Maritime Iron: I was going to be outraged… then I just shrugged

When I heard that Maritime Iron was putting its $1.5 billion iron processing plant project on hold, I searched the news sites and social media for signs of outrage. After all, it’s not every day someone proposes a $1.5 billion – 30-40 year development project for Belledune.  I certainly didn’t cover the waterfront but after 15-20 minutes I found no outrage.  Hardly even a whimper.

I decided to write a column expressing my outrage. Not necessarily at the project’s demise but at the apathy across the board about this project. I was going to talk in this column about how communities across the United States were stumbling over for Tesla’s $1.1 billion plant. The winning jurisdiction is likely to offer somewhere close to $1 billion in incentives.

I might have remarked in this column that people have been skeptical of this project since Day 1. Why would anyone want to put $1.5 billion into Belledune? Never mind the area is ideal for the project because of its proximity to the iron ore (Quebec), its need for a good port (Belledune) and its use of coal and that its markets will be North America – displacing product from Asia.

I was going to talk about how the product to be produced in Belledune is critical to the functioning of the economy including the new Tesla plant. Yes. Telsa has decided to use even more steel in its newer models.  Imagine a New Brunswick community playing a key role in the North American supply chain for steel products.

Just to convey my annoyance, I would have particularly zoomed in on this little blurb from the CBC story from the environmental impact technical committee report: “It fails to note more than 100 daily truck trips to and from the site will “likely result” in air quality problems beyond Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards.”

Within 10 minutes of my house I can show you a dozen warehouses in Moncton/Dieppe that handle more than 100 daily trucks. We now live in a world where 100 daily truck trips to and from and industrial facility is considered a problem.

I might have remarked that while NB Power is worried about the impact on taxpayers, although it was quite vague on this point, no one over there seems to mind the tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue from the Brunswick Smelter in the coming years. How will that revenue be replaced? How about a pig iron plant?  The lost revenue and stranded debt associated with Belledune?  Nary a mention.

I would have probably remarked the carbon emissions from this activity will occur. Pig iron needs to be processed. Tesla and thousands of other manufactured goods need the steel. Your life revolves around steel. The carbon emissions from this activity will occur – just not here and neither will the hundreds of good paying jobs in the plant and supply chain.

I’ve heard politicians bragging about New Brunswick’s reduction in carbon emissions. They are less quick to tell people this has come by closing industrial plants and from among the weakest economic growth among the 60 U.S. states and Canadian provinces since 2008. I might have snarkily remarked the best way to reduce your carbon emissions is to shut down your province.

If New Brunswick becomes the nursing home for North America over the next 10-20 years, our carbon footprint will be nice and low.

If I was particularly cranky while writing the column, I might have remarked that instead of Belledune re-emerging as a key player in the North American supply chain for steel products, it will continue to wither away.

Not one for hyperbole, I still would have likely indicated that I hope we are not as cavalier about the 20,000+ jobs in New Brunswick we just figured out – as a result of Covid-19 – that can be done anywhere. The thousands and thousands of New Brunswickers who earn their livelihood supporting people with roadside assistance, insurance claim processing, mortgage applications, IT support, hotel reservations, airline reservations and telehealth now face competition from home-based workers across the world. Our computer programmers, graphic designers and just about every other kind of professional services worker too just realized the exposed brick and beam, high ceiling office with a beer fridge and pool table may not be needed any more.

I would have said I hope New Brunswick government and economic development officials are laying awake at night trying to dream up ways to make this province the ideal location for that type of work. Otherwise it will drain away over the next 5-10 years at a slow drip.  I know its a lose connection between Maritime Iron and knowledge workers but I can’t help thinking somewhere in the back of my mind if you won’t stand up for one…..

I might have mentioned my concern that New Brunswick will never see another large industrial or mining project again.  We have manufactured a political climate where there is almost no tolerance for it.  Imagine, 100 trucks per day.

I fear it will be more like that scene in Casablana where Ugarte is arrested and taken off to be interrogated and then killed. Another anonymous guy in a white linen suit sidles up to Rick and says “when they come for me, I hope you will be more help” to which Rick says “I stick my neck out for nobody”.  While other jurisdictions are bending over backwards to develop large industrial projects like the LNG export facility and associated natural gas development in British Columbia – New Brunswick just won’t have the stomach for it.

Everybody talks about Frank McKenna.

It is absolutely incredible – even farcical – that more than 20 years after his exit from New Brunswick politics – I hear his name on a weekly basis. Only now it is young people – hardly born at the time- repeating the McKenna stories with reverence they way someone might talk about Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth.

But, deep down, everyone knows McKenna would have been hustling – even now – to get that project done in Belledune. For those of you old enough to remember, think about who rammed through the Belledune electricity generation facility itself?

Maritime Iron is an industrial process requiring massive amounts of energy but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t have occurred in New Brunswick with the most up to date environmental protocols and processes. But when we are at the point where 100 trucks coming in and out of the site is stated concern, what else is there to be said?

I guess the 100 cars coming in and out of the nursing homes is not a problem for ambient air quality standards.

But after reading about this project and realizing that no one else is concerned, I guess I decided to follow the crowd.

So I shrugged it off, gave up on writing the column and went back to binge watching NetFlix.

American Factory, to be specific.

5 thoughts on “Maritime Iron: I was going to be outraged… then I just shrugged

  1. The Maritime Iron project would have increased the provincial GHG emissions that includes the 100 trucks. The increase in GHG emissions is a significant concern. I am of the view, the potential increase in GHG emissions can be mitigated through a robust commitment by all parties to adopt appropriate emission reduction policies and measures. On possible measure is the use of hydrogen fueled Nikola trucks ( that uses green hydrogen (Air Liquide, Quebec) as its fuel. Another measure could be the use of green ammonia to fuel the pig iron furnace rather than coal. The stoichiometry-controlled oxidation technology developed by Duiker can use green ammonia as a fuel for industrial furnaces.

  2. David, this is a clever column and possibly more intelligent than simply raging at stupidity. Stupidity and death are not fixable because both are inevitable when we fix the wrong end of the problem.

    Consider trucks. Giant trucks whose efficiency and emissions are the best they have ever been, even while knowing that placing plastic skirting and making the nose aerodynamic are measured in mile per gallon gains at the expense for the formerly stupid design of solid walls of mass pushing against air while hauling another mass. Change to the better this way cometh.

    The problem with emissions from transports is largely solved and is a question of time and collateral damage control. Electricity is the solution and battery storage and battery regeneration are less than a decade away from stellar performance as long as Elon Musk and other brainiacs do not go-up their own nose in candy diversions or ruin their science brains with too much feels good-at-the-moment-lifestyle indulgences.

    The issue is one of finding balance. Even being a purist in religion or the pursuit of happiness can be too much of a good thing. I too rue the day when a Premier of Substance, made a call and whether politically inspired or not, bureaucrats and community leaders, actually said yes, Premier and it was done. Each successive Premier since Robichaud created the Belledune Industrial Economy has tried to find the formula for making it self sustaining and moving towards a natural position in the global movement of seaport based goods, both industrial and commercial in some measure. natural resource industries are a hard gig in today’s environment first thinking, but making a project sustainable and positive can be both progressive and helpful at the same time.

    Those trucks I brag about and am excited about need solar and wind farms to make the power even as Belledune moves off fossil as a back up to the nuclear plant in Saint John and the instance demand that minus 30 and plus 30 degrees now place on the demand power grid for New Brunswick and the Maritimes. These calculations running ahead of a brownout are not easy to do the math on, nor are they easy to finance today.

    Belledune needs a champion, and it had at inception, and certainly during the Can-Do reign of McKenna, who asked why not a lot. We have a twinned highway, whether we can afford it or not thanks to Bernard Lords’ youthful enthusiasm to score a political opportunity against a debacle in post-McKenna salesmanship failings on why tolls are ultimately good for local as well as provincial economies.

    Today, we are the contributor to the low cost of goods arriving in Halifax for trendy consumers as well as Charlelottown and St. Johns. The problem is that the annual bill for the freight enabled highway is served to Fredericton only as the other Provinces ride for free on NB taxpayers because we deemed it smart politics of the moment to pay the toll instead of promoting the toll for the cost offset it represented to Atlantic Canada, and not just New Brunswick.

    Premier Higgs is surprisingly a take-charge kind of guy for someone weaned in a personality-driven corporate culture as the Irving monolith is popular for as stated by observers as effective management science. He could confront demolish the arguments against this project, fresh off his political capital gain from leading a successful containment and abatement of Covid-19. Even Greens, Liberals and those other guys can attest that the Higgs led team did a credible job and provided a feels safer moment with their tactical stubbornness to poke fate by asking for a cessation of social and economic life.

    There is nothing that cannot be improved. Time and change is improving New Brunswick in spite of political fortunes waxing and waning. I commend the column and the clever factual insertion in an emotional argument, but there is a need for political philosophy. What is Good for Belledune is even greater for New Brunswick. We need a vibrant North Shore with aspirational intentions of growth and positive business moves to sustain one of the more beautiful landscapes and social language cultures in Atlantic Canada, as a by-product.

    Premier Higgs, demand a better reason for a cessation of investment than the political climate is too volatile or not positive. A positive attitude and a willingness to risk the future for a better future is what made modern New Brunswick what it is today. There are few things in one’s life where one wo(man) individual can change the course of history in a region. In each of the last five Premiers, the course of New Brunswick has been changed, for the better, and on occasion accidentally for the worse.

    There is a choice available to all of us in New Brunswick for Belledune.. I chose to improve the enviro science around the deal, and harvest the economic development we can for today because without that watering can of economic investment and activity that wonderful vibrant North Shore will continue to erode and wither away from its past glory, and become a memory of a passing generation into waiting graveyards. Their youth in mass exodus left long ago.

  3. Well done David! I dare not try to add to it for fear that I erode the effectiveness of your story! Except to say that it does P#SS ME OFF that anyone could suggest something as asinine as 100 trucks. I’m sorry but my patience is at an end with all the purists leading with love, motherhood and fluff. We need work! Our economy is stagnating. I bet more than 100 trucks fly through NB for NS every day. And what do we get? Or what about the several hundred car loads that head out of NB with our youth looking for work – elsewhere?
    Am I happy – NO! Do I feel a need to apologize? NO! And neither should anyone else that is really trying to get this province making money again!
    BTW – American Factory should be required viewing in NB. Maybe then, more NB’ers would appreciate the great value our manufacturers bring to our economy EVERY day – and how damned DIFFICULT it is for them!
    We need a change in attitude in this region and we need it quick!
    I appreciate your wittiness and sarcasm David. But sadly – too many will not be clever enough to care. As I suspect my father would have said -“maybe a kick in the. A#S would work better! “. It would take a lot to get him to that point…..and I think 100 trucks is more than enough!
    Thanks David – keep spreading the truth 🙂

  4. I couldn’t agree more, I was completely baffled that there was not a single concern raised by any government official or by the media.

  5. I believe you are hitting a few right notes on this one, however setting aside the apathy, the environment, and they are very very important if one looks at the project of Maritime Iron a few statements made by the promoters need to be looked at. Let’s start by the first premise of the project , the use of iron ore from Quebec that from Matime’s presentation is now going to China is false more than 90% of it is going to the EU and the USA. That data is freely available. The business case is somewhat doubtful, iron ore is shipped from the mines by train from Labrador to Sept-Iles, then loaded on a ship to Belledune, unloaded in Belledune, processed in Belledune and loaded on a ship or train as pig iron to be shipped to the final customer in the USA. As a business case, one would question the additional handling and shipping costs, Maritime Iron has not made that case, especially when one considers the new iron processing plant being built in Texas, a lot of capacity coming on stream…The new technology being touted is only operating in S.Korea. But then again, it just might work! Then one questions the public presentation of the project, a $1.5B project with no financing or portion of the financing in place or as they say we need all the approvals to get the project financing in place. I would question this statement especially in light of the fact that a previous investor decided to pull out a few years back. In my book, all or some of the financial backers have to be identified. But then again, they just might get it! In any business case investors, financiers invest as much in the human side of the business as the business case…Maritime Iron proponents overall have no substantial track record in the iron processing world, their construction schedule doesn’t take into consideration engineering studies, plans, land use studies, that one would think could take a year or two to design and get approved, one with a minimum of business sense would question the foundation, the timeline of the proposal. But then again that is quite a bit of uncertainty for a $1.5B proposal…I understand risk but in this case I would question the willingness of financiers, investors to take in that much risk…but then again if there is a substantial amount of government incentive, might be enough to mitigate the risk or is it? Did I mention the environmental risk assessment based on questionable data of a worldwide exchange that is non existent or the very high risk NB Power would have to take on an unproven technology to supply energy for the project. Apathy? Possibly or is it more of going after an impossible dream…Much of our energies would be better spent evaluating forward looking projects of the new green economy taking advantage of NB’s unique location and strength.

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