Conservation Minnesota

DNR magazine publishes comprehensive article about sulfide mining

One of the most respected magazines in Minnesota recently published an in-depth article about the debate over sulfide mining in northern Minnesota. The latest issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer included a cover story about the issue by John Myers, a reporter at The Duluth News Tribune.

The article weighs the economic prospects of nonferrous metal deposits against the environmental concerns associated with mining sulfide ore:

Geologists call this underground rock formation the Duluth Complex. And they say if you dig deep enough, you’ll find a fortune of metals—an estimated 4 billion tons worth far more than $1 trillion. No one really knows how much is there. The more geologists look, the more they find.

“We do know that this is the third-largest copper and nickel resource on the planet, mined or unmined. It’s fourth for contained precious metals,” said Jim Miller, geology professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and director of its Precambrian Research Center. “This isn’t some small sideshow. This is a world-class mineral deposit.”

Not all Minnesotans are convinced that mineral exploration in an ecologically sensitive reason can be done safely, Myers reports:

Some conservationists, local residents, tribal members, and even some government officials are skeptical, saying too many unanswered questions remain about what happens when you mine copper in a region rich with lakes and rivers. The loss of wetlands and forest habitat and industrial encroachment into quiet areas are concerns. Others question why the state wants to tie itself to another cyclical mining industry, which can, like iron ore has for more than a century, go from boom to bust in a matter of months and leave workers and entire communities in despair during the bad times.

But perhaps the biggest concern surrounding copper mining is the potential for polluted runoff into waterways. Unlike iron ore, which is mined from mostly benign less-reactive rock, copper is usually found in sulfide-ore bodies. When exposed to air and water, sulfide-bearing rock generates sulfuric acid, which must be managed, if it is in high enough concentrations, so that it does not lead to acidic runoff.

Decisions about sulfide mining proposals will be made by government agencies seeking to reconcile the claims of both mining proponents and skeptics:

Ultimately, copper mining skeptics say, the outcome may hinge on how state and federal governments hold mining companies to regulations laid out in state and federal permits.

While regulators will be responsible for approving or denying mine permits, people who care about the future of Minnesota have a duty to get informed about this issue and contact decision-makers with their thoughts. Articles like the one published by the Conservation Volunteer help ensure all Minnesotans know what is at stake.

Read the full article here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/volunteer/julaug12/nonferrous.html

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