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Iron and titanium:
a review of iron and ilmenite deposits in Québec

Abdelali Moukhsil and Serge Perreault, P. geo.
Technical support: Éric Grégoire
Direction de Géologie Québec

For the past two years, the price of iron pellets has been skyrocketing. As noted by the Department in the Summary and Highlights of the Québec Mining Industry for 2004, producers Québec Cartier and IOC saw the price of iron pellets and concentrate rise by 21.2% and 22.33%, respectively. Worldwide reference prices for these two products reached historic highs in 2004. In response to this increase, many mining companies, large and small, have shown a growing interest in iron exploration. In Québec, most of the unmined iron deposits evaluated between 1950 and 1980 are held by several junior mining companies.

The rising price of iron ore and the promising outlook for the coming years have led to renewed interest in iron exploration in Québec. It has not attracted this much interest since the 1960s. A quick calculation of geological resources, based on the Department's mineral deposit records, indicates that Québec has inferred resources of more than 2 billion tonnes of ore. However, there are about twenty deposits with a grade of more than 30% Fe, with tonnages in excess of 100 million tonnes (PDF format, 737 kb - Available in French). Nearly half of these deposits are located in the area lying between Fermont and the Manicouagan reservoir. The sector north of the Labrador Trough, more specifically north of Baie-aux-Feuilles, also contains several major deposits. The Great Whale Iron (Baie James), Duncan (Baie James) and Lac Albanel deposits are also major Québec deposits. It should be noted, however, that the mineral resources of these deposits were assessed during the 1960s and no longer meet the 43-101 standard.

Companies intending to develop an iron deposit must take several factors into consideration:

  • Iron market trends in the medium and long term. The iron market is cyclical and very sensitive to global economic fluctuations (e.g.: the price of oil and gas, economic crises, etc.).
  • How far deposits are from major infrastructures. Companies mining deposits that are far from existing infrastructures will face rapidly rising costs if they need to build new ones for shipping iron concentrate and pellets.
  • The tonnage and grade of the deposit's iron ore. Though metamorphic iron deposits are interesting in terms of grain size and local concentrations of iron-oxide-rich horizons, the waste-to-ore ratio is generally high. In Québec and Labrador, production of iron concentrate (67% Fe) from ore at an average grade of 30% to 42% Fe requires concentration. This concentration leads to higher production costs than in Australia and Brazil, where most of the iron deposits mined are naturally iron rich, grading from 60% to 66%, and require little secondary concentration.
  • In Canada, labour costs and operating costs are generally higher than for Australian and Brazilian mines. To be competitive on the world stage, iron mining companies in Québec and Labrador are making major efforts to reduce these costs.

In any case, certain major unmined iron deposits in Québec should be reassessed in compliance with the 43-101 standard. As was mentioned earlier, several factors will need to be considered before a new iron mine is opened outside of currently active sites in Québec and Labrador.