State awards mineral leases to Hibtac, will extend mine life through 2026

The operation is running out of ore. Cleveland Cliffs said it needs additional leases to keep the mine and pellet plant open beyond 2026.

An industrial plant in the foreground with a water-filled mine pit in the background and a city behind that.
The Hibbing Taconite plant is shown with the city of Hibbing in the far background.
1997 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Hibbing Taconite will have enough iron ore to continue mining and pellet operations through 2026 after Minnesota officials approved additional mineral leases Thursday.

The Minnesota Executive Council — chaired by Gov. Tim Walz and made up of the state's constitutional officers — approved new leases totaling 120 acres and amended another lease covering 40 acres.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommended the council approve issuing the leases to help extend Hibtac's life.

"There are few mineable reserves of ore remaining at the Hibbing Taconite operation. Issuance of the two new taconite iron ore mining leases will add months, not years, to Hibbing Taconite’s mine life," the DNR wrote in materials provided to the council.

It's long been expected to run out of ore by 2025 unless additional leases are obtained.


Hibtac employs more than 700 people and is a joint venture between the Iron Range's two iron ore mining companies: Cleveland Cliffs, which manages it and has 85.3% stake in it, and U.S. Steel, which has 14.7% stake.

Read more
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up Mesabi Metallics' challenge of the DNR's decision to terminate the company's leases.
As part of the agreement, Cliffs will invest $4 billion in USW-represented facilities across the company, not just in Minnesota, over the contract's term.
The company had missed several last-chance requirements earlier this month.
The company said Walz is on board, but Walz's office said no deal was made.
Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves requests negotiations with U.S. Steel to extend the mine's life.
The requests come after reports that the operations were running out of iron ore.

The leases approved Thursday will provide enough ore for Hibtac to remain open through 2026, Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Its massive mine pit runs from north of Hibbing to near Keewatin. The new and amended leases are within or adjacent to the existing mine footprint.

"On behalf of our more than 2,000 employees in the state of Minnesota, we would like to thank the Minnesota Executive Council for the approval of the mineral leases that will allow Hibbing Taconite to extend operations another nine months through 2026," Goncalves said.

Cliffs has long wanted those leases. It already has the rights to some minerals there, but it said the state leases are needed to keep Hibtac open for decades.

The leases were freed up in January after a Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the DNR's decision
to terminate Mesabi Metallics control of the leases in May 2021.

"We remain confident that, once we obtain the state leases to add to Nashwauk land already controlled by Cleveland-Cliffs, we will then be able to extend the life of Hibbing Taconite for decades," Goncalves said Thursday.

The DNR is considering "credible miners" for the Nashwauk leases.


According to the Mesabi Tribune, Cliffs wants all 2,664 acres of Nashwauk leases, while a new Hibbing-based scram mining company, Scranton Holding Co., is seeking several of the same parcels.

more by jimmy lovrien
The Duluth high school closed in 2011. STC Building plans to redevelop the site into a mixed-use development.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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