'Deep will be the new norm' — Glencore spends $1B to find new ore beneath Sudbury

Glencore is spending nearly $1 billion to find new ore underneath Sudbury. But like the similar deep mining project announced recently by Vale, Onaping Depth is less about creating jobs than avoiding layoffs.

First ore expected in about 4 years, with full production by 2025

With it's nearly $1 billion Onaping Depth project, Glencore will mine 2,500 metres down beneath its existing operations in Sudbury (Erik White/CBC )

Glencore is spending nearly $1 billion to mine new ore underneath Sudbury. 

The Onaping Depth project was announced at the same time as Vale revealed plans to go ahead with its multi-million dollar expansion of Copper Cliff Mine, also known as "Copper Cliff Deep."

"I think deep will be the new norm and certainly in Sudbury, that's where the future lies," said Peter Xavier, Glencore vice-president of Sudbury operations.

The deposit is located 2,500 metres beneath the mothballed Craig Mine in Onaping and was found in the 1990s. Xavier says it's taken years of planning to figure out how to mine safely and economically at that low level.

He says it's also getting the greenlight now, despite nickel and other metal prices being in a prolonged slump, because Glencore's two other Sudbury mines — Nickel Rim and Fraser — will be wrapped up by 2025, just as Onaping Depth hits full production. 

Xavier says that new ore is needed to feed the company's mill and smelter and maintain the Sudbury workforce of 1,300 employees, plus 500 contractors.

"Because it comes at the tail end of our existing operations, it would be more accurate to say it sustains our existing presence." he said. 

Peter Xavier is the vice-president of Glencore operations in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

Xavier says one of the big advantages for the Sudbury basin is the polymetallic geology, with copper, platinum and palladium core fuelling profits even if nickel is down.

"And that mitigates a little bit the challenges of the fact that we're going to depth to extract these ore bodies where it some parts of the world, it's literally dirt on surface," he said.

Some of those challenges are also being tackled by using only electric battery vehicles at Onaping Depth, which Xavier says will cut heating, cooling and ventilation costs, as well as the bill for running the machines. 

Glencore will also use some of the existing infrastructure at Craig Mine, which was put on care and maintenance in 2009, but has been used since then by KGHM to access its Levack deposit.

"Most people in the community don't realize that the organizations collaborate quite extensively," Xavier said of other Sudbury mining companies, including Vale, which is partnering with Glencore to access a deposit through Fraser Mine.

"For us it's a normal way of looking at things."

For its Onaping Depth project, Glencore will use some of the existing infrastructure at Craig Mine, which was shut down in 2009. (Erik White/CBC)

However Xavier says formal mergers are "not the discussions of today."

But he sees a bright future for the local mining sector, with a deep mining project at Nickel Rim next on the list.

All of this is good news for the members of Unifor Mine Mill Local 598, where Marcel Charron is the senior representative.

"It means long term viability for the company and good jobs for our members," he said.

Charron says he's hopeful that some positions will open up for younger workers in the coming years, especially with a large group of Glencore employees set to retire in 2019.


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