Mining Program Could Come Back to U

Minnesota Daily
Kevin Burbach

After 40 years, a mining program could return to the University of Minnesota.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, brought a bill Tuesday to the state House Higher Education and Policy and Finance Committee that would provide funds for a mining program at the University.

Rukavina introduced the bill to bring mining back to the University and to prepare Minnesota students for mining engineering jobs — a sector with employment opportunities on the rise.

The bill would create a $25 million endowment that would establish a fund for a mining and metallurgical program — the study of the chemical and physical properties of metals.

Currently, there is not a mining degree program in Minnesota and there are few universities in the nation — such as South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Virginia Tech — that offer mining degrees.

Before the program could be created, the University would have to work out many of the details.

Robert Jones, the University’s senior vice president for academic administration, said the University will spend the next four to six weeks examining the program, including whether there is a “need for such a professional program in the region and in the state.”

The University will also look at the program’s potential cost and infrastructure and whether they would have the coursework, student interest and faculty necessary for the program, Jones said.

Until there are answers to some key questions, he said the University would remain neutral.

Rukavina said the University was created with a strong mining focus and that the current lack of a mining program “makes me sad.”

The closest thing to an existing program in the state is the Iron Range Engineering program, a partnership between the Mesabi Range Community College and Minnesota State University-Mankato.

IRE is a project-based program where upper-level undergraduate students work on engineering projects around the area.

Gregg Marg, a professor at Minnesota State University-Mankato, said the program is relatively new. The first graduates finished in December 2011.

Although it is a general engineering program, students can specialize in mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering.

Ron Ulseth, co-director of IRE, said students can work on mining-based projects, but cannot specialize in mining.

“We don’t have any ability to deliver a mining or metallurgical [component] in the current program,” Ulseth said.

He said the Iron Range is rich in precious metals, like gold, silver and platinum, as well as copper and nickel.

There are various reasons for the resurgence of mining. He said products like iPhones use a lot of platinum, and hybrid cars require 75 to 100 pounds of copper each.

About 55,000 new miners will be needed to meet demand and to replace retiring coal mine employees in the next five to 10 years, according to the National Mining Association.

Because of the increased need, Ulseth said companies are flocking to Minnesota.

“The Iron Range is alive and well,” he said.

But now that companies like Twin Metals have moved to the state, Ulseth said they lack qualified employees.

“These mining companies have a terrible time finding these people,” he said. “There’s no way in our state … for us to find people with this level of specialty. They need mining engineers and metallurgical engineers.”

History of Mining

The School of Mines and Metallurgy originally opened at the University of Minnesota in 1892. By 1927, it offered degrees in mining and metallurgical engineering among others.

After changing the structure over the years, the school became the School of Mineral and Metallurgical Engineering in the early 1960s.

But the next decade brought a decrease in mining. Warren Cheston, the dean of the Institute of Technology, decided to disband the University’s mining program in 1970 and put various parts of it into other schools.


Mining Support in St. Paul

Renee Passal

More than 75 people today packed the press room at the State Office Building in St. Paul to show and voice their support for copper-nickel mining and the economic benefit it will bring to the state.

Several took a turn at the podium. They spoke about how mining has been successfully done on the Iron Range for more than 100 years, and this copper-nickel deposit is a great opportunity for future generations.

"We've been mining on the Range for 130 years. We know how to do it," said Sen. Dave Tomassoni. "This is the second largest copper deposit in the world, and we can do this right, too. This is what the state needs. If you want the economy to grow, this is the place to start."

Ely Mayor Roger Skraba said his community supports mining and has passed a resolution to show its support. "We have people coming to our community, who are not from our community, telling us what to do. I want to tell those people: Thanks for the advice, but I think we know what we want and we know how to do it."

Rep. Carly Melin said these are critical and strategic metals and Minnesota should capitalize on their demand. "These are the metals that everyone uses and depends on. They're in our phones, they're in our cars, and in wind turbines, just to name a few. We all use these metals and there's no reason to get these from a foreign country."

St. Louis County Board Chair Keith Nelson said these jobs are desperately needed, and state and federal regulators will ensure mining will be done safely. "If it can't be done safely here, it can't be done safely anywhere," said Nelson "These aren't temporary jobs. These are jobs for generations."

Rep. Tom Rukavina added, "When the Range hums, the state hums. It would be wise for the entire state to get behind us."


Copper Is Needed and We Should Mine It Here


Opinion: Frank Franson (Tower, Minn.)


During the last ten or more years, there has been much activity and discussion about mining ore containing copper and other metals. Copper and iron are by far the most useful and necessary elements in today’s society.


In our 2005 Dodge Durango I counted 12 electric motors and one generator. Examples of the motors are the starter, the windshield wipers, window openers, and heating and cooling fans and blowers. When I started counting motors in our house and elsewhere, I stopped at 20: washer, dryer, microwave, fans, blender, can openers, electric knife, etc.


On the large end of the scale are the huge generators and motors, transformers, transmission lines, telephone lines, and all the wiring in homes and other buildings. If I said that the number of miles of copper wire in use on this planet was in the billions, I don’t think I would be exaggerating. Even a small electric motor has yards of copper wire in it. Copper is the only practical element to use for all these purposes.


There are some people who oppose any copper mining, period. These same people depend on the copper products I just mentioned in their everyday living. They either never think about that, or if they do, they “sweep it under the rug and stomp on it.” They keep bringing up places like Sudbury, Ontario, with its past pollution.


There has been bad pollution in the past in some areas. The pollution was caused by the smelters. In the smelting process, the copper ores are roasted at high temperatures to separate the sulfur from the copper and other metals. At these temperatures the sulfur combines with oxygen in the air, forming sulfur dioxide, or SO2.


It is a bad news gas with about twice the density of air. It stinks and collects above the land and water. It kills vegetation and reacts with water, forming sulfuric acid, a strong corrosive.


There won’t be any smelters here to separate the sulfur from the metals. There is a new process that is going to be used. I don’t know just what it is yet. That is what PolyMet and various agencies are talking about right now. The “environmentalists” don’t know what it is yet either. To them, no matter what it is, it will pollute everything; they come up with false statements and numbers involving things they know nothing about, just to “toot their own horn.”


There is only so much copper ore left on this planet. The ore is found only in a limited number of places. The copper deposit here is anywhere from the third biggest to the biggest one in the world. If we don’t mine it here, we have to import it. Our trade deficit will increase, which we don’t need. We become dependent on other countries, and we all know what that can lead to with the oil situation. The world needs copper and lots of it. Copper mining here will be very closely monitored by various agencies. It has already been closely-studied for seven years and millions have been spent on it.


Mining copper here will benefit everybody in this country. There will be many long-lasting, good-paying jobs. Area schools and cities will be much better off. The state and federal governments will get more tax money.


It is time for the so-called “environmentalists” to wake up, open their eyes, quit trying to live in the past, get off that narrow minded, one track only path they are following and see 2012 the way it is.


PolyMet gains property for wetlands mitigation

Business North 

PolyMet Mining Corp. (NYSE Amex:PLM) has acquired control of land that it plans to restore to wetlands, creating adequate acreage for future replacement and mitigation.

PolyMet has entered into an agreement with AG for Waterfowl, LLP whereby PolyMet will pay $2 million in cash and issue 2,788,902 of its common shares and a warrant to purchase 1,083,333 additional common shares at $1.50 each at any time until Dec. 31, 2015, in exchange for a mortgage over land currently in agricultural use that AG will restore to wetlands.

“PolyMet must ensure that it has adequate acreage of suitable land that can be converted into replacement/mitigation wetlands,” said LaTisha Gietzen, vice president of public, governmental and environmental affairs. When combined with the company’s existing wetland mitigation options, the total land will ensure PolyMet has more than enough mitigation acres to meet regulatory requirements, she said.

The replacement ratio will be determined through permitting, but it will be greater than one-to-one.

The transaction will close upon approval by appropriate securities regulatory authorities, which is anticipated in early March.

PolyMet controls 100 percent of the development-stage NorthMet copper-nickel-precious metals ore-body and the nearby Erie Plant, located near Hoyt Lakes.

More permit streamlining in works

Mesabi Daily News

Katy Meeks 


ST. PAUL — A bill cleared a Senate committee Tuesday morning that may help accelerate state projects on the Range.


Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, sponsors the bill that would alter the timeline for businesses trying to obtain a permit to build or expand.


But the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is opposed.


Ingebrigtsen’s legislation adjusts the 2011 law passed as a part of Gov. Dayton’s executive order, which streamlined the permitting process to 150 days for businesses applying for permits through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.


Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids supports the measure.


“This follows through with the theme of the governor’s executive order from last year and just changes when the 150-day rule gets clicked on,” Saxhaug said, pointing out that this does not alter environmental standards required for permits.


Current law starts the clock when the PCA determines the application is complete and without any missing information. But the new legislation would begin that timeline as soon as the application is submitted, regardless of missing information. That means part of the 150 days may be spent by the PCA obtaining missing or incomplete information.


Ingebrigtsen said the bill would help businesses and government work together, without too much intrusion on government’s part.


“Our intent is to make sure it forces folks to pay attention,” he said Tuesday morning.


Saxhaug added that the bill would speed up decisions about statewide projects, which would allow Minnesota to be more competitive with other states. He said it could also help speed up Range projects, and not just mining.


“The hope is that this would be used for more than mining, but also forestry, energy and agribusiness projects too,” the senator said.


He gave the Magnetation project on the west Range as an example of one that may benefit.

But the MPCA isn’t too enthused.


Jeff Smith, director of the Industrial Division at the MPCA, argued against the bill and said it’s taking a step back.


He said under current the law, the clock doesn’t stop once it’s started. The bill simply changes when the clock actually starts, and he thinks the 150-day process shouldn’t begin until the application has been approved.


“Right now, the clock starts upon submission of a complete application and from the PCA’s point of view, the clock should start upon determination from the PCA that the application is complete,” he said. “It fulfills the obligation of the applicant to give us sufficient information so we can dedicate resources to work on the permit itself versus the back-and-forth of trying to get more information.”


Smith added that the MPCA already approves about 81 percent of permits in the 150 days.


The bill also allows for an easier application process for businesses by allowing them to hire someone to complete the work usually done by the state and appoint someone to help businesses with state agencies as they apply for permits.


The 150-day limit remains a goal, and if 150 days passes, both Gov. Dayton and the Legislature would receive information and an explanation of why the goal was missed.


The governor has not said whether he would support this specific legislation, but he does continue to support permitting reform, according to a spokesperson for Dayton.


“Permitting reform has been a priority for Governor Dayton since taking office, and we have seen a lot of bipartisan successes in this area,” the official said. And although the governor has met with Sen. Ingebrigtsen on his legislation, the official would not comment on the specific bill.


Next stop for the bill is the Senate floor after clearing Tuesday morning’s Finance committee.


Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, sponsors the House companion, which is headed to Ways and Means committee after clearing two others. The hearing is not yet scheduled.

Polymet Takes Issue with Star Tribune Story



PolyMet Mining Corp. (NYSE-A: PLM) says a Friday Minneapolis Star-Tribune story regarding environmental review of its NorthMet project was misleading.


The Star Tribune story, to which BusinessNorth carried a link on its web site, contained a schedule for completion of the PolyMet environmental review that misrepresented the timeline of comments from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PolyMet said. It incorrectly stated that the supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had been delayed while PolyMet collected additional groundwater sampling data, according to the mining company.


On Friday evening, the Star Tribune published an on-line revised version of the article, including a clarification that the EPA comments were received by state regulators on Sept. 1. PolyMet said the revised article did not address the fact that gathering additional groundwater sampling data has not contributed to delays in completion of the supplemental draft EIS.


According to PolyMet:


• In September 2011, the EPA evaluated the software package being used for environmental modeling. As part of that evaluation, the EPA stated that it "…is pleased that [PolyMet] and the co-lead agencies are pursuing collection of additional groundwater sampling data…"


• The EPA continued that, in its opinion, "the collection of additional baseline data is essential to providing relevant input to the modeling efforts…"


• The EPA also observed that proper quality assurance/quality control procedures needed to be incorporated into the model.


PolyMet said additional groundwater sampling is underway and initial results are in line with the results of previous sampling. Review of all aspects of the environmental modeling by the co-lead agencies is well advanced, and co-lead agency review of the QA/QC procedures is nearing completion. The supplemental draft EIS is being prepared under protocols agreed by the co-lead agencies, the EPA and others.


It had been the co-lead agencies' intent to incorporate the results of the additional groundwater sampling into the final EIS. The current timeline for completion of the supplemental draft EIS will enable these results to be incorporated into that document, said the mining firm.


"We are very pleased with the way that the co-lead agencies and the EPA are working closely together and addressing issues as they occur," Brad Moore, PolyMet's executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs said in a news release


Get the PolyMet mine open

Mesabi Daily News 

In last week's "Letters From Readers," Frank Franson said it right, the high grade hematite iron ore from the Soudan Mine was a necessary ingredient needed to mix with the iron ore from the Mesabi Range and Michigan.

The time has come now to get other sources of minerals our country needs. Get the PolyMet Mine open before it is too late.

We can go to the moon – look at what computers, cell phones and all the other gadgets out there do.

Copper is a must, just like many other minerals we use today all over the world.

Folks, we are not back in the 1920s or 1930s. I do believe with our new technology, PolyMet mining can go forward in creating new jobs and also creating an environment that is safe and clean for all.

Now, for all the environmentalists: "What are your groups doing to create new jobs here on the Iron Range?"

Leonard Stefanich


Twin Metals award

Mesabi Daily News 

SAINT PAUL – Twin Metals Minnesota, a joint venture pursuing the development of an underground copper, nickel and platinum group metals mine in Northeastern Minnesota, announced Tuesday that it has been selected as a recipient of Finance & Commerce's 2012 Progress Minnesota award.

The Progress Minnesota 2012 awards are an acknowledgement of individuals, companies and associations that are driving business, industrial growth and development in Minnesota in unique and innovative ways.

The awards honor Minnesota organizations that, through their investment of time, energy and ideas, have a significant impact on job creation, business development and the overall economic health of the state.

"As a new Minnesota company we are honored to have been selected by the state's leading industry associations for this award," said Bob McFarlin, vice president of public and government affairs. "It is gratifying and humbling to have the Minnesota business community supporting our growth and success."

Twin Metals Minnesota is currently conducting its project prefeasibility study. The study will evaluate project details, such as environmental impacts and controls, mine design, processing technologies, facility siting, transmission and transportation corridors, and job generation and other economic impacts. It is anticipated to be complete by mid-2013.

To date, Twin Metals Minnesota has invested more than $150 million in exploration and project development activities, supporting more than 120 direct, consultant and contractor jobs within Minnesota.

Twin Metals is 60 percent owned by Duluth Metals Limited and 40 percent by Antofagasta PLC. Twin Metals maintains offices in St. Paul, Ely and Babbitt.


Cardero reports deposits worthy of extraction

Mesabi Daily News
Charles Ramsay

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Estimates on two mineral resource deposits in central St. Louis County have deemed them "as being prime candidates for producing value added commodities of enriched titania feedstock and pig iron."

The Jan. 31 report done by SRK Consulting Inc. of Canada and posted by Cardero Resource Corp. on its website lists the Longnose and TiTac sites as "having reasonable prospects of economic extraction."

For the Longnose deposit, located northeast of Hoyt Lakes in Town 59-13 Section 30, Cardero said that SRK Consulting's determination was made based on extensive historical research; simple processing for ilmenite, which contains titanium and iron; recent demand for ilmenite; proximity to bulk mines and cheaper shipping routes.

The Longnose deposit showed an indicated resource of 58.1 million tons at 16.6 percent titanium oxide (TiO2) and 18.8 percent iron oxide (Fe203), while inferred resources were at 65.3 million tons, according to Cardero.

Data on the Longnose deposit "is robust and viable to support the mineral resource defined," SRK Consulting's report said. "The data has been well validated and the analyses have been found to be repeatable."

Exploration by Cardero at the TiTac deposit, southeast of Whiteface Reservoir in Town 55-14 Section 34, was done at its southern end, and "metallurgical optimization" of the highest grade of concentrate possible while cutting elements that may contaminate that, is more limited. Testing has yielded an inferred resource of 45 million tons at 15 percent titanium oxide and 14.7 percent iron oxide.

Titanium is used in paint products and high-end sports goods and medical components. 

Twin Metals Continues Winter Drilling

Mesabi Daily News
Charles Ramsay

Twin Metals is actively defining its potential future nonferrous mine and deposits by continuing with its latest drilling campaign this winter.

Along the way, the company is boosting the Range's economy by spending about $2.6 million monthly, and by employing the equivalent of 120 full-time workers, with overtime factored in.

The company is working with IDEA Drilling of Virginia, as well as Ruen Drilling of Idaho, as "we've been doing so much drilling," Twin Metals Vice President Bob McFarlin said Friday.

"We're really excited about the work we're doing in the field right now," he said.

Several local surveying companies, Virginia-based, are also busy doing project work.

The goal, a number of years away, is to operate an underground mine to extricate ore and process metals – copper, nickel, platinum, palladium and some gold.

A total of 11 rigs are busy on Twin Metals parcels this winter doing drilling for core samples and for further definition of deposits the company has. Eight rigs are working on the Nokomis and Maturi deposits, and three are busy over at Birch Lake.

The company's drilling campaign is part of its prefeasibility study that the company started in late October. Data and drilling cores will better define the extent of the underground nonferrous deposits, and will all lead toward an engineering study that will follow.

The prefeasibility study, which is expected to be ended by mid-2013, will accomplish several tasks: Get data ready for state and federal regulatory agencies; highlight environmental protection issues; help determine the mine's design and facility siting; determine the scope of ore processing; and locate power line and transportation corridors.

The study will take a range of possibilities "and narrow those options," McFarlin explained.

Gathering all that data will be crucial to helping regulators determine if and when the project can go ahead.

"It gets all the issues and questions they may have," McFarlin said. "And gets that on the table early."

While deposits are located separately, one thing that's becoming clearer is that they are "pretty continuous," he said.

Winter drilling has been the pattern for Twin Metals since it began in earnest, as frozen conditions facilitate drilling, and help protect wetlands and soils better.

McFarlin characterized the drilling as "rigorous" and a key part of determining future mine design and operations.

"We're pleased with the progress we're making so far," he added.

The company is committed to transparency, and community involvement, McFarlin said. They will give a presentation to the Babbitt City Council and public Monday, and then another one to the Lake County Board on Tuesday.

Twin Metals is a joint venture between Duluth Metals and mining giant Antofagasta of Chile. Duluth Metals acquired Franconia Minerals recently, and has 25,000 acres of property interests. Bechtel is the company's lead prefeasibility study consultant.