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Sulfide-Ore Copper Mining Boundary Waters Wildnerness Area

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Just before Christmas, the Department of the Interior reversed an Obama administration decision and opened the door for a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the northeast Arrowhead region of Minnesota.


Northeastern Minnesota is known as the Iron Range and taconite mining is deeply tied to its history. But Twin Metals, the Minneapolis-based company that holds the leases, is planning an underground copper-nickel mine, which has never been tried in the state. Opponents argue that this type of mine is much more toxic and risky than the traditional taconite mines of the Northstar State’s past.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters states on its website: “It produces giant waste piles that, when exposed to air and water, leach sulfuric acid, heavy metals and sulfates. Sulfide-ore copper mines pollute groundwater, rivers and lakes. In the history of sulfide mining, pollution has never been avoided.” (I recommend viewing Campaign to Save website . Online petition and environmental science material - RS)

However, Twin Metals points to the Eagle Mine, which has been operational since 2014, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as the only mine currently producing nickel in the U.S. You can read about that project here.

The Twin Metals mining leases are located along the southwest border of the Boundary Waters. The location is critical because the site is north of the Laurentian Divide, meaning that rivers and streams in this watershed flow north. Pollution could have a massive impact on the entire ecosystem, not just the lakes and rivers near the mine.



4 page science facts handout on impact of Sulfide-Ore Copper mining on Boundary Waters Wilderness Area




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We need to mine for the metals and other natural resources that our modern society depends on. Every location has its problems, but we have to mine somewhere.  The environmentalists are not just opposed to this location. They are opposed to every location.

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I am not sure of the "we" here. I do not believe it is a US company mining the ore.

We, all of us, need water too obviously. Mine drainage will be a given and continuous. In drier areas that threat is less but treatment of contaminated water has not been effective.


Edited by RememberSchiff
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Walter Mondale commentary in Minnesota StarTribune back in August, 2017.

We can't afford to get the mining-vs.-land-protection equation wrong

But as Minnesotans well know, the value of the Boundary Waters extends far beyond mere economics. A recent scouting magazine article about our secretary of state begins with this sentence: “You could say Rex Tillerson’s path to the corner office began on a portage trail in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario.” The Boy Scouts of America has sent hundreds of thousands of kids into the Boundary Waters since 1923. It is in good company. The Girl Scouts, YMCA camps, Voyageurs Outward Bound School, Wilderness Inquiry, church and community groups, and many other organizations — as well as countless families — have given kids unforgettable outdoor adventures and imparted life-enriching lessons by taking them on Boundary Waters canoe trips.



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I think every person and organization who opposes a mining and drilling site should required to propose an alternate site. We have to mine and drill somewhere.

NIMBY (not in my back yard) is not a reasonable attitude. 


Edited by David CO
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Expand the Morenci mine in Arizona. 

I also have problems with environmentalists who seem to believe food, products and electricity can just magically appear.  There are definitely trade offs that must be made and risk/benefit analysis should be considered.   

That said, I believe protecting water is especially critical as no mine or drill site can be 100% clean or operate without error.  My grandma had an oil well on her land in southern Illinois.   There were spills (relatively small).  The good news is that it wasn’t near a water way so to clean them up you dig out the containment and haul it to a landfill.

My wife has worked for a power company to remediate oil gasification sites.  Again, clean up is expensive but simple.  Dig, dig, dig up that muck and replace with clean soil.

100% on board with the comment that we have to allow drilling and mining ... but we should also have limits where the risk is simply too great.

I have fished multiple waterways (Milwaukee river, Illinois river, etc) that suffered from industrial pollution.  It has taken a generation for them to start to recover from one generation’s mistake.    I would not want to see that mistake  repeated.



Edited by Eagle1993
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  • 9 months later...

Nov 3, 2018: Opinion in Duluth News Tribune.

Industrial Mining must be kept away from the Boundary Waters by Tom Tidwell,  Chief of U.S. Forest Service 2009-2017

I first saw the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in July 2014 from a seat in a U.S. Forest Service floatplane. Below me, stretching as far as I could see, was some of the most beautiful country I had ever encountered in my 40-year career with the U.S. Forest Service.

The Boundary Waters — part of the Superior National Forest, which is public land owned by all Americans — contains almost 1.1 million acres of forests, lakes, streams, and wetlands. It is the most-visited wilderness area in America and has been every year since its designation under the Wilderness Act of 1964.

From the air it was easy to see why people were so concerned about a proposal by Twin Metals, owned by Antofagasta of Chile, to develop a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the wilderness. In every direction, interconnected waterways laced the forest, and when considering sulfide-ore mining, the issue of water is central.

When exposed to air and water, sulfide ore in which copper and other minerals occur creates sulfuric acid and generates heavy metals and other pollutants. This is sometimes called "acid mine drainage." This type of mining is more common in drier landscapes in western states. Even there, water pollution is significant and persistent. The vast network of waterways in the Boundary Waters region makes it particularly vulnerable to acid mine drainage. The increased acidity and heavy metal pollution could be catastrophic. It would be impossible to contain pollution given the interconnectedness of the waters. Compounding the problem is the absence of natural calcium carbonates, which means the water has virtually no capacity to buffer acid mine drainage.

The waterways along the Minnesota-Ontario border would carry pollution from a Twin Metals mine downstream to Voyageurs National Park in the U.S. and to Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario.

Because of the obvious risk to a national treasure, in my position as chief of the U.S. Forest Service, I initiated a review of copper mining in the area in 2014. The process included a public-comment period, two public hearings, and careful scientific assessment of the impact sulfide-ore mining could have on the Boundary Waters watershed. The review process proved conclusively that the watershed of the Boundary Waters is absolutely the wrong place for this type of mining.

In 2016, after thorough consideration of the information gained in the review process, on behalf of the Forest Service, I denied consent for the renewal of mineral leases to Twin Metals and asked the secretary of the Interior to withdraw from the leasing program for 20 years the federal mineral rights in the Boundary Waters watershed. Such a mining ban is preceded by an even deeper consideration of the scientific, economic, and cultural impact of copper mining in the area to ensure the withdrawal is warranted.

The administration of President Donald Trump reversed all this. In May, it brushed aside the science-based review and analysis that began in 2014 and reinstated the Twin Metals leases.

On Sept. 6, the Trump administration canceled the deeper study on the need for a 20-year ban on mining activity in the watershed, further paving the way for Antofagasta's Twin Metals to build an industrial mining complex on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

These were bad, anti-science decisions that went against the core mission of the Forest Service, which is to protect our national forest lands. Sidestepping careful scientific review and enabling sulfide-ore mining imperils the entire Boundary Water region, which has a vigorous and sustainable economy centered on clean water and a healthy natural landscape.

For many decades, people from across the country have traveled to the Boundary Waters to enjoy camping, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and dogsledding. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, school groups, and countless other organizations enjoy the high adventure and opportunities for personal growth and leadership fostered by Boundary Waters expeditions.

We must keep industrial mining away from the Boundary Waters to preserve the rich experiences and priceless wilderness Americans have treasured for generations.


Edited by RememberSchiff
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Agreed.  For those of us in the Midwest... we don’t have vast options of wilderness to choose from to really get away.  BWCA is our Philmont/Sea Base/Summit.   BWCA is our Rocky Mountains.  BWCA is our Olympic NP.   BWCA is our Acadia.  I was always glad it wasn’t a NP as it helped keep vast hordes of tourists out... but now I wonder if that was a mistake.

I’m sure there is a chance this could be done without damaging the environment but why risk it.  We have enough copper and nickel to avoid mining this area.

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On 1/18/2018 at 4:11 PM, NJCubScouter said:

I generally agree with that, but I don't think NIMBYism is the issue with this particular site.  This is an area that has a special need for protection.

You are correct, NIMBYism isn't at play here.  The folks that live in the range are all for getting the jobs associated with the mine.

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  • 2 months later...

"Follow the money".   This is never about the need for copper, or the need for jobs.  This is , unfortunately, about the need of a very wealthy man to be even more wealthy.  

What we have is a wealth of wilderness and the filter of our drinking water and washing water.  Does anyone remember Love Canal?    Can we not learn from the past?  It predicts the future.  What is once polluted and defamed is long time in cleansing and the folks that caused it will be also long gone.  

I have an idea.   Ask Mr. Luksic  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antofagasta_PLC)   to pay off the US National Debt and then we might consider the Lease in Minnesota.  

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7 hours ago, SSScout said:

This is , unfortunately, about the need of a very wealthy man to be even more wealthy.  

I tend to avoid commenting on political channels like this.  But I have always taken sad view of arguments pitting class against class.  I can't criticize the wealthy trying to become more wealthy.  If it is a valid argument, then we should criticize everyone who quits a good job to take another job that pays more or has a title boost.  We should criticize everyone who tries to develop a career or climb the corporate ladder.  Anyone manager level or above must obviously be of dubious character.  

A man has a right to earn money.  It doesn't matter if they are poor, middle class or wealthy.  Obviously, we want things to be fair.  But a man has a right to make deals. 

IMHO, if his company holds leases and mining rights ... with due oversight and safety ... we either need to grant the mining or purchase the leases as we have taken away his right to use the land under the terms and purposes the leases were originally granted.  I'm not sure what is fair economic exchange, but I'm sure it's in the high millions or billions.  

Edited by fred8033
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