Posts tagged ‘copper mining in the Arrowhead?’

March 15, 2018

Comment on NorthMet Draft Air Permit due March 16, 2018

The NorthMet Project has been in process of application for many years now, because the project will cause unusual problems, and because it will imperil wilderness lands, waters, air, wildlife and the economies that depend upon clean air, water and healthy ecosystems. Permitting a copper mine will set precedent and change the land use forever.
Since the copper deposits in Minnesota are of low grade, the process will naturally require removal of more rock than copper. By Polymet’s own estimate the NorthMet ore body comprises 275 million tons of Proven and Probable reserves grading 0.28 percent copper with Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources of 694 million tons grading 0.27 percent copper and 0.08 percent nickel. Since Polymet intends to mine and process 32,000 tons of ore per day (11,680,000 tons of ore per year) what does this mean for the air quality surrounding the Project?
According to the reports put forth for this permit, the NorthMet project will require ammonium nitrate and fuel oil for blasting every two to three days. Large excavator shovels with up to 30-cubic-yard-capacity and large front-end loaders will then load the ore into diesel-powered haul trucks, each having the capacity to carry 240 tons of material in a single load, all loaded onto 100-ton side dumping railcars. Sixteen-car trains pulled by locomotives will then transport the ore approximately six miles to the processing facility 20 times each day. In all, PolyMet plans to mine approximately 225 million tons of ore over a 20-year mine life. This plan can be revised at any time as long as notice is given and approved by our regulators. No mine has ever been shut down by regulators once begun in Minnesota.
According to the relevant reports, processing starts once the ore is transported to the LTV site where it will be offloaded into the Coarse Crusher Building. A series of crushers then reduce the ore to approximately 2.5 inches diameter feeding these particles by conveyor to the coarse ore bin located in the Fine Crusher Building. From the Fine Crusher Building, the ore will be conveyed to the Concentrator Building used since the 1950s to process taconite. There, the ore will be reduced into particles about the diameter of a human hair before being transported by chute to other buildings where impurities will be removed using chemicals and large quantities of water. Imagine this fine dust in transport.
As documented in this permit, this facility, then, will require a number of filtrations systems including HEPA, cartridge and fiber, all of which will be expected to comply with standards within each building and require their own handling. Outside of these buildings where there are no filters, fugitive emissions are even more difficult to control.
Fugitive source emissions from mining operations stem from the blasting of rock and the debris that these operations create, loading and unloading of rock, truck traffic, preparation, crushing and screening activities and excavating. Traffic, road building and repair will contribute naturally and this will exceed the boundaries of the NorthMet Project site where no truly effective organic and sustainable control is possible in most situations, physics the determining factor.
Fugitive sources of emissions at the processing plant can be found during construction activities, crushing and screening, along with wind erosion during flotation tailings basin operation, miscellaneous truck traffic, and SAG and ball mill grinding of the ore. The list of unusual problems and effects goes on in the permit reports, unintentionally illustrating why copper sulfide mining would be a major contributor to air pollution in this wilderness, and all the while presuming to make a case for protection.
How much of the regulation in place on spot filtration systems and their filters will be effective? How much of the fugitive emissions and noise will cause untenable situations for wilderness tourism, which is the backbone of this country? Only time will tell after all. If experience has taught us anything, these systems will fail or be neglected in time while the mining effects will continue into perpetuity.
Just a list of the vehicles required in this operation will tell us enough about the effects: 2300HP mine haul trucks run on 25.4 gallons of fuel/hour. 1550HP diesel drills, 19.8 gallons/hour, and 646HP truck dozer graders, 31.2 gallons/hr. And then there will be excavators, rubber tire dozers, transfer loaders, backhoes with hammers, water/sand trucks, and integrated handlers with their own fuel usage and emissions not to mention the noise that will be a daily experience for all within earshot.
Besides vehicles, there will be a great need for space heaters, too many to count for this comment, feed chutes, conveyors, mills, grinders, crushers, rail cars and locomotives, mix tanks and dewatering stations, a lube house, direct and indirect heating equipment using electric, natural gas and propane, degasifiers, a (huge) gasoline tank, bentonite (fine clay dust) handling, and miscellaneous buildings.
There will be a fence patrolled to keep the public out. Polymet will monitor itself. There is no restriction on hours of operation for portable crushing spread operations May to October and other operations are given the time needed to process almost 12,000,000 tons of ore each year. Much of the monitoring is not enforceable in this permit or on a practical level. So where are the real safeguards? The winds will blow, the climate will do its thing and Polymet will be forgiven in a force majeure situation.
We are told that this ore will be processed in an environmentally sound manner. We are told that if limits are exceeded, they will be remedied by the miner except in the case of unforeseeable circumstances that prevent them from fulfilling their contract. Will they monitor and police themselves without regard to profits? If fugitive emissions are found to degrade the environment outside of the parameters of their fence line, will this too be remedied? What will the meaning of going up North hold for citizens once this mine starts construction?
Wetlands abound along this copper deposit, with thousands of flora and fauna, many rare and uncommon all depending on clean air and water, in a wilderness of outstanding quality. There are orchard orioles, killdeer, snow geese, loons, woodcocks, purple finch, mink, great blue heron, broad-winged hawks, eagles, partridge, beaver, wolves, moose, bear, Canadian lynx, coyotes, blue bills, mallards, night hawks, snowy owls, white-throated sparrows, deer, blueberries, bearberry, rock ferns, caribou moss, and so many other species of plants and animals. What is the potential harm to these populations if the fragile balance of this ecosystem is destroyed, an ecosystem so interconnected with the health of its waters and its air?
Do we sell or do we protect? This is what this decision concerning the NorthMet Project comes down to, essentially. There are no guarantees that Polymet or theirs will be around to pay for the damage that acid rain and other hazards of mining for decades in this area will cause. They are a corporation, after all, developed to limit liability. Ongoing treatment, passive or aggressive, will never return this region to its original state. Observe ongoing pollution witnessed from mining in the area already. What financial or political assurances would suffice in a tragedy of the scale that sulfide mining would unleash?
We have waste on this earth that could be recycled without destroying our environment, our home. Have we come to a crossroads in our handling of this planet, an ecosystem that we so dearly need for our survival? Isn’t this priceless wilderness more important than any profit we can make from mining? Once understood that we cannot mine in this area without devastating results, perhaps we will favor sane and ecologically sound solutions to those challenges that engage us?
We could speak of the beauty, the wild, the spirit of something greater than ourselves, the sustenance we all gain from these masterpieces. Such is the Arrowhead of Minnesota. What profit is there if not life itself? It is undeniable that people in the area need jobs … although, who of these long term residents came with the intent to mine this jewel? If given the opportunity to work in a sustainable activity, who would not choose to do so? What kind of opportunities could be created with a mindset that encourages positive long term results over short term gains and financial profiteering? Don’t we owe it to ourselves and life itself to make the effort?
For the reasons outlined in this comment, I request that the Draft Air Permit for the NorthMet Project be denied.

September 11, 2017

Will we trade the infinite for private profit?


Could dimensions of copper-sulfide mining reach the proportions of the Hull Rust Mine in Hibbing Minnesota? Babbitt, a doorway to the BWCA at Birch Lake and the location of the proposed NorthMet copper mine, is located in the Laurentian Uplands, a recharge area for three of the greatest river systems in North America.

Comments submitted to the DNR on September 7, 2017

RE: “NorthMet Water Appropriation”

The guarantees are clear.  The proposed North Met Project will mine tens of millions to over a billion gallons of water every year sent downstream, 10 percent of this untreated, to the Lake Superior Basin.  This permit will allow the mine to pump billions of gallons of water from its site into streams in the St Louis watershed at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway in the Lake Superior Basin.

Even after closure, for an undetermined amount of time, the amount of water released from the mine naturally and otherwise will be in the millions of gallons annually, treated and untreated. Filters from “treated” water will be concentrated into a toxic sludge left behind in tailings ponds; and the water from this proposed copper-sulfide mine will need ongoing treatment perhaps forever.  Effects from this toxic pollution will span centuries if not thousands of years.

Average annual water required for mine operations has been estimated at 275 gpm, or between 20-810 gpm (SDEIS report), which translates from 10,512,000 gallons of water per year to as much as 425,736,000 annually.  This has been revised into the billions since then, for this permit. Greater than 90% of this water would be captured and treated using reverse osmosis, a process that poses its own risks, including demineralization (2006 by the World Health Organization’s report in Geneva, Nutrients in Drinking Water, Chapter 12), leaving anywhere from 1,0512,000 gallons to over 42.5 million gallons of untreated water that will be sent downstream from the plant (each year).  This water appropriation permit will allow even more.

The Uplands in the Arrowhead of Northern Minnesota include varied and complex aquifers connected along pathways underground that have not been charted and cannot be known.  This fact, coupled with the extreme weather variables of our times, should give anyone pause.  For instance, there can be no guarantee that the earthen tailings ponds holding toxic waste sludge from Polymet’s proposed copper mine could withstand a 1000-year flood of the sort that inundated Houston Texas this year, in August 2017.

What cleanup would be possible of toxic buildup in streambeds and the inevitable contamination of flora, fauna and fungus over hundreds of years resulting from copper mining in this water-dependent, varied and complex ecosystem of the Arrowhead?  The St Louis watershed is uniquely positioned and vulnerable to the toxic effects of a copper sulfide mine.

Water, one of the greatest solvents, can be guaranteed to seek its level through paths of least resistance, many unknown. The water in the St Louis watershed of the Laurentian Divide has been seeking its level over tens of thousands of years to the Hudson Bay Basin, the Mississippi River Basin and the Lake Superior Basin of the Great Lakes, through glacial waters of Lake Agassiz, other glacial lakes and the Laurentide Ice Shield.  Just as naturally, the waste rock and toxic waste ponds from this proposed open pit mine will leach into the ground water; and through rains, ground water seepage, and faults in the bedrock find its way downstream, a guaranteed outcome that cannot be controlled or predicted accurately.

Polymet, admittedly, needs a water permit in order to pollute and mine these vital waters; but loss and degradation of these waters will only be the beginning.  Since the proposed mine site is an important and complex recharge area, artesian wells could be depressurized and other ground water resources diverted or diminished unexpectedly.  Tourism will suffer from the related activities of a large mining operation near the BWCA in Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes where blasting, processing, transportation of products and supplies, road construction and repair will be ongoing while the mine operates.  Wetlands like the 100-Mile Swamp between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes will ultimately be lost.

A copper mine, then, will change the surrounding landscape, since mining activities know no boundaries.  The dimensions of this mine could change as deposits are discovered and, through precedent, threaten one of the most pristine water-dependent ecosystems, one of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world, the BWCA. There will be no end, once begun, and this will change the meaning of “north woods” as we know it. The Rainy River Watershed and throughout the big stony of the Arrowhead, where copper leases abound, the whole of St Louis, Cook and Lake counties could essentially be affected.

On a balance sheet, what is the price of real wealth, clean water, air, naturally fertile soil, insects, birds, mammals and all manner of life that support the health of this planet?  What price freshwater? Are there truly any acceptable limits to the pollution and draining of the St Louis watershed?

Who, essentially, will profit in the long term by putting these freshwater resources at risk in order to permit this private for-profit enterprise, the NorthMet Project?  It will certainly not be the air quality and the peace, environmental health, the integrity of this wilderness.  What will be left if we allow any and all lands, no matter the cost, to be developed for the profit of a finite term at the degradation of the infinite?

I close here with my formal objection to this water appropriation permit.  I make this objection on the grounds that this permit will allow mining operations in a water-dependent ecosystem that knows no equal, a wilderness that will be changed forever by copper mining. Mining and pollution of millions of gallons of water each year is not in the best interest of those who live in NE MN, those who live downstream, or those who depend on potable water, the wilderness, for its beauty, its wildlife, flora and fauna, its sustenance.  We will all be less for having lost this gem by defaulting on our responsibility to raise the standards of protection for our freshwater.

Anita Suzanne Tillemans

Information concerning the NorthMet project



August 17, 2017

Comment period on Polymet water permit opened August 11, 2017

The 30-day comment period for Polymet’s permit to mine and pollute the headwaters of the Great Lakes’ St Louis watershed, was opened on August 11, 2017.  If entirely permitted, this privately owned company will be allowed to construct an open pit copper sulfide mine for profit in the Arrowhead of Minnesota leaving the necessity to treat and protect this vital aquifer for centuries.

Polymet claims that it will do the clean-up and protect our waters.  What company can make this promise in truth anywhere, especially in this complex geological aquifer?

Please send your comments by September 12, 2017

January 19, 2017

Forest Service Reneges on its responsibility to protect our waters in lands entrusted to their care …

As of this past week the Forest Service of the United States has issued a decision agreeing to the land exchanges that Polymet will need to mine copper in lands that the USFS had been tasked to protect, at the headwaters of the Great Lakes and water ways on the border of the BWCAW.  I am including a link below to this monumental decision, which, in effect, betrays the public trust giving public lands in the exchange for the private interests of a multi-national corporation.

Forest Service’s ROD on Land Exchange

The process will require permits allowing degradation of air and water quality and another comment period.  It will also, at times, require Polymet to get a permit to take endangered species.  One reason that the  timber wolf may have been taken off of the “endangered species” list, among other equally expedient reasons.

I include links to the status of some of these required permits:

Status and submissions for Polymet’s air quality permit (NorthMet Project)

Status and submissions for Polymet’s water quality permit (NorthMet Project)

Status and submissions for Polymet’s request for 401 certification (NorthMet Project)

How did this prospect ever get a start?

April 16, 2016

Process for permitting the NorthMet Project in Northern Minnesota has begun … what you need to know

The permitting process and review for the NorthMet Project will begin shortly after informational meetings.  To be added to the email list for updates:

The next meeting given by the DNR on this matter has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, 2016 in Aurora at the Mesabi East High School from 6pm to 8:30pm.

If you can, please get involved. For love of our wilderness.