Prairie River Minerals scrambles to scram while iron market hot

A stockpile of iron ore “fines” at a washing plant. (PHOTO: CDE Global)

Last April, I was first to report about Prairie River Minerals, a new company formed to process iron ore stockpiles on the western Mesabi Iron Range. It was a story that fell in my lap because a friend of mine is involved in the project. Thus, I’ve mostly left the story alone since then.

But it bears mentioning that Prairie River Minerals has made progress in its effort to acquire some of the former Magnetation properties in Itasca County. Specifically, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of “Plant 1” in Keewatin and the Jessie Mine Load-Out facility to Prairie River Minerals last week.

The properties aren’t in the company’s hands yet. Nevertheless, this deal should allow Prairie River Minerals to finalize off-take agreements and financing to begin operations.

My aforementioned friend Tom Anzelc is the company’s spokesperson and government relations representative. (DISCLOSURE: I was his campaign manager in the past but I am not involved in this project at all). He tells me the company will name a permanent CEO in the near future.

The company seeks to avoid what previous mining proposals have done. Namely, they’re trying to underpromise and overdeliver. They don’t want to inflate jobs numbers or raise hopes too high until they’re up and running.

Last Friday, iron ore sold for almost $117 per ton. That’s the highest price in five years and more than double what it was during the doldrums of 2015. But at the same time U.S. Steel announced last week it was idling three of its blast furnaces. Some call that the first sign of a potential slow-down.

Prairie River Minerals hopes to capture this hot market quickly before prices come back down.

The difference is demand, especially in North America. Companies that want to buy iron ore now have to wait in line to get it, which is driving up prices. A huge mine disaster in Brazil seems to be the biggest factor.

There’s a sense that countries that allowed lax mining oversight will now step up efforts to ban bad safety and environmental practices. That means that countries with more robust regulations like ours will find their industries more competitive on production cost. Furthermore, with tens of millions fewer tons of iron ore on the market, places like the Iron Range now have a bigger share of what North America’s steel industry needs.

Anyway, that’s why a startup in Northern Minnesota can entertain digging up old ore piles. It’s also why that same company has to hurry to catch the market at the right time.


  1. Joe musich says

    Here is how the Strib reports the purchase….

    I would like to know where the money is coming from for the purchase ?

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