Port facilities are an important aspect for remote mining operations around the world. Without the available infrastructure, remote operations have no way of transporting valuable material to downstream businesses. Overseas transportation becomes critical when road access is not obtainable, allowing companies to achieve their desired production while maintaining lower transportation cost. Ports are facilities located along the coast providing land access to shipping companies transporting material or people. Many ports are equipped with several harbors allowing ships to dock and load efficiently. Due to the vast differences between mining projects, there is no single method utilized for implementing port facilities. Four case studies of major mining operations were conducted to analyze challenges involved with the project based on available information from NI 43-101 reports; including: climate, port infrastructures, shipping schedule and concentrate storage. This article reviews four mining operations that employ port facilities. Three of the operations are located in the Arctic and the final operation has a port facility in Southern Quebec.
Vale’s Vosiey’s Bay
Voisey’s Bay Mine is an open pit mine in Labrador, producing nickel-cobalt-copper concentrate and copper concentrate (Vale , 2016). In the early years of the mine’s operations, the concentrates were transported by truck 11km to the port at Edward’s Cove, Anaktalak Bay. The concentrate was then shipped to Québec, where it is transported to Sudbury, Ontario or Thompson, Manitoba for processing (Higgins, 2011). In 2013, the construction of the Long Harbour Nickel Processing Plant in Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador was completed. The following year the facility began processing the concentrates from Voisey’s Bay.
Figure 1: Voisey's Bay mine site and port facilities layout (Hullet & Dwyer, 2003)
Voisey’s Bay is located in the transition zone between Arctic and sub-Arctic zones, along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Typically there are heavy storms in the fall and winter, resulting in an annual snowfall of 447mm. The average daily temperature in the winter is -17°C and in the summer +1°C (Crowl, 2005). A major challenge associated with the cold climate is that of ice formation in shipping routes. The need for ice breakers can interrupt the travel routes for the community members of Nain and other coastal communities. The two kinds of ice that form in this region are land fast ice, and arctic pack ice. Land fast ice is ice that forms along the coast and arctic pack ice is ice that travels from northern waterways (Inco, 1997).
The Vale port of Anaktalak Bay was designed by Westmar Consultants Inc., acquired by Woley Parson in 2008 (Worley Parson, 2008), and Jacques Whitford, acquired by Stantec in 2009 (Stantec, 2016), and then constructed by ArcelorMittal. The wharf consists of a 100 meter berthing face and a maximum draught of 13.5 meters (ArcelorMittal , 2009). Due to the cold weather and snow, the wharf had to be completed during ice free seasons. A sheet pile cell method was used to ensure the stability of the port, and to accommodate the additional weight of the yearly ice buildup. Four AS 500 cells were alighted and connected by six connecting arcs, illustrated in Figure 2. 1,640 tonnes of S 355 GP grade steel sheet piles were used to support the cells (ArcelorMittal , 2009).
Figure 2: Plan view of Anaktalak Bay shipping wharf (ArcelorMittal , 2009)
The wharf was designed to the specification of 25,000 tonnes ships that adhere to CAC3 standards, required by the Canadian Coast Guard for all ships that are both traveling through ice conditions and carrying cargo that can detrimentally affect the local environment (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 2005).
Prior to the processing of concentrate at the Long Harbour Facility, a shipping schedule had to be determined in order to both maximize Vale’s profit, and allow for the local communities to continue using the ice as a means of transportation. Table 1 summarizes the annual shipping schedule. The dates vary with each year as ice conditions are variable, and the schedule is based on historic data.
|December 7- January 21||No Shipping|
|January 22-April 6||Four Nickel Shipments|
|April 7-May 21||No Shipping|
|May 22-December 6||Shipping of Nickel and Copper|
There are only four shipments in the winter in order to preserve the ice. All mine supplies that need to be shipped to location, such as fuel, are delivered in the summer months, reserving the winter shipments for concentrate. When the shipments are to occur, an ice breaker will break the ice to three times the beam width of the cargo ship. The route will then be marked every 250m, more often when there are turns in the route, in order to ensure that no one falls through the broken ice (Vale, 2015). Following the passage of the ship, the ice will only require a few hours to refreeze to a thickness that will allow a snowmobile to pass over safely. Vale employed members of the local communities who are familiar with ice conditions to patrol the shipping rout. Once they deem the ice conditions safe, they will remove the route markers, signaling that ice transportation can resume (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 2005).
The two reasons identified by Vale for their need for winter shipping, in addition to economic pressures, are the oxidization of concentrates when stored, and the compaction of concentrates. Extensive oxidation of the concentrates can cause the formation of a cemented mass, resulting in future transportation methods. Compaction could occur when storing the concentrate if calcium carbonate, which is used to control the concentrate pH, reacts with the material (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 2005).
The Izok Corridor project is a proposed mine owned by MMG, located in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut. The completed project will consist of a mine site at Izok and High Lake, an all-season access road and a port facility. The two mines will produce zinc, copper and lead concentrate, which will be trucked to a port at Grays Bay on the Coronation Gulf, to be shipped by barge to Asia and Europe (MMG, 2012). Once the resource has been extracted and the mine shut down, the port will be decommissioned. The location of the proposed mine can be seen on the map below.
Figure 3: Location of proposed mine and port site (Google, 2016)
The port used for shipping metal concentrate will be located 330 km northeast from the main Izok Mine Site and encompasses a total area of 22 hectares. The major facilities that will be required are listed below:
- Concentrate shed
- Steel tank diesel storage
- Dock and ship loader facility
- Diesel power generators and electric infrastructure
- Water supply
- Desalination Plant
- Sanitation Facilities
- Administrative Offices
- Warehouse and lay-down areas
- Camp facilities for employees
- Communication infrastructure
The chosen port location is a promontory, which is a point of high land that juts out into a body of water. This allows for a deep-water approach to shipping, a steep shore so that ships can get closer to land and a flat land area suitable for constructing the land facilities (MMG, 2012). The facility will transport between 450000 and 650000 dry metric tonnes of zinc, copper and lead concentrates per year and will take place during ice-free months. Therefore, the port will be open from July to October, as suggested in the Draft West Kitikmeot Land Use Plan (Group, 1994). The dock will be able to accommodate ships with a capacity of 50000 deadweight tonnes, 195 metres long and 32.5 metres wide. The ship loader will be fixed radial and will operate at a rate between 1500 to 2500 tph.
The ships docking at the port will require a minimum berth face of 100 m and will be constructed out of a steel sheet pile structure backfilled with rock. The company predicts that dredging of marine sediments will be required and therefore it will be necessary to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to mitigate the impacts (MMG, 2012). Furthermore, a traffic management plan will be implemented to reduce the impact to Dolphin and Caribou herd, as this area is used to cross to Victoria Island (MMG, 2012).
Due to the preliminary nature of the Izok Corridor project, the stockpiling strategy at the Gray’s Bay port has yet to be determined. However, the concentrate shed will be constructed with the capacity to store 10 months of concentrate production.
In order to transport concentrate from the mine to the port, a road will have to be constructed connecting the two locations. Construction of the 350 km 7-9 m Izok Road will take 2-3 years and will be built with aggregate granular base sourced from nearby quarries (MMG, 2012). No estimates on the cost of construction have been made yet. However, The Ring of Fire, a massive chromite deposit in Northern Ontario also requires a 330 km road to be constructed. The road will pass over similar terrain as the Izok Road, in a similar climate, and therefore the cost estimates for the Ring of Fire road can be applied here (Group, 1994).
|Ring of Fire Road|
|2012 Estimate||2013 Estimate|
|Total Price (Est.)||$1,740,000,000||$1,051,748,608|
Using the 2012 (Hjartarson, McGuinty, & Boutilier, 2014) and 2013 (Millette & Commito, 2015) cost estimates made by Tetra Tech for constructing the road to the Ring of Fire, a preliminary cost for the cost of constructing the Izok road can be determined. The length was reduced in 2013 due to a revised route for the road (Hjartarson, McGuinty, & Boutilier, 2014). The estimated costs for the Izok Road are outlined in the table below.
|Length = 350 km||2012 Estimate||2013 Estimate|
|Length = 350 km||$1,845,454,545||$1,415,815,434|
Based on the cost estimates by Tetra Tech, the cost of constructing the Izok road is estimated to be 1.4 -1.8 billion dollars. Based on the preliminary nature of the Izok Corridor mine, this estimate should be within 50% of the actual cost of constructing the road. The similarities of the two projects increases the confidence of this estimate (Millette & Commito, 2015).
Port of Sept-Îles & Iron Ore Company of Canada
Iron Ore Company of Canada
The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) has been operating an iron ore mine in Labrador West since 1949. Labrador West is located in Newfoundland and Labrador near the Quebec border and includes the two mining towns: Labrador City and Wabush. IOC produces 22 million tonnes of iron ore each year. The largest shareholder of the project is Rio Tinto, followed by Mitsubishi Corporation and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Company. (IOC, 2013)
The IOC project manufactures iron concentrate pellets at the mine site and then ships both pellets and concentrate by train and boat worldwide (IOC, 2013). Transportation of ore is a critical consideration for the operation due to the remote location of Labrador West.
Figure 4 Sept-Îles port proximity to Labrador West (IOC, 2013)
The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway
The iron ore is processed and pelletized in Labrador City and then shipped by train 418 kilometers south to the Sept-Îles shipping port in Quebec (IOC, 2013). Figure 4 shows the railway distance between the mine and port. IOC owns the Quebec North Shore and Labrador railway used to ship the ore pellets to the port (Rio Tinto, 2014). Each train is 2.5 kilometers long with 240 cars. In total each train can move 21,000 tonnes of pellets (IOC, 2013).
Sept-Îles Port Facility
The Sept-Îles shipping port is a major port in North America that manages approximately 23 millions tonnes of material each year. The port is open year round and ships a variety of products including aluminum, petroleum coke and limestone. The main product managed at the port is iron ore. (Port Sept Iles, 2015)
The Port of Sept-Îles has a total of 13 docks. Warf 2, 4 and 5 are owned by IOC and are used to transport their iron pellets and concentrate (Rio Tinto, 2014). In 2015 17.8 millions of the 23 millions tonnes moved that year were iron ore from IOC (Port Sept-Iles, 2016). Other companies operating out of Sept-Îles are Cliffs Natural Resources in Pointe-Noire and Tata Steel Minerals Canada (Port Sept-Iles, 2016). The port has a large impact on the town of Sept-Îles. The town of Sept-Îles is home to approximately 26,000 people as well as about 4,000 indigenous people in the surrounding area (Ville De Sept-Iles, 2016). The port employs approximately 4,000 people who work both directly and indirectly with the port (Port Sept-Iles, 2016). The port has an economic impact on eastern Canada each year estimated to be around $1 billion (Port Sept-Iles, 2016).
The port of Sept-Îles has a horseshoe shape and is ten kilometers wide. The two points of the horseshoe are marked as Pointe-Aux-Basques and Pointe a la Marmite. There are islands at the opening of the port sheltering the entrance and creating three entrance channels called the Eastern, Western and Middle Channel. The port location is convenient for shipping between North America, Europe and Asia. (Rio Tinto, 2014)
Figure 5 Map of the port showing its shape and channel entrances
IOC is able to constantly ship and turnover ore because the port operates all year round. The trains coming into the port from Labrador City dump the iron ore pellets and concentrate onto a conveyer using a two-car dumper system. The dumper system operates at 60 cars per hour allowing ore to quickly travel from the trains to the stockpiles. The IOC port can hold up to five millions tonnes of material in its stockpiles. The IOC stockpiles are segregated to keep pellets and concentrate from being mixed. Once a ship is ready to be loaded, the pellets are collected and transferred from the stockpiles onto the ship using another conveyor. The process is graphically represented below in Figure 6. (IOC, 2013)
Figure 6 Graphic of iron ore from train onto vessel (IOC, 2013)
Figure 7 shows an example of the Sept-Îles shipping schedule. The schedule shows that IOC will make three ore shipments in February 2016. The sizes of the iron ore shipments are between 55,000 tonnes and 187,000 tonnes. (Rio Tinto, 2014)
Figure 7 Sept-Iles shipping schedule for February 2016 (Rio Tinto, 2014)
Baffinland-Iron Mines Corporation: Mary River Property
The Mary River Project is located on Baffin Island, a northern operation in the high artic of Nunavut (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016). As seen in Figure 8, the site is nearly 1,000 km northwest of Iqaluit (AMEC Americas Ltd. , 2011). The project manages a rich iron ore deposit capable of shipping without processing; the ore is mined, crushed and screened before direct transportation to the market (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016). Due to the nature of its location, the project is faced with several issues caused by climate, this includes extreme weather conditions resulting in a limited shipping season.
Figure 8: Mary River in proximity to Iqaluit (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016)
Baffin Island’s is known for extreme conditions ranging from -30°C with 24hr nights in the winter, while the summers remain cold with 24hr of light (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016). Due to the weather conditions, there is only a limited window for frost-free conditions between June and August. However, due to the maritime characteristics of the region, this period also consist of the wettest conditions with a high occurrence of fog. After the frost-free period, the region experiences conditions of below 0°C and poor visibility, very common circumstance known as an “Artic white out”. Due to these limitations, shipping will be restricted to “ice-free periods”, normally occurring from July-October; approximately 60-90 days per year. Due to these same conditions, the project is expected to operate a 300 days per year schedule. (AMEC Americas Ltd. , 2011)
Baffinland’s port facility faces several challenges related to its location and the weather conditions affecting its shipping season (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016). Originally, the property was equipped with a small port facility, the Port of Milne. The ore dock utilized for this operation consists of a floating dock that is removed at the end of open water season. Fednav was employed to supply transportation services of ore over seas. The company projects a fleet of major shipping vessels anticipated to transport 55,000-70,000 dwt per unit, this includes the Supramax and Panamax vessel. Fednav proposes that the vessels begin to arrive at the port by the first open water; generally influenced by the presence of ice. This season will run for approximately 100 days from July to the end of October. During the period, the port will sustain between 40-45 vessels, roughly 14 ships per month (AMEC Americas Ltd. , 2011).
The following image is a graphical representation of the Milne Inlet’s site plan. The illustration demonstrates the planned access roads, truck facilities, stockpiling and material handling facilities, ship loading and receiving, as well as the floating dock. This also includes the temporary and permanent facilities, power generators, maintenance, water treatment, airstrips and water equipment (AMEC Americas Ltd. , 2011).
Figure 9: Port of Milne planned infrastructure
The ore will be transported directly from the crushing and screening plant of the Mary River operation to the stockpiling location, and finally loaded onto ships (Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, 2016). This will run parallel to the open water season, approximately 100 days from July to the end of October. The haul trucks will be used to transport the ore to the port. It is estimated that 21 trucks will be required to accomplish the expected 3Mt/a in the 300 operating days a year. Once transported to the port, the ore will be stockpiled at the Milne Inlet, a distance of 1km from the dock. Since the shipping season is limited with high variability due to the climate, the total ore production will be stockpiled at the port. A conveyor system is designed to transport the ore material from the stockpiles to the loading docks (AMEC Americas Ltd. , 2011).
Commerce Resources’ Ashram Project
Ashram Project is a proposed open pit mine in owned by Commerce Resources Corp. that would produce a rare earth oxide concentrate. If completed, major project infrastructure will require an all-season road, airport, and port facility. The project is located in the Nunavik Region of the Province of Québec, approximately 130 km south of the community of Kuujjuaq. Temperatures range from -25°C in February to +11°C in July. Lake freeze-up generally begins in early to middle October and ice break-up usually occurs around the end of May-early June. The location of the mine and the proposed road can be seen below.
Figure 10 Location of Commerce Resources' Ashram Project (SGS Canada Inc., 2015)
The project would rely on a 130-km all-weather road built connecting the mine site to the town of Kuujjuaq. The cost of this road has been estimated at $203,500,000 ($1,100,000 per km). The water at Kuujjuaq are too shallow to allow port facilities for high capacity cargo, so the proposed harbor location is 25 km north at Mackay’s Island. They propose building small docking facilities on the harbour at Mackay’s Island, connected to the all-weather road. A company called Maritime Transport would travel from a port in Montreal and anchor in the middle of the watercourse next to the docking facilities. Barges would then move alongside the ship, allowing it to would then offload cargo onto barges. The proposed unloading area and harbor location are seen below.
Figure 11 Location of the proposed docking facility (SGS Canada Inc., 2015)
Concentrate Storage and Additional infrastructure
The lake proposed for the docking facility is frozen most of the year, making the area only open for sea transportation for 3 – 4 months of the year (June – September). This means concentrate must be stockpiled at the docking facility for at least 9 months of the year. A heated concentrate dome is proposed to have a capacity 40000 tonnes. In addition to the dome-silo, additional infrastructure has been proposed at the port facility to support the project. Since supplies are not available to be delivered a fuel farm will have to be built at the port. A warehouse will also need to be built to stock consumables and products delivered by cargo ships.
The following table contains price estimates for the proposed port, and it’s supporting components.
Table 4 Capital cost estimate for port and supporting facilities (SGS Canada Inc., 2015)
The four charges incurred from using a port facility are dockage, wharfage, storage and stevedorage:
Dockage charges are done on a per day basis and depend on the length and tonnage of the ship. Dockage charges range from US$2,000 to US$22,000 per day (Boleneus & Whiteside, 2015).
Wharfage charges are calculated based on the weight or volume of the cargo being carried by the ship. Wharfage charges range from US$1 to US$25 per tonne (Boleneus & Whiteside, 2015).
All minerals can be stored for free at a port for a limited amount of time. Any storage following the free time is charged. Storage charges range from US$0.10 to US$40 per tonne each month (Boleneus & Whiteside, 2015).
Stevedorage is the charge to pay for any physical movement of the mineral from the ship and around the port. The stevedorage charge pays for labour and equipment required used to move the material. Stevedorage charges range from US$6 to US$50 per tonne (Boleneus & Whiteside, 2015).
The Ashram Rare Earth Element Deposit in Northern Quebec quoted their costs for a docking facility, ferry and barges (SGS Canada Inc., 2015). The costs are presented in Table 5.
Expansion costs of a larger port were found for the Port of Sept-Îles. The port began an expansion in 2012 costing $220 million. The expansion allowed for an additional 50 million tonnes of material to be shipped each year using a new 450 meter long dock. (Van Praet, 2013)
Port construction often requires the use of dredging, which is a method of excavation where soils are transported by means of water (Bates & Bray, 1996). This method is becoming more frequent as the size of ships as increased.
The type of dredger to be used in the construction of a port is dependent on the type of soil and the depth of dredging required (Sargent, 1989). The relationship between soil type, dredger type and the cost associated with them is summarized in the table below.
Table 6: Relationship between type of soil, dredging type and associated costs (Guler, 2003)
Dredging costs range from $4 - $8 per cubic yard or $5.25 - $10.50 per cubic meter (Dredging Specialists). Due to the large size of dredging equipment, there is a mobilization and de-mobiization cost when the equipment is not within close proximity. These costs range from $20000 - $50000 (Dredging Specialists).
Overall Arctic shipping facilities make mining possible for many remote deposits which otherwise could not be mined feasibly. Different types of arctic ports are designed to ship different categories of minerals, including dry bulk, break bulk, and containerized. Regardless of the material being shipped, all ports have similar infrastructure requirements and port costs.
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