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Twin Metals continues tests near Birch Lake

Twin Metals Minnesota is continuing its effort toward building a copper mine near Birch Lake east of Ely. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday that Twin Metals has proposed conducting "down-the-hole geophysical and hydr...

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Twin Metals Minnesota is continuing its effort toward building a copper mine near Birch Lake east of Ely.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday that Twin Metals has proposed conducting "down-the-hole geophysical and hydrogeological tests at 12 existing, temporarily-sealed drill holes" in Lake and St. Louis counties.

The DNR said the company will open previously used access routes and drill pads to allow trucks and a drill rig access to the sites. No new trails are proposed. The tests inside the borings could take a number of days, the DNR said. All 12 borings will be permanently sealed after the tests are done. Some sites will be accessed only in winter when soils are frozen.

Twin Metals is seeking separate approval from the Minnesota Department of Health for the hydrogeological tests.

Twin Metals is in the preliminary stages of a proposed underground copper-nickel mine in the Birch Lake area. The company has requested permission to conduct background environmental surveys in the area in advance of submitting the project for environmental review.

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Last month the U.S. Forest Service reported it found no major environmental issues in its review of Twin Metals' plans to drill groundwater study wells in the mine area. The company eventually plans 116 monitoring wells around the area.

Twin Metals, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, has not yet applied for any state or federal permits for the copper project. But in August 2014 the company released the results of a "pre-feasibility" study on the mine saying the project has substantial reserves, would have a low cost of production and could turn a solid profit.

The report said the proposed mine would take about three years to build at a cost of $2.8 billion and eventually would employ about 850 people mining some 50,000 tons per day.

The mine is predicted to produce valuable minerals for at least 30 years - including an estimated 5.8 billion pounds of copper, 1.2 billion pounds of nickel, 1.5 million ounces of platinum, 4 million ounces of palladium, 1 million ounces of gold and 25.2 million ounces of silver.

The project has been criticized by environmental groups for its location, abutting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the possibility that mine runoff or unforeseen disasters could pollute the region's pristine waters.

The company has said it may be ready to submit the project for environmental review by 2018.

Related Topics: MININGIRON RANGE
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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