its Meadowbank gold mine north of Baker Lake, Nunavut.

The one-year pilot project still needs approval from the Nunavut Impact Review Board. 

If the regulators approve, a couple of three-tonne hovercraft with a total price tag of under $3 million will be on their way to Baker Lake via sealift later this year.

One of the hovercraft would be used to transport up to 22 people. The other one would move equipment from its planned Amaruq mine to drill sites on the tundra.

In its proposal to the territory's planning commission, the company says the hovercraft would have a very low environmental impact on the ground and a noise level equivalent to about two snowmobiles.

The vehicles would also be a cheaper and safer alternative to using helicopters for exploration work said Dale Coffin, a spokesperson for Agnico Eagle.

"We've been looking for alternative sources of transportation. What's been used, what is being used in other regions in the far North and we kept coming back to the hovercraft," he said.

"It's being used quite extensively in the Siberia region of northern Russia.

"Same conditions, same type of climate; very cold, very much a winter climate. It's suitable for them, why can't it be suitable for us?"

Used in the North

A Russian hovercraft manufacture visited the site to determine whether or not the vehicle would cut it in the Kivalliq, home to shallow lakes and rolling rocky hills. The company gave it the go-ahead.

"You're not going to climb across mountain ranges," said Adrian Went, the managing director of British hovercraft manufacturer Griffon Hoverwork.

"You're going to use it to find your way across the sea or into fields for example when they're frozen over."

His company's hovercraft have been used in the oil and gas sector in Alaska, by the Canadian Coast Guard on the St. Lawrence and by Norwegian researchers who used one to glide across an ice floe toward the North Pole.

Agnico Eagle is hoping hovercraft will extend its exploration season year-round. From the end of October to the end of January, Dale said exploration work shuts down until winter roads can be developed. A hovercraft could erase the wait, gliding over water and ice. Then there's the added benefit to use them in search and rescue.

"We think there's great potential, if it works out," Dale said. 

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