Magnesium: The New Oil?

We should not allow our complacency to undermine what could potentially be the best boost to our economy since hydro and the lottery. This plan amounts to surface-picking / recovering rubble piles left behind during the massive mining of asbestos. There are 500 M tonnes of rubble piles which are accessible by bucket and loader. Magnesium is selling for $4.20 US / kg (as of August 2015 – and has previously traded for more.) Magnesium is present in the rubble at levels from 25% and higher, and it is of high quality. Other valuable resources are also present. Revenues from the magnesium alone could generate upwards of half a trillion dollars.

*Update – magnesium prices have dropped significantly since this article was written. The current (31 March, 2016) value of $2.03/kg changes the aove math considerably. The historic high price was over $6/kg at the end of Q1 in 2008. Nevertheless, even with this lower price, the resource is worth as much as all the oil in Alberta, and the cost of transformation is still much less.*

Currently, China produces 75% of the world’s magnesium, and Canada is not even on the map; Canada is a net importer. The US market is protected from Chinese imports by high antidumping duties and is supplied instead by Israel and domestic primary and secondary production.

Some main markets for magnesium include automotive, electronics, and battery. (data from 11/2013)

Not only could this provide funds through taxes and duties for the Quebec government, but there are other sectors which would benefit greatly, as well. The entire region would be re-energized with new industry, tourism, services, not to mention recycling technology. The truth is that we can not simply bury this rubble under a canopy of trees (and falsely call it green) for future generations to clean up. The rubble from the mining of asbestos can not simply be left, and we can simply not turn down this economic opportunity. This green project could fuel an industry, reduce un-employment, re-energize an entire region, and provide for more independence on the part of Quebec, if properly managed. It will also greatly contribute to a cleaner environment and a fueling of green industries which could grow in the shadow of the ‘Projet du Grand Nord.’

There are many projects which need to be realized in order to initiate the operation; this will create jobs. Jobs, taxes, wealth, growth, sustainability, R&D… it could be a model for the world to follow; after all, many countries have deposits similar to these, and are using or will be using them accordingly. We should not be left behind simply for an adherence to a statute which prevents the people from cleaning up their own environment.

The ‘Tar Sands’ has been an economic boon to Alberta (the only province with no income tax.) They have profited from their enormous natural resources unlike any other province has. Why not Quebec? Whose permission are we waiting for? A simple adjustment on government policy is the only thing preventing the people of Thetford Mines from going ahead with this project and taking full advantages of the resources of their region, as they had done for generations. Now that the price of oil has dropped to unexpected lows, we must collectively hedge against any negative drivers of our economy as a result of internal (local, provincial, and national) or external (global) stresses.

Surface deposits exist which could yield up to hundreds of billions of dollars and the weaker our dollar, the more we can expect to generate through exports, as well. Now that the price of oil has dropped is the time to develop other resources and potential sources of income. The piles of ‘rubble’, remains of the asbestos industry surrounding the town of Thetford Mines, could be the impetus for a new economic reality for the region and for Quebec, which would dwarf the oil reserves of Alberta by comparison. The project would also clean up the piles of dangerous rubble left behind by a forgotten industry. Surface mining and recovery, in this case, would be akin to a betterment of the environment. In that sense, the health and safety regulations concerning the recovery and recycling of waste materials as by-products of the asbestos industry must be re-visited, and the CSST must know that there is more at stake here than a pussilanimous set of economically detrimental policies.