Are We Ready to Move a Mountain?
Iron-ore activity in Liberia is taking off and we are at a jog and gathering pace. ArcelorMittal’s stated ambition is for an iron-ore output beginning in 2009 of 500,000t/y and increasing to as much as 25Mt/y by 2011. At the end of May, Russia’s Severstal reached agreement to purchase up to a 61.5% stake in African Iron Ore Group Ltd (AIOG), which owns, through subsidiaries, the exploration rights for an iron-ore deposit in Liberia’s Putu Range area. In addition, Severstal will acquire a 6.29% stake in Mano River Resources, which currently controls AIOG.
Just across the boarder in Guinea, Rio Tinto reported 2,259Mt of JORC-compliant iron-ore resources at its Simandou project on May 29. These resources are located within the Pic de Fon and Oueleba deposits which form part of the Simandou range in southeastern Guinea. The company is planning the development of the first production phase of 70Mt/y, potentially rising to 170Mt/y, subject to agreement with the government.
Mano River, Putu Range and even old "Poor Bone" (Bong Range) are largely unknown quantities. So let's focus on the Nimba Area. The largest operation in the late 1960's through the 1980's was the Liberian-American-Swedish Minerals Company (LAMCO), a joint venture that accounted for about half of Liberia's annual iron ore output at that time. LAMCO began shipping ore in 1963, when the port of Buchanan, which the company had constructed, opened for traffic. The mine's capacity was about 12Mt/y of ore at the start-up of operations. In the late 1970s output dropped to about 9Mt/y.
Again, at its zenith, the highest capacity handling through the LAMCO facilities completed in the early 1960's was 12Mt/y of ore per year. The big question as we move forward, is production going to out run the capacity to handle the material? 25Mt/y by 2011 is double the old capacity. Do they really expect to add another 70Mt/y to that? Nearly 100 Million tons per year is not going to move west across Liberian territory without someone taking notice. The Simandou project may be exporting an unacceptable environmental impact. Are we ready?
Is green our fame or is it the red dust on the green leaves?