IDEA Drilling President Says Leasing Must Go Forward Soon

Mesabi Daily News

Opinion: Bill Travis, IDEA Drilling President

IDEA Drilling strongly recommends that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Executive Council approve the mineral leasing rights that were deferred last October.

This deferral is having an immediate adverse impact on employment in our region, and could have a longer term negative impact. Currently, some of our nonferrous and taconite customers have projects on hold as a result of the deferral. Consequently, we have some drill rigs sitting idle, some employees on temporary layoff, and our hiring plans have slowed down. I also expect that this is having an adverse impact on our vendors and suppliers, and possibly their employees.

Long-term, I am concerned the deferral and the lingering indecision by our state government send another negative message to mineral exploration companies and their investors … that Minnesota is not a favorable market place for their projects. These investments drive our business, and our hiring and investment activities.

I am not sure why the governor is not acting. I can tell you that IDEA Drilling understands and supports environmental responsibility. Our customers and our company are committed to doing these projects right … to protect our environment and to create long-term jobs and a strong economy in northeastern Minnesota.

A few months ago we retained Marty Vadis, former director of the Lands and Minerals Division of the DNR, to help us enhance our environmental business practices to ensure we are doing our part.

Also, please keep in mind that most of our employees and their families have lived in this area for generations. They treasure the great outdoors, spending their leisure time fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, biking, snowmobiling, etc.

IDEA Drilling and our employees, are committed to doing the right thing to protect and preserve our environment for generations to come.

Governor, it is time to act to help drive jobs in northeastern Minnesota. Thank you for your leadership.


PolyMet Update


Renee Passal

Phase 1 of PolyMet is $350 million dollars. CEO Joe Scipioni said that's like an investment of almost $1 million dollars a day, for a year.

"That's what our region is missing out on, while we wait for permits," he told the group of chamber members in Virginia. He was speaking at the Laurentian Chamber luncheon on Tuesday.

The base and precious metals project holds the promise of 360 jobs and hundreds of spin-off jobs. 

It's still in the lengthy permitting phase, with the crucial supplemental draft environmental impact statement to be out later this year.

Scipioni then turned the presentations to the myths that are out there about their project. There are a number of environmental groups that are strongly opposed to the project.

Some myths, according to PolyMet, include:

1) Hard rock mining is the biggest polluter. Scipioni contends it's actually the pollution from vehicles, ATVs, and boat motors.

2) PolyMet is a snowplow for all other project. (Meaning once PolyMet is permitted, all other projects will automatically be permitted through.) Scipioni said each project will be vetted and permitted on its own merits.

3) PolyMet is a wild rice killer. Scipioni said that they can move forward without any changes to the current sulfate standard.

Jerry Hoel, from Miners National Bank, came to the presentation to hear the latest. "We're all frustrated with the long wait. We have a stake in the future of this region, and mining is in our future."


China growth good news for metals industry, Iron Range

Duluth News Tribune
John Myers

’s economy will continue to grow at an annual pace of about 8.5 percent, spurring continued demand and higher prices for commodities worldwide, including iron ore from Minnesota.

That was the report Wednesday afternoon from Wells Fargo chief economist Eugenio Aleman, who spoke to the annual convention of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

The continued growth in China, while down from the torrid pace of 14 percent seen in 2007, also is enough to keep demand up for metals like copper, nickel and platinum that are the target of proposed new mining projects in the region.

Copper now sits at about $3.76 per pound, down some from recent record highs but still more than triple what it was just a decade ago. That’s good news now for countries like Chile that produce a lot of copper, Aleman said, and good news for the fledgling Minnesota copper industry expected to start within a few years.

“We expect commodity process to remain elevated,’’ Aleman told the convention.

Aleman predicts much slower growth for the U.S. economy, about 2.1 percent this year and 2.2 percent next year. U.S. economic growth continues to be held back by nagging unemployment and by the housing crisis that shows more than one in five U.S. homeowners owes more on their house than it’s worth.

While manufacturing and service sectors are growing at a healthy pace, Aleman said the U.S. economy remains vulnerable to rising oil prices as global demand increases and potential instability looms. He said all bets on economic growth are off if an armed conflict occurs between western nations and Iran, a crisis that could push world oil prices up 40 percent and send the global economy into a tailspin and gasoline far beyond $4 per gallon.

Aleman also said Europe remains on the brink of a longer crisis if the Italian economic and debt crisis worsens. Unlike Greece, he said, the European Union doesn’t have enough money available to bail out Italy.


No reason to delay mineral lease decision

Mesabi Daily News 

Minnesota’s Executive Council had what should have been a routine decision on the table at its October meeting — to approve or deny mineral leasing rights sought by mining companies.

For the past 15 years of so copper/nickel/precious metals exploration and plans for mining development have moved forward on a routine basis. But when a handful of landowners raised concerns about mining companies leasing rights to mineral deposits under their properties — which has been common practice — the Executive Council got cold feet and put off a decision, supposedly until April.

But when the council met in March, the issue was addressed. And now, as we near the end of April, there still in no decision. And last week, it was announced by a Department of Natural Resources official that the Executive Council won’t meet on the issue until June.

The excuse given is that Executive Council members are waiting for some legislative action on the issue to better clarify the process. But last fall, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said there really is no need for the Legislature to act on the issue. And to hear that the Executive Council members are waiting for this do-nothing Legislature of 2012 to do something before it can put through important mineral leasing rights is laughable.

So let’s see if we have this straight: The Executive Council is waiting for the Legislature — which is totally dysfunctional this year — to act on something that isn’t even needed before it can allow mineral leasing rights for four companies that have already had their bids accepted for nonferrous exploration.

There is simply no excuse for this delay. It sends a terrible anti-economic development message to companies that provide good-paying jobs.

Sitting on the Executive Council is Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

But this lack of decision falls on one person on the council — Gov. Dayton. He is the executive of the Executive Council. He could call a meeting at any time to let the leases flow.

He should have supported the mineral leases last October. And he certainly now should not wait for some unnecessary cover from an indecisive Legislature.

EDITORIAL: We need strong advocacy for our resource-based economic future

Mesabi Daily News 

Amid the doom and gloom of economic news in different parts of the country, there is a boom going on just to our west in North Dakota.

It is a resource-based boom — in this case oil.

And there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be experiencing our own resource-based boom sooner, not later or not at all — in our case mining of our traditional taconite, the recent surge in non-traditional conversion of waste into concentrate (Magnetation) and new copper/nickel/precious metals ventures (PolyMet, Twin Metals and others).

Here are very positive results of the North Dakota oil boom:

• Williston, N.D., is the fastest-growing small city in the country. From April 2010 to July 2011 its population grew by 8.8 percent to 24,374 residents. That translates obviously into more jobs, more paychecks being cashed with the money spent locally; more families needing additional housing to be built; more students in schools; more communities with coffers filled rather than dwindling, which again means more jobs rather than layoffs.

• North Dakota, tiny in population but large in land mass, has supplanted California, which is big in everything, including debt, as the nation’s third-biggest oil-producing state, after Texas and Alaska.

• Of the 15 counties in the country with the lowest unemployment rates, 11 are in North Dakota. In Williston’s Williams County, just 0.8 percent of residents don't have a job, while the national unemployment rate continues above 8 percent. And, on the Range, even though the taconite mines are running full speed, we continue to have near-double digit unemployment.

• Meanwhile, the state, and therefore its residents, are benefiting greatly from the boom. Some of the record revenue now flows into a state trust fund, which is used to cut property taxes. Yet even with that gesture, the state will still run a $1 billion surplus for the two-year budget, nearly all of which will fund infrastructure in its fastest-growing areas.

• Here’s what an answering machine recording at the Williston Chamber of Commerce says: “Please keep in mind that while jobs are abundant, housing is scarce.”

Yes, with a boom comes growing pains. Housing shortages, schools bulging with students and in need of additional staffing and room, and more traffic and crime. There is no utopia. But oh how much better is it to deal with problems of growth than with declining population, tax base and enrollments.

But we are a country that has thrived on growth, expansion, building things and being flexible to adjust to changing times and events. We are not, and should never be, a status quo, pull-on-the reins nation.

And so the Iron Range should join the Dakotas and others states west of us as a boom region.

We have the minerals that the country and the world need to provide better lives for everyone in a more clean environment. And we have the modern technological tools to make that happen in harmony with nature.

This great country was built on the hard work of its people and the natural resources we are blessed to have and to put to good use.

The Iron Range is poised for some very good economic resource-based times. But it will not happen if the delay tactics of opponents to growth and expansion in Minnesota succeed in using a public megaphone to arouse misguided fears of nonferrous mining based on projects not remotely similar to those currently being developed and of a time decades ago prior to current regulations and technology.

The state, along with its politicians and bureaucrats in key decision-making and influential positions, can either be partners in a strong economic growth of northeastern Minnesota or a hindrance by mouthing all the right words but then acquiescing to the maneuvers of others trying to stop these projects.

It’s way past time for state leaders to be out-front on resource-based growth for the state. To those who have done so, including Range DFL legislators and 8th District Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, we roundly applaud your efforts and encourage you to continue making a difference and moving these projects ahead.

But to those who continually use their positions of power to try to block such an important economic initiative and side far too often with all the naysayers of resource-based growth, shame on you. 

In the end, they will be judged by actions, not words.