Twin Metals’ disastrous plan for the Boundary Waters

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Towards the end of 2019, Twin Metals’ released its plan for a toxic copper-sulfide mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters. This is why the document matters.

Since the Trump administration illegally reinstated Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases, we have been in a legal fight over the future of the Boundary Waters. Copper-sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota, it is inherently polluting and to have one of these toxic mines .4 miles from the Boundary Waters would be an environmental disaster for the nation’s most visited Wilderness Area.

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While our lawsuit challenging the legality of Twin Metals’ lease reinstatement is still waiting for a decision in District Court in Washington D.C., Twin Metals — which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta — is acting as though they are entitled to Minnesota’s land.

Nonetheless, today they released their Mine Plan of Operation (MPO), a document that details the specifications on how they plan to process tens of thousands of ore each day, extract the metals, store the waste and more.

Why is this document so important?

If you’ve been following the debate over copper-sulfide mining at the edge of the Boundary Waters, you may have noticed that in recent months, Twin Metals has begun to twist the facts more than normal. Their new public relations strategy is assertions over facts.

Instead of merely misleading the public with the claim that it will construct an “environmentally friendly” mine, Twin Metals is now going further with their mistruths, claiming that the sulfide levels where they plan to mine are so low that they will not produce acid mine drainage.  What’s more, they are now making the fictitious claim that they will produce “zero waste rock.”

These outrageous claims are made in the face of known evidence — such as Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness found acid mine drainage spilling from a drill site — and the fact that there has never been a copper mine that has not polluted nearby water sources.

U.S. EPA has ranked metal mining, which includes copper and nickel, as the most polluting industry in America. But somehow, Twin Metals says, this mine will not pollute. Is this wishful thinking or is it just a lie?

At Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, we have long maintained that if we stick to the facts, stick to science and evidence, we will stop copper-sulfide mining from getting a foothold in Minnesota and polluting the Boundary Waters.

This is why the release of Twin Metals’ MPO is so important. It is an opportunity to objectively look at just what the kind of mine they plan to build.

Because this is such a complicated and technical document, we are working with a team of experts — scientists and engineers — to study this document.

In the meantime, we have a few questions we hope will be answered:

  1. Pro-mining groups like to make the ungrounded claim that this will be a so-called “environmentally friendly” mine. How is that possible? They have not shown or told us how the mine will be environmentally friendly. What are the methods does Twin Metals plan to use? What is the evidence that these are “environmentally friendly” methods?

  2. What about the claim Twin Metals makes that they will produce zero waste rock? While making this claim, Twin Metals is planning to store its tailings in dry stacks. What are tailing made up of? Waste rock. They expose their lies themselves.

  3. What is the true nature of their dry stack tailings? Are they really “dry?” MN DNR has expressed serious concerns with dry stacking in northeastern Minnesota, due to the amount of rainfall in the area. How many thousands of gallons of water (taken from sources that feed into the BWCA) will be used to process the ore?

  4. Finally, what about the financial viability of the mine? With copper prices at a mere $2.78 a pound, and considering how scarce the copper is in these deposits (which makes it incredibly expensive to mine), it will be interesting to see how Twin Metals foresees making a profit. How much will they rely on automation? How many jobs will automation replace?

Of course, many more questions will come up after the review. Our team of experts have already started to review the documents. In addition to submitting comments to the Bureau of Land Management, we will keep you up to date about the contents.

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