Will the U.S. Mine for Rare Earth and Exotic Minerals? – OpEd
May 14, 2021
A conservative cost put the clean energy transition at $1.7 trillion needed for mining of copper, cobalt, lithium and other rare earth and exotic metals and minerals. This transition will supposedly fuel electric vehicles (EVs) being cheaper than gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2027, and electric SUVs cheaper by 2026, according to BloombergNEF. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a new report found renewable installations for energy to electricity “soared to 280 GW globally in 2020, up 45% from 2019,” with “renewables (solar and wind) accounting for 90% of global electric capacity installations in 2021 and 2022.”
These are major reasons why the Biden administration is set to approve the first large-scale offshore wind farm, “an 800-megawatt project off the coast of Massachusetts.” Unknown to the U.S. President this wind farm installation will lead to wrecking a beautiful coastline over enormous land and ocean/sea requirements for renewables, and increased emissions since renewables have to be backstopped by fossil fuels or zero-carbon nuclear when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
President Biden wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% before 2030 without giving a detailed plan on a transition from fossil fuels and nuclear that will be incomprehensibly expensive and technologically impossible. Furthermore, renewables used for baseload electricity needs have led to grid blackouts in Texas, California, Germany, and Australia.
Obviously, tens of millions of tons of mining for rare earth and exotic minerals are required for this low-to-zero carbon future. For now, renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage overwhelmingly rely on China for rare earth/exotic minerals needed for solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage systems to work as advertised. The U.S. Geologic Survey has highlighted 35 key rare earth elements used in “clean” energy technologies, but imports account for 14 out of 17 of the most basic ones.
Low-carbon futures, clean energy transitions, decarbonizing electrical grids, or a Green New Deal will only succeed with “major increases in U.S. mining and processing – unless (we) want to make America even more dependent on China and Russia.” A recent Wall Street Journal article exclaimed: “A Good Battery is the Best Defense Against a Military Assault.” These are national security mineral and metals for 21st century technologies. The case can be made rare earth metals and exotic minerals are the new realist balancing option between the U.S. versus China for global hegemony.
Currently, rare earth metals and minerals mined in the U.S. are treated in China “to pay the cheaper prices associated with processing under China’s abominable pollution, wage and workplace safety rules.” The U.S. can no longer ignore the geopolitical risks, environmental degradations, and Chinese hostility if it wants to build a decarbonized, green economy. The Biden administration has a mining conundrum to overcome. Eco-activists have largely succeeded in banning U.S. mining; over the U.S. having an abundant amount of metal and minerals necessary to support and build clean technologies.
The U.S. has only one operating rare-earth mine – Mountain Pass – which lost over two years of production due to a 2016 bankruptcy. Mountain Pass sends their mined ore to China for processing due to high environmental compliance costs – including regulatory minefields, and a byzantine quandary of local, state, and federal rules. Typical permits can take 2-3 decades to commence basic mining operations on mineral-laded federal and state lands.
During the final months of the Trump administration the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expanded mining operations on federal lands, allowed fast-track of mining permits, approved a new lithium mine in Nevada, and approved a land swap deal in Arizona for a copper mine. All actions took effect on January 15, 2021, and was applauded by Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association saying:
“American mining is key to successfully repairing our nation’s infrastructure, (and) the very technologies essential to our recovering economy will be built on a foundation provided by mining.”
These moves allow the Biden administration an opportunity to meet critical rare earth and exotic mineral demands. The downside is China can undercut any progress through its “unfair advantages from ‘unethical’ and ‘dirty’ mining and forced labor practices.” China has ravaged their environment health and enslaved Chinese citizens over mining for these clean energy minerals and metals. Will Democrat-aligned lawmakers and environmentalists’ allow these atrocities to continue?
Likely so, since Biden’s Vice President is adamantly opposed to new mining over climate change, his Interior Secretary opposes fast-track approvals for mining, and Green groups who support Biden along with Native American tribes all fight new mines in Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona.
The sobering reality is all solar panels, wind turbines, EVs, utility-scale and home energy storage systems “are far more mineral and metal intensive than conventional source such as fossil fuels.” Whether you like it or not: “renewable energy (all types) needs huge mineral supply.”
If mining doesn’t occur in the U.S., then China, Russia, the Congo, and other human right abusers’ flourish. The reason why, the climate charade that will be solved using renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage. But the mining will take place somewhere. Unwise energy and mining policies continue when climates constantly change. When humans didn’t exist, it was warmer than today.
We are consistently told if we don’t do something now for climate change the world will end as we know it, however, the United Nations “expects the average person by 2100 to earn 450% of today’s income. Climate (change) will reduce that to 434%.” Made up end-of-the-world problems over the untruthful narrative the world is burning up when factually the U.S. isn’t transitioning to renewables for electricity anytime soon according to energy professor and author Vaclav Smil.
Foolish reasons to not mine and create billions in economic benefits and tens of thousands of jobs over politicized climate change. Three climate science experts Steven Koonin, Richard Lindzen and William Happer have convincingly shown the earth has heated approximately 1 degree Celsius this century. This isn’t a catastrophe, it’s time to mine appropriately in the U.S.
National View: “Made in America” Needs to Also Mean “Mined in America”
Duluth News Tribune
April 5, 2021
*Mark Compton is the Executive Director of the American Exploration and Mining Association
From where does milk come? Regrettably, for too many, the answer is, “From the grocery store, of course!” It seems the cow’s vital role in the supply chain is often overlooked.
As a society, we don’t give much thought to the origins of the products we depend on every day. We may notice if something is made in America or abroad, but even if it is manufactured here, from where did the raw materials — the minerals and metals — come?
Far too often, the answer is from a foreign country and usually one with a far lower environmental ethos than ours.
We have heard a lot over the years about the importance of energy independence, but it is equally important that we be minerals independent.
Minerals and metals are the building blocks for everything from infrastructure and health care to national defense, clean energy, and electric vehicles. This necessitates a reliable domestic supply chain.
Unfortunately, a lack of access to economically viable mineral deposits and an inefficient federal permitting system leave our nation vulnerable.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States is 100% reliant on imports for 17 mineral commodities and greater than 50% reliant on imports for another 29 — despite our nation having tremendous mineral wealth. Our mineral dependency is at a record high, and it comes with serious consequences. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the vulnerabilities that exist in critical U.S. supply chains, including our reliance on imported minerals.
Securing our supply chains is a bipartisan effort, evidenced by the attention our dangerous mineral import reliance has received from both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations.
President Biden in February issued an executive order to secure America’s supply chains, directing agencies across the federal government to immediately evaluate supply-chain risks in four specific areas: semiconductor manufacturing, high-capacity batteries, critical minerals, and pharmaceuticals. It requires sector-specific reviews over the next year, specifically the defense, information communications technology, energy, transportation, public health, and food sectors. The order also directs continued work pursuant to President Trump’s executive order on “Addressing the Threat to the Domestic Supply Chain From Reliance on Critical Minerals From Foreign Adversaries and Supporting the Domestic Mining and Processing Industries.”
If we are going to “build back better,” as Biden vows, by addressing our crumbling infrastructure, revitalizing domestic manufacturing, tackling climate change by developing clean-energy infrastructure, and pushing greater production of electric vehicles, these supply-chain realities must be considered. Demand for metals used in electric vehicles is expected to sharply rise as automakers plan major expansions of electric-vehicle production. Thankfully, the aforementioned executive orders give our critical supply-chain issues, including minerals, the attention they deserve.
The challenge our domestic minerals industry faces is the acknowledgment that our mineral supply chain issues run counter to actions taken by the Biden administration and Congress to restrict access to mineral deposits. Executive orders pausing an already lengthy permitting process, the “30 by 30” initiative to preserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, and legislation banning mining on millions of acres of federal land will discourage exploration, development, and production of minerals in the U.S., increase our reliance on foreign countries, and make “build-back-better” priorities impossible to achieve.
Mineral deposits are unique geologic phenomena. In a 1999 report, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recognized just how rare mineral deposits are: “Only a very small portion of Earth’s continental crust (less than 0.01%) contains economically viable mineral deposits. Thus, mines can only be located in those few places where economically viable deposits were formed and discovered.”
In order to secure our supply chains, we must have access to search for and responsibly develop viable mineral deposits and be able to permit projects in a timely manner. Keeping lands open to exploration and development improves the odds of finding the “needle in the haystack” mineral deposit. Unfortunately, already more than half of federal lands are off limits to mining, and the continuous efforts to further restrict access put American workers and the mining industry on the sideline when mineral demand is set to skyrocket to meet the Biden administration’s green-energy objectives.
Fortunately, this is not an either/or proposition. Mining and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. We can be pro-mining while also being pro-environment. Federal and state agencies’ current environmental-protection requirements for minerals provide effective and comprehensive protection that safeguards all aspects of the environment, including water resources, wildlife, special status species, air quality, cultural resources, soils, vegetation, and visual resources.
Furthermore, current federal and state financial-assurance programs guarantee mines will be reclaimed. The bottom line is that, in the U.S., we mine with the best environmental protections and the most robust worker safety standards in the world.
As President Biden noted in his recent executive order, “Resilient American supply chains will revitalize and rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity, maintain America’s competitive edge in research and development, and create well-paying jobs. They will also support small businesses, promote prosperity, advance the fight against climate change, and encourage economic growth in communities of color and economically distressed areas.”
Mined products are key to the advanced, technological, and more healthful existence we all enjoy. Like food and water, minerals are essential, and it’s more important than ever for the U.S. to responsibly utilize our own resources. Securing our domestic mineral supply chains is essential for our environment, our communities, and all Americans.
President Biden also issued a “Buy American” executive order “to support manufacturers, businesses, and workers to ensure that our future is made in all of America by all of America’s workers.”
So, let’s give proper credit to the cows that produce our milk. While we’re at it, let’s recognize the miner who makes our everyday life possible. After all, if it cannot be grown, it has to be mined. As supply-chain realities dictate, we can only make it here if we mine it here.
U.S. Mines Produced $82 Billion in Minerals Last Year [Infographic]
Niall McCarthy (Feb. 4, 2021)
The U.S. Geological Survey has announced that American mines produced approximately $82.3 billion worth of minerals last year, lower than the $83.7 billion unearthed in 2019. The figure comes from the 26th annual Mineral Commodity Summaries Report published by the USGS National Minerals Information Center and it was actually a decent performance given Covid-19’s impact on the global economy throughout 2020. In general, U.S. mines were not subject to stay-at-home orders because they were deemed critical industries but decreased demand from downstream industries still resulted in reduced production at some operations.
The report states that the estimated value of metals production grew 3% to $27.7 billion, primarily as a result of increased prices for precious metals. For example, gold reached a record-high price of $2,060 per troy ounce in August. The primary contributors to the total value of U.S. metal production last year were gold (38%), copper (27%), iron ore (15%), and zinc (6%). Industrial mineral production totaled about $54.6 billion, of which $27 billion was construction aggregates production such as sand, gravel and crushed stone. Despite the production figures, the report states that the U.S. still relies heavily on foreign sources for raw and processed minerals with imports making up for than half of U.S. consumption of 46 nonfuel mineral commodities.
Last year, every single U.S. state contributed to the total dollar value of America’s mineral mix with 12 mining more than $2 billion worth of commodities – Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Missouri, Michigan, Wyoming, and Georgia. Nevada is well known for mineral extraction and it is home to the world’s most lucrative gold mine which churns out approximately 116 tons of the precious metal every year. In 2020, Nevada had the highest value of mineral production in the U.S. at $9.14 billion. It was followed by Arizona and Texas with around $7 billion and $6 billion, respectively.
Editorial Counterpoint: Buy American? Block Minnesota Mining? Choose One.
Lisa Rudstrom (Feb. 3. 2021)
*Lisa Rudstrom teaches high school physics, chemistry and environmental science at Virginia High School in the newly formed Rock Ridge school district and serves on the board of directors for Better In Our Back Yard.
On Jan. 30, the Star Tribune Editorial Board applauded President Joe Biden’s “Buy American” push (“Biden gets serious on ‘Buy American’ “), welcoming his call for “domestic alternatives” and writing that “the need to protect American-made supplies was made abundantly clear at the outset of the pandemic.”
Twenty-four hours later, in “Renew the push to protect BWCA” (Jan. 31) the Editorial Board contradicted its support for domestic supply chains with a passionate call to turn our backs on a tremendous domestic resource of strategic minerals in northeast Minnesota.
This series of pronouncements was dizzying in its self-contradictions and huge intellectual leaps. As an Iron Ranger and a lifelong science teacher and educator perusing the articles on her lunch break, I struggled to follow the logic.
The proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine, located between the cities of Ely and Babbitt, targets a unique deposit that holds 95% of the country’s known domestic nickel reserves, 88% of the cobalt, 75% of the platinum group metals and 34% of copper reserves. These minerals — which can only be mined — are not only key for our national economic security and reducing our overreliance on foreign sources, but they’re also critical to our nation’s transition to a low-carbon future.
The supply chain starts here. We simply can’t power the new green economy without them. Iron mined from northeast Minnesota helped build our country and win wars. Copper and nickel can be the elements that propel our nation into the future.
Now let’s talk about the Editorial Board’s massive leap, trying to tie Biden’s 30 by 30 plan, which aims to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, to the Twin Metals project. First, the faulty assumption often made by this metro publication and its metro legislators is that if you’re pro-mining and pro-jobs, then you’re anti-environment.
Nothing could be further from the truth, or more insulting to those of us who have lived, worked and played in northern Minnesota for most of our lives. We are all environmentalists. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is a resource that all of us in my area truly cherish. And yes, we 100% support protecting it.
Here’s the kicker — there are long-established laws and regulatory processes already in place to ensure the BWCA remains untouched and pristine. Those same laws also include built-in state and federal buffer zones around the wilderness for an added measure of protection.
What does this mean? No mine can earn permits without proving that it will meet or exceed all environmental standards through a rigorous, yearslong regulatory review. The Twin Metals project will be evaluated through science and law-based regulatory processes led by multiple state and federal agencies tasked with evaluating environmental impact and standards, as well as social and economic impacts.
Please let me kindly debunk another misperception. The Twin Metals project is not located in the BWCA, despite the rhetoric from anti-mining groups implying otherwise, and sits well outside the state and federal buffer zones designed to protect the wilderness.
At least the Editorial Board for the Duluth News Tribune (“Resist rhetoric, follow process for mining proposals,”) is sensible enough to call out the political maneuverings that seek to seed mistrust in an already established government process: “The politics and overreach have only continued with bills introduced last year and this year in both St. Paul and Washington, D.C., seeking to ban copper-nickel mining outright” they write, adding that this is a “ ’desperate attempt by anti-mining groups to kill an industry.’ ”
This game of attempting to change the rules to prevent an unforeseen future from happening is unnecessary and sets a dangerous precedent for all highly regulated industries, not just mining.
Once we put the rhetoric and the politics aside, we can more clearly see that we’re really vying for the same things — a robust domestic supply chain of critical resources in support of Biden’s Made in America efforts, a transition to a low-carbon economy, sustainable communities, and continued protection for our state’s beloved natural resources. We can have all those things and mine too. Let the science prove it.
MiningMN Statement to Friends Tourism Report
MiningMN Statement to Friends Tourism Study
POLYMET SUBMITS ITS AIR QUALITY PLANS
CEO EXPECTS MINING APPLICATION-THE FINAL PERMIT IN COMING WEEKS
Jerry Burnes Managing Editor (Mesabi Daily News)
HOYT LAKES — PolyMet took another step forward Wednesday by submitting its air quality permit application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The permit is one of several major applications for the company’s NorthMet copper/nickel/precious metals mine near Hoyt Lakes.
“As with our water permit applications, we took great care to ensure our air permit application provides full details of how we will meet air quality standards and protect the environment,” said Jon Cherry, PolyMet president and CEO, in a statement.
PolyMet’s filing comes a day after an environmentalist group from Duluth asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to consider an administrative law judge to oversee independent hearings on its permit to mine application.
The request was called a stall tactic by mining supporters.
The DNR said in a statement that it is too early for the state to declare a contested case since PolyMet hasn’t submitted a permit.
Cherry said the mining permit is the last major hurdle, and he expects it will be submitted in the coming weeks.
Today’s air quality permit covers the type and volume of emissions from the project, methods to control and monitor those emissions and the rules and regulations applying to the operation.
PolyMet was cleared for permits in March after nearly 10 years of review that saw the company spend more than $90 million.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr called the process “deliberative and thorough” at the time.
PolyMet is expected to cost $650 million to build and would create 300 jobs, with several more construction and spin-off jobs expected.
Rush of interest in Northland gold
EMO, Ontario — Just 40 miles northwest of International Falls, amid hayfields and swampland and forest that look much like northern Minnesota, New Gold Inc. is digging an all-new gold mine.
Drill rigs are boring deep into rock. Giant shovels have already dug a hole nearly mile long and quarter-mile wide. Beefy 240-ton haul trucks are carrying thick clay and overburden away to expose veins of gold-bearing rock. A massive crushing and processing plant is under construction nearby.
The open pit operation, which will later include underground mining as well, is expected to start producing, by mid-2017, an estimated 325,000 ounces of gold and 480,000 ounces of silver each year.
For those keeping score at home, the so-called Rainy River mine would gross more than $430 million each year at current gold and silver prices. The mine is expected to produce for 15 years or more.
But Toronto-based New Gold isn’t the only one that has found gold in the region, and geologists note that the same Superior Province rock formation that supports successful gold mines across Quebec and Ontario runs right across the Minnesota border and into the northern counties of the state.
“Two-billion-year-old rock doesn’t care about 200-year-old political boundaries. It’s the same formation here,” said Don Elsenheimer, geologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Combine an historically solid price, with gold now above $1,300 per ounce, add some pent-up demand after several years of little or no prospecting when gold prices were down, then throw in increased evidence that more gold lies below Minnesota fields and forests — and the region is suddenly a hotbed of gold interest.
Gold prices launched from $400 per ounce in 2004 to $1,900 in 2011 before settling in the $1,300 range recently. New Gold says it can make money at the new Rainy River mine at less than half the current price.
“With prices where they are, there are good margins for gold right now for most companies. Couple that with some pretty substantial findings and that’s why you are seeing gold interest in northern Minnesota and that’s why they are building a mine just across the border,” said Rick Sandri, president of Minneapolis-based Vermillion Gold.
As long as gold remains above $1,200 per ounce, Sandri said, Minnesota will continue to draw interest and exploration.
In addition to New Gold’s Rainy River project:
- Two other Canadian companies are looking for gold in projects just outside Quetico Provincial Park — the Hammond Reef and Moss Lake projects — where old gold mines operated decades ago, not far from Atikokan.
- On Minnesota’s Iron Range, just outside Virginia, Vermillion Gold is prospecting in a promising area of called the Virginia Horn. “We’ve intercepted gold in multiple locations in the Horn,” Sandri said. The company also is looking hard in northwestern St. Louis County, north of Cook, with the Department of Natural Resources announcing earlier this month that Vermillion Gold will drill 10 new drill holes using sonic drills that essentially capture soil samples.
- AngloGold Ashanti is exploring in southeastern Koochiching County, not far from New Gold’s focus. AngloGold is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has a North American office in Centennial, Colo. It is the third-largest gold mining company in the world with 17 operating mines in nine countries. The company also has several exploration programs in both established and new gold-producing areas.
- Both PolyMet and Twin Metals have identified large amounts of gold mixed in with the copper and nickel they plan to mine — so much so that they are counting on gold (along with major deposits of silver, palladium and platinum) in their business plans.
- Over the past two years the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Lands and Minerals Division has released reports of major discoveries of gold grains on the forest floor, including a hotspot near Tower. It’s the same type of prospecting used to encourage more exploration where the New Gold mine is going in now. “This new data set strongly points towards the presence of gold within the focus area’s underlying bedrock,” the DNR said in a January report on the Tower-area finding.
That there’s gold under the Northland’s forests and swamps isn’t geologically questioned. The questions until now have always been how much, and is it worth it to start digging?
The answer to the first question is, apparently, lots. New Gold is quickly answering the second with their $900 million project employing nearly 400 workers when open pit operations start next year and as many as 600 when underground operations begin a few years from now.
Exploration at the site started as early as 1967. And even though there is no gold-bearing rock formation sticking out of the ground in this area, Canadian government geologists in the 1990s found gold grains in the soil in the area with strong indication they were from nearby. Rough gold grains indicate they came from nearby underground deposits. Smooth grains indicate they were scraped by glaciers and could be from gold deposits that are hundreds of miles away.
“The word we like to use is gnarly,” Sandri said. “And we’ve been finding those gnarly grains. It’s not a guarantee. But it’s becoming more accepted as a very good indicator” that mineable gold lies below.
It wasn’t until June 2005, when Rainy River Resources acquired rights to the area, that exploration honed in on the current mine site. New Gold acquired the Rainy River project in the fall of 2013. According to company reports, some 1,435 holes totaling more than 2 million feet of rock sample have been punched into the property since prospecting started in the ’60s.
The Rainy River project received its environmental approval in early 2015 from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Construction started in earnest last year.
A mid-sized player in the global gold market, New Gold currently has four operating mines — the New Afton copper-gold mine in British Columbia, the Mesquite gold mine in California, the Peak gold-copper mine in Australia and the Cerro San Pedro gold-silver mine in Mexico.
At Rainy River, the main pit will be about a mile long and about that wide and will step down over 25 benches to more than 650 feet deep. The company will use 22 big haul trucks to move the ore out of the mine to the new processing plant a quarter-mile away.
The operations, now being scraped and dug and formed out of what had been undeveloped land, look like a smaller version of a Minnesota taconite iron ore operation. Drill rigs and explosives will rip the ore off the mine wall. Giant shovels will fill haul trucks which will take the raw product a to a primary crusher. A series of crushers will pulverize the ore.
From then on the process is different, with a chemical process — using hydrogen cyanide — used to pull the valuable gold and silver away from the waste rock. There’s no heating or pelletizing of the finished product.
The gold will leave the processing plant in bars, in armored cars, likely headed for a Canadian mint to be further refined for purity.
Waste rock will go to stockpiles or slurried to a huge tailings basin impoundment, much the way Iron Range operations work.
New jobs, new life
The Rainy River site was touted, much like northern Minnesota is marketed, as an easy-access, mining-friendly location free from political tumult and social unrest. The site also has easy access to electricity, highways and to nearby Fort Frances, a city of 10,000 people that has an available workforce that was hard hit by the downsizing of the region’s forest products industry.
The New Gold mine is offering jobs for many of the former paper mill workers, truckers and loggers who have lost their jobs over the past decade, local business owners said.
Emo, a half-hour west of Fort Frances, is the closest developed area to the mine, with 1,300 residents, grocery and hardware stores, gas stations, schools and homes for sale and rent.
“There were 1,000 people in the (Fort Frances) paper mill when I was in high school. They had 250 people in there when it closed” in 2012, said Dave Goodman, owner of an ATV and snowmobile shop in Emo. “A lot of those people had to go up to Alberta (oil fields) or Red Lake (Ontario gold mines) to get jobs. Now they have a chance to come and work at home again and still have a good job.”
There have been promises of a gold mine opening here for nearly 20 years, Goodman noted. More than 15 years ago developers built a new subdivision in Emo. Now, it’s starting to fill up. Another subdivision opened recently. Local construction companies are expanding, hired by New Gold to build roads and water diversions at the mine site. Stores are busy again with New Gold and its employees buying supplies. The city more than doubled the size of its sewage treatment plant to be ready for growth.
Housing is so tight that Goodman purchased a home in Emo so a new mechanic technician had a place to live.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a boom town. There’s isn’t a lot of new businesses going up. But you can tell there’s more business. There’s more optimism. People are expanding. People are buying,” Goodman said. “I think the fact we’ve seen this out there for 15, 20 years, has helped give people time.”
But Goodman also has a warning for any entrepreneurs anywhere a new mine is first proposed.
“Don’t go build a brand-new motel when they first start talking about it because you’ll be redecorating the rooms before the mine actually opens,” he said.
Indeed, it took more than 10 years for the Rainy River project to get through the planning and environmental review stages — much like the PolyMet copper mine proposed for northern Minnesota.
“That’s just they way it goes with mining projects in this day and age. It’s a very complicated process. We underwent the most stringent environmental review of any mine in Canadian history,” said Grant Goddard, general manager in charge of opening the New Gold mine.
Goddard said the project has gone well, with the focus now on expanding from the current 200 employees to more than 400 by year’s end.
The company is holding job fairs across the Rainy River region this summer. So far, more than 75 percent of employees are local, and more than 35 percent of the new workforce are from local Ojibwe bands.
New Gold officials say they don’t necessarily need workers with mining experience. Instead, they are looking for people “with shared values” that the company espouses.
“We can teach people to operate machinery, if they have the right values,” said Goddard, who has 37 years in the mining industry in several countries. “That’s why I came on with New Gold. They do things differently. They take the long approach.”
Little opposition, smaller footprint
The New Gold mine is close to the Pinewood River, which drains into the Rainy River that runs along the Minnesota-Ontario border before running into Lake of the Woods, with the water continuing north to Hudson Bay.
The New Gold project saw little formal opposition, unlike proposed Minnesota copper mines. While some Ojibwe elders expressed concerns over mine runoff and potential water pollution, there’s been little public criticism. Far from any major Canadian population base, New Gold found open arms near Emo.
“Nobody around here would say no to these jobs,” Goodman said. “They (New Gold) have been a very good company to work with. They’ve become part of the community.”
New Gold is using electric-powered haul trucks to reduce noise. They are working to keep lighting minimized and pointed down to avoid illuminating the rural night sky. And they are holding regular meetings with neighbors to get input on issues such as construction trucks on local roads.
The project underwent years of environmental review by both Canadian and Ontario agencies, with permitting issues similar to Minnesota mines. Like Minnesota, much of the focus has been on water quality. New Gold has spent millions of dollars to dam water that previously flowed through the site and move it around the mine site so it doesn’t mingle with water used in the mining process.
Moreover, most of the gold is not locked inside high-sulfur rock, Goddard and geologists note, so there’s less concern about sulfide-tained runoff.
“If we run into acid-generating rock we set that aside, on a lined disposal area. But for the most part, that’s not an issue here,” Goddard said. “We have great neutralizing capacity” in the rock in the area of the mine that mitigates any acidity.
The DNR’s Elsenheimer agreed that extracting gold, in general, has less potential to spur water problems.
“Gold is a different animal,” he said. “It’s not that there aren’t concerns with gold mining. … But gold is a native element mineral. When you find a gold deposit it’s going to be in a rock that has far less sulfur content than a deposit of copper and nickel…. Copper and nickel are bound in sulfide minerals.”
Vermillion Gold’s Sandri said gold mines are generally smaller than iron ore or copper mines, handling less rock and producing less waste material.
“Gold mines have a much smaller footprint. You’re are going after a much smaller pocket” of valuable material, Sandri said. “In gold, we talk in terms of grams and ounces, not tons.”
At an iron ore mine, shovels have to dig up about 300 tons of rock to get 100 tons of good taconite. In a gold mining operation, you need to dig about a ton of rock just to find one gram of gold, Sandri said. There are 31 grams in each ounce.
“But you have to realize that, while we are talking very small volumes, it’s very valuable,” Sandri said. “One gram of gold right now is worth about the same as one ton of finished taconite, so it doesn’t take a lot to make it pay.”
“That,” he added, “is why we’re looking for it so hard right now.”
The American Museum of Natural History reports that gold is so rare, even though it’s been mined by people for 6,000 years, that all of the gold ever produced by humans, 152,000 tons, would fit in a cube measuring just 66 by 66 feet. In comparison, each year 907 million metric tons of iron are produced worldwide, or 6,000 times the total gold produced throughout history.
SUPPORTERS FIGHT FOR TWIN METALS
The rally at Whiteside Park in Ely Tuesday had the feel of a summer festival.
The U.S. Forest Service listening session about an hour later in the Ely High School auditorium was much more tense.
The issue of copper/nickel/precious metal mining will do that.
The pro-Twin Metals rally at Whiteside Park attracted about 350 supporters who then walked in unity to the high school a few blocks away.
The listening session drew a crowd of 800-850, with overwhelming support for federal leases to be renewed for continued Twin Metals exploration near Ely and Babbitt.
The 5 to 7:30 p.m. hearing in the Ely High School auditorium drew a spirited group of supporters and opponents, who offered sharply contrasting views on a possible nonferrous mine.
Testimony at the Forest Service gathering only layered on top of already strong conflicting views that have been presented repeatedly at meetings, including a session a week ago in Duluth.
But Tuesday’s session in Ely was much more feisty than the Duluth event. The applause from both sides, but especially by Twin Metals backers, was sharp and with passion.
Those supporting renewal of the leases did not shy from voicing their disagreement when opponents were trying to make points ranging from this is a national, not local issue, to everything is just fine with Ely’s economy, despite the shuttered storefronts on the city’s main drag.
And when persistent mining critic Bob Tammen of Soudan took the microphone for a second three-minute stint — he first spoke when another person was picked by random drawing and then ceded the time to Tammen — a Twin Metals supporter stood up across the room and yelled, “Sit down.”
In response, a Forest Service official called for civility. That was not met well. “Follow the process,” yelled Twin Metals supporters, referring to a rule calling for speakers only getting one chance at the microphone.
But the Forest Service lost control of the session from the outset with a process that had all names put into a single drawing rather than being separated by pro-and-con on the issue and then alternately called upon. The result was the first six or so speakers representing anti-Twin Metals views and only one in support of renewing the leases.
Supporters argue the process needs to move ahead, with science and regulatory scrutiny to decide whether a copper/nickel project can coexist with the environment.
They say jobs, which are projected by Twin Metals to be substantial and in the thousands, should be an important part of the process.
But opponents say the water quality and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness experience will be forever damaged.
The mineral exploration and a future mining project would be done outside the protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in territory that was agreed to by all parties previously to allow mining, logging and tourism activities.
However, opponents, including DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, say a Twin Metals project in that watershed area poses the same threat as if it was in the BWCAW.
The Forest Service has mimicked that view of opponents in advance of the hearings, indicating a penchant to not approve the extension of the federal leases. The Forest Service said it was “deeply concerned” about what a Twin Metals project might do to the BWCAW.
Forest Service official Kathleen Ackinson was asked repeatedly by the Mesabi Daily News prior to the hearing why the agency decided to use the language of Twin Metals opponents regarding the project before a decision was made on a renewal of the federal leases. She repeatedly said, “We wanted to be transparent on our concerns.”
She was then asked why the Forest Service didn’t say it was also concerned about the economy of the region and how Twin Metals would provide thousands of jobs. She said again, “We wanted to be transparent in our concerns,” she said.
Ackinson was then asked if the Forest Service had considered that a lot of people would view that as a pre-determined decision on the issue.
“We wanted to be transparent on our concerns,” was the robotic answer.
However, Democratic 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan has strongly endorsed a renewal of the leases.
“Having met with all the involved agencies and parties, and spoken with Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, I know renewing these leases is the sensible and correct thing to do,” Nolan said in a letter Monday to the Forest Service. “We should never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. That is what these initial stages of the proposed Twin Metals initiative are all about.”
A Forest Service official last week said it has no timeline for its recommendation on the leases.
Twin Metals view: Copper-nickel mining offers promising economic future
By Bob McFarlin on Jul 16, 2016 at 11:00 p.m (Duluth News Tribune)
Twin Metals Minnesota is proud to be pursuing the development and operation of a future environmentally responsible underground copper-nickel mining project in Northeastern Minnesota. The Twin Metals project, and similar projects in the region, offer generations of Minnesotans the promise of thousands of good-paying jobs, billions of dollars in local investment, and billions more in revenue to Minnesota schools through the state School Trust Fund. Minnesota’s vast copper and nickel resources are also critical to the nation’s economy and security, supporting the infrastructure, manufacturing, technology and green-energy sectors.
The Twin Metals project is located in an area of the Superior National Forest where mining is both allowed and encouraged under state and federal law. Twin Metals is in the early stages of project development, with a target of 2018 for proposing project details to state and federal agencies for environmental review. Twin Metals has invested approximately $350 million to date, supporting hundreds of local jobs in the construction, drilling, engineering, geology, environmental and mineral-sciences fields.
Unfortunately, the economic promise of the Twin Metals project and the future of mining in the region are now threatened by arbitrary actions of the U.S. Forest Service. With all that is at stake for the region, the state and the nation, Minnesotans should expect — and demand — better of our federal government.
Twin Metals is seeking approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for renewal of two federal mineral leases that are significant components of the future Twin Metals project. However, last month, the Forest Service publicly announced its intention to block the lease renewals — and to block all future mining opportunities in the Rainy River Basin.
The Forest Service justified its position by citing hypothetical fears about mining in the region rather than relying on science, the regulatory process or its own history of mining support. The Forest Service’s action would be devastating to the region’s economic future.
Twin Metals’ federal leases were first issued by the Bureau of Land Management in 1966. The leases have been twice renewed (1989 and 2004), both times without controversy and with the endorsement of the Forest Service. In both renewals, the Forest Service found that the leases posed no environmental threats. In 2004, for example, the Forest Service stated, “The Forest Service has no objection to the renewal. … It has been determined that (the leases) are sufficient to protect the resources of the United States.”
Further, the leases are supported by the Forest Service’s own 2004 Superior National Forest Land Management Plan, which identified mining within the forest as a “desired condition.” The plan states, “Exploration and development of mineral and mineral resources is allowed on National Forest System land, except for (federally) owned minerals in designated wilderness (the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) and the Mining Protection Area.” The Twin Metals leases fall outside of the Boundary Waters and the Mining Protection Area, and thus are allowed. Mining activity is encouraged.
The hypothetical environmental issues raised by the Forest Service should be studied as directed by federal law through a multi-agency, science-based Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, after Twin Metals’ project has been proposed. The federal mineral leasing process is neither the appropriate nor most effective process to assess the potential environmental impacts of a yet-to-be-proposed project.
Twin Metals is fully committed to protecting Minnesota’s wilderness, natural environment and recreational resources. When Twin Metals submits a project to state and federal agencies, the rigorous formal environmental review process will begin. Multiple government agencies, local communities and interested citizens will be integral parts of that process. The U.S. Forest Service should not pre-empt the opportunity for expert agencies and affected citizens to participate in the review process by attempting to unilaterally block the Twin Metals project before it is proposed.
Twin Metals is grateful for the support it has received from citizens, elected officials, businesses, labor and communities across Minnesota. We urge all supporters of mining in Northeastern Minnesota to contact the Forest Service and express opposition to the agency’s unwarranted proposed actions.
Bob McFarlin is government affairs adviser for Twin Metals Minnesota (twin-metals.com), working from the company’s corporate headquarters in St. Paul.
POLYMET SUBMITS 4 PERMIT APPLICATIONS COMPANY REPAYS $5.1 MILLION IRRRB LOAN
Bill Hanna Executive Editor. Updated July 11, 2016
ST. PAUL — PolyMet Mining has submitted the first four applications for its copper/nickel/precious metals project near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt to the Department of Natural Resources.
The company also announced on Monday that it has repaid a $5.1 million loan, including interest, to the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board.
The applications are for water-related permits required for construction and operation of the PolyMet project to be located in the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site.
“Formal submission of water-related permit applications is another important milestone for PolyMet and the NorthMet Project,” said PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry.
“We recognize that water is one of Minnesota’s most valuable resources and we have taken extra time and effort to ensure that our permit applications detail the ways in which we will protect this resource and meet the various regulatory standards required for Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine.”
He added, “we expect to submit air-related and Permit to Mine applications in the coming weeks.”
The permit applications submitted Monday include:
• Water quality permit — the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit establishes the terms and conditions that must be met, including monitoring, when a facility discharges to surface or groundwater of the state.
• Water use permit — the water appropriation permit is needed for withdrawing or using water from a surface or groundwater source for the project.
• Dam safety permits — the permits establish the design, construction, and operating parameters to ensure long-term safe and stable operations of facilities with water impoundments, such as the tailings basin.
Following the process laid out in the April 19 pre-application public meeting in Aurora, permit applications will be posted on www.mn.gov/polymet. The website also provides information about the permitting process for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“We have been deliberate in preparing our formal permit applications to ensure they are complete and align with the Final Environmental Impact Statement so that the agencies can process their reviews as efficiently and rigorously as possible,” Cherry said.
The IRRRB loan was related to purchases of high-quality forest lands that will be exchanged for surface land above and around the NorthMet mineral rights.
The lands to be exchanged are now unencumbered, which will facilitate the exchange once the U.S. Forest Service issues its Final Record of Decision (ROD), according to PolyMet officials. The draft ROD was issued in November 2015 indicating the exchange was in the public interest.
“Repaying the IRRRB loan in full is an example of PolyMet’s commitment to the local community, the state, the environment, and our investors,” Cherry said. “We are sincerely grateful for the continued encouragement and support we get from Iron Rangers, the Range delegation, and business and labor communities statewide.”
The project is expected to require approximately 2 million hours of construction labor, creating 360 long-term jobs, and hundreds more spin-off positions.