Mining Through the Winter: ArcelorMittal's Perspective

Updated: February 05, 2020 08:16 AM

Winter can be challenging for many industries, including mining. But the taconite plants run 24/7, and so do the steel mills, so they need to do some prepping and planning to make sure things go smoothly.


Gary Norgren, general manager of mining for ArcelorMittal USA, shared that he checks the ice cover on the Great Lakes every day. "So far it's adding up to be a fairly mild winter," he said. "I've been pleasantly surprised to see lower levels of ice cover."

This is important because ArcelorMittal needs to get more of their pellets down to the steel mills once the Soo Locks open back up again.  They've been planning for the winter months since last spring.

"Our target, typically, is to have 105 days worth of pellets, to get us through the 70 days that the Soo locks are closed," Norgren said. "The teamwork between the plants, the railroads, the docks and the vessels is phenomenal."

Sometimes, when the ice cover is really thick, it can take even longer to get the vessels moving at pace again. "Really we have to plan a supply to get us through mid-April," he explained.

ArcelorMittal owns and manages Minorca Mine in Virginia, and partially owns and manages Hibbing Taconite. At the plants, they need to winterize for months. "It's about keeping heat in the facility. Every fall we bring in truck loads of torpedo heaters, which are targeted devices we can aim heat where we need it," Norgren explained.

During snowstorms, they will keep crews on in case the next ones can't get in right away. And they'll manage their operations to avoid any outages during really cold snaps.

But they have been mining in northern Minnesota for over a century. So people have a pretty good idea of what to do.  

For now, they are looking ahead to spring. "The Burns Harbor was the final boat in. And she'll be in the first one out, loaded and waiting on March 25th, to bring us our first load of pellets for the 2020 season," Norgren added.

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