Encampment Minerals is asking the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for permission to drill exploratory boring holes in its search for a metallic mineral deposit 5 miles south of Hoyt Lakes.

On Jan. 15, the company submitted a plan to the DNR outlining its intent to drill into bedrock at 15 sites on state mineral leases it holds within a "high biodiversity significance" area flanked by the St. Louis River.

The plans are under review by the DNR, which has 20 days from the submission date to approve or deny Encampment's plan.

If approved, all drilling would take place between Jan. 31 and March 2021, and only when the ground is frozen. The drill sites will be at least 300 feet from water bodies. After drilling, the holes will be sealed following Minnesota Department of Health Regulations.

Encampment has been intermittently drilling in the area since 2009 and holds numerous state leases both in the Lake Superior Watershed and the Rainy River Watershed and Superior National Forest. The leases sit across much of the Duluth Complex, one of the richest, yet untapped, deposits of copper, nickel and other valuable minerals in the world.

The company has already been approved to drill this winter at a site near Birch Lake, just south of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine and within the Rainy River Watershed, which is shared with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Copper-nickel mining has never been done in Minnesota and remains controversial. Opponents say the mines would pollute nearby waters with toxic waste.

Last year, PolyMet became the state's first fully permitted copper-nickel mine, though it still needs to raise almost $1 billion in financing and faces numerous legal challenges, which resulted in a court placing several of its permits on hold and sending several other permits back to the DNR for further review and a contested-case hearing.

While PolyMet was the first copper-nickel mine to receive a permit, it could be the first of several in northern Minnesota.

Twin Metals, which is planning an underground copper-nickel mine and tailings storage facility within the same watershed as the BWCAW, submitted its a formal mine proposal last month.

Like Encampment, several other companies have made regular exploratory drillings in Minnesota: Teck near Babbitt, Talon and Kennecott near Tamarack in Aitkin County, Vermillion Gold near Gilbert and Virginia and AngloGold Ashanti Minnesota throughout St. Louis, Itasca and Koochiching counties.