Silent Alarm: Proposed Sulfide Mine Threatens Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Proposed Sulfide Mine Threatens Boundary Waters Canoe Area
By Michael McFadzen
Twin Metals Minnesota, owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta PLC, recently submitted an application for a large sulfide mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Northern Minnesota. The proposed operation would mine copper, nickel, cobalt, palladium, platinum, gold and silver. The mine would be located in the Superior National Forest, which is directly south and within the watershed of the BWCA, which rankles recreationalists and environmentalists.
Save the Boundary Waters (SBW) is a coalition of over 30 conservation organizations and 350 businesses. Jeremy Drucker, Senior Advisor for SBW, told Silent Sports, “The project is located on the banks of lakes and rivers that flow into the Boundary Waters. The initial mine proposal was terminated by the Obama Administration, but brought back by the Trump Administration. Leases for mining in national forests are not very common. This is a pristine area and critical habitat for several endangered species, including Canadian lynx and moose.”
Twin Metals is not alone in its quest to mine minerals in this area. Several other companies have filed suit to obtain mineral leases. SBW claims this is the first step toward an industrial corridor of mines, processing plants, mills, and toxic tailings (mining refuse) near the BWCA.
The proposed mine is projected to directly employ 700 full-time workers and another 1400 indirect jobs. Following permit approval, production would start in two years with a mine lifespan of approximately 20 years. According to Twin Metals, there is a high demand for these materials which are used in the manufacture of electronics, windmills, solar panels, and other technology products. Twin Metals foresees that there will be no discharge from the mine site so a waste water treatment plant isn’t necessary.
Sulfide mining is considered one of the riskiest mining techniques, with a long legacy of water pollution around the globe. Mine tailings are often exposed to water and watersheds, which leach sulfuric acids, heavy metal, and sulfites; all are pollutants that degrade groundwater and adjacent rivers and lakes.
Twin Metals parent company, Antofagasta PLC, which operates some of the largest copper mines in the world, has a sketchy environmental record. Their flagship mine, Los Pelambres, located in Chile, has been cited for numerous violations, including dumping thousands of gallons of copper concentrate into the Choapa River and cutting off water to the village of Caimanes to build an upstream waste dam. Several other violation lawsuits are pending.
Minnesotans oppose the mine by a 3-1 margin according to a poll conducted by the Star Tribune newspaper.
Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly oppose mining near the Boundary Waters, while Republicans are split, 39% in favor, 37% opposed.
A study by Harvard Professors James Stock and Jacob Bradt forecasts negligible economic benefits from the mine. This study found as follows: “Over the 20-year time horizon of the proposed withdrawal, introducing mining in the Superior National Forest is very likely to have a negative effect on the regional economy…most notably the history of boom-bust economies associated with resource extraction will leave the local economy worse off.”
The BWCA is the most visited US wilderness area and a bucket-list paddling destination with thousands vying annually for permits. It contains 1.1 million acres of pristine water and unspoiled woodlands. Along with the Superior National Forest, it contains 20 percent of all the fresh water in the entire National Forest System. Tourism is the area’s biggest industry, generating $913 million annually, with 17,000 jobs in Northeast Minnesota.
Want to get involved? Glad you asked. Check out “Save the Boundary Waters” website at www.savetheboundarywaters.org/how-help. Also, consider calling elected officials or write an Op-Ed in your local paper.