In Response Column: Twin Metals plan will help end 60 years of waiting
Peter Marshall is communications director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters so doesn’t hold back when promoting the death of an industry, the death of a major geographic region in Northeastern Minnesota, or the death of a culture that goes back to Minnesota statehood. And why not? That’s what he was hired by the “Friends” to do.
Marshall’s Nov. 16 column in the News Tribune, “Twin Metals is selling Minnesota a fantasy,” lambasted Julia Padilla of Twin Metals Minnesota, alleging that she made false statements regarding the underground project her company is pursuing near Ely. Certainly Marshall knows that, as a scribe, his words will be scrutinized. He also should know that the mining debate has been a hot-button issue in the Arrowhead for nearly six decades.
Marshall wondered in his piece why Twin Metals has never told anyone about its new technology. The company doesn’t have to. Anyone curious can do their own heavy lifting to find out about the new technology — starting with underground mining equipment that is all electric and autonomous, eliminating diesel exhaust in confined work spaces and allowing for quicker recovery times between blasts. Autonomous means consistent operation and a higher level of worker safety. Certainly there is a loss of operator jobs, but there also is a major increase in the need for maintenance specialists and information-technology and artificial-intelligence technicians.
Dry-stacking tailings, as Twin Metals has said it plans to do, would mean no heavy slurry dams. That further would mean no threat of a catastrophic dam blowout. Also, dry-stack tails can be sculpted to match surrounding topography soon after being deposited. Tailings from this project are to be covered with a thick layer of topsoil and replanted with native trees and grasses, which would neutralize any blowing-dust issues.
Another plus: Twin Metals is to be a dry mine.
And here’s an FYI to consider: One of my clients in Brazil is an underground zinc mine with no tailings at all since 100% of its tails are sold to the cement industry. The tails are desirable since they contain lime and are washed, crushed, and sized perfectly. This is good for them, good for the customer, and good for the environment.
Marshall’s column made blanket statements that there never has been a clean, non-polluting copper mine and that every copper mine has contaminated surrounding waterways or arid landscape. Quick check: Today there are six states that host 19 copper mines. Those states are New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Michigan. The majority of mines are in Arizona, with 10 active properties and another two going through the permitting process. Soon there will be two new states with two new mines on the list: Alaska with Pebble mine and Minnesota with PolyMet. A search of each state looking for mining citations regarding water pollution garnered no hits. Any infractions noted were for blowing dust, which, each time, was corrected.
Despite what Marshall’s column claimed, Padilla’s statement in a News Tribune editorial about waste rock was correct. Acid mine drainage originates from the massive dumps of waste rock that are stored on the surface. Twin Metals has said it would do its primary crushing and separation underground; no waste rock is expected to be brought to the surface. Waste rock at the Twin Metals mine isn’t expected to ever see the light of day.
I was surprised Marshall’s column mentioned the percentage of copper in the ore body Twin Metals plans to mine but not the percentage of sulphur. Copper at .5% to .6% is really pretty good. Other elements are much less. Truthfully, the less content there is of any mineral in the ore body, the greater its extracted value.
If you were to price all commodities in a common unit like the metric ton, then taconite is selling for $88.53 a ton while copper is selling for $4,818 a ton. Cobalt is selling for $35,420 a ton while gold is selling for $51,244,061 per ton. And gold is not even the most expensive commodity on the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange) or the London Metal Exchange (LME). Imagine what a ton of diamonds would cost.
We’ve waited nearly 60 years to exploit this ore body in Northeastern MInnesota. We can wait a few more weeks for Twin Metals to submit its mine plan. Until then, some of my comments will have to remain close assumptions.
Robert Colombo was born and raised in Ely and is living now in Brazil, working with mining companies through a U.S.-based oil company and its distributor networks. He has worked as a contractor in the global mining industry for 42 years.