Episode 4: The Climate Impact of Proposed Polymet and Twin Metals Mines
Coinciding with the 2021 Glasgow Summit, we’ll look at how climate change will affect the Boundary Waters and the broader ecosystem of northeastern Minnesota.
In this episode, Dr. Steve Emerman, international expert on hydrology and geophysics digs deeply into how the two proposed copper-sulfide mines — PolyMet and Twin Metals — will exacerbate the climate crisis.
Dr. Emerman has conducted in-depth research into the carbon cost of copper-sulfide mining and he discusses his research into how these mines will drastically increase Minnesota’s carbon footprint.
In this episode, Dr. Steve Emerman, international expert on hydrology and geophysics digs deeply into how the two proposed copper-sulfide mines — PolyMet and Twin Metals — will exacerbate the climate crisis.
Dr. Steve Emerman 00:02
If someone argued that in order to address climate change, we need more copper. Mining a low grade copper nickel ore from precious, valuable ecosystem would be the worst possible choice.
Chris Knopf 00:21
Hello, welcome to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Podcast. I’m Chris Knopf, the friends Executive Director. For over 45 years, friends of the Boundary Waters has connected people, communities and the wilderness. It’s Tuesday, November 16. And this week, government officials and delegates are meeting in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss debate and negotiate the many issues surrounding climate change. We at their friends recognize that climate change is a potentially catastrophic threat to the Boundary Waters. This week, we will have a series of three podcasts that examine the impact of climate change on the Boundary Waters. And today’s podcast. We’ll talk to Dr. Steve Emerman. For a close look at how the two proposed copper-sulfide mines Polymet and Twin Metals will exacerbate the climate crisis and drastically increase Minnesota’s carbon footprint. Here’s Dr. Emerman.
Dr. Steve Emerman 01:20
And thanks to everyone for coming. I am Steven Emerman. I’ll be speaking on climate change impact of the proposed Polymet and Twin Metals mines. I have a master’s from Princeton University and PhD from Cornell University. I was a professor of hydrology for 31 years, I’m now retired and do full time consulting on environmental impacts of mining. I’ve evaluated proposed and existing mining projects in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, everywhere except Antarctica. I’ve testified on mining before the US House of Representatives and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues be testifying before the European Parliament on mining issues in a couple of weeks. Okay, so I’m discussing two proposed copper nickel mines Polymet and Twin Metals. We see the footprints the project sites of those two mines. I’ve been very close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness, a couple of miles about two miles for the Twin Metals mine from the Boundary Waters wilderness area. I’m going to look at the greenhouse gas emissions by these proposed copper nickel mines. Okay, so the first question being what would we expect from these mines based upon trends in the mining industry? What would we expect the greenhouse gas emissions to be? And then what are these two mines actually projecting as the greenhouse gas emissions? And how do these two correspond? So first, just a little background on greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, quite a lot to this subject. But what I want to emphasize here is how greenhouse gas emissions measured. Okay, first of all, carbon dioxide gets a lot of press. But a lot of other gases of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is simply more abundant, and more long lived in the atmosphere. Actually, any gas molecule with three or more atoms is a greenhouse gas. So water vapor is also a greenhouse gas. Okay. Now, some of these greenhouse gases have more global warming potential per ton. So a ton of methane has the global warming potential of 25 tons of carbon dioxide or a ton of nitrous oxide has the global warming potential of 298 tons of carbon dioxide. Okay, so we measure greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas emissions as tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions or we just say tons of carbon dioxide. Okay, that’s when I’ll talk about tons of carbon dioxide. Some of that could be methane, some of that could be nitrous oxide, that would be the equivalent global warming potential of so many tons of carbon dioxide. Okay, now, how we measure greenhouse gas emissions, first what is called scope one emissions. These are also called direct emissions or on site emissions. These are the emissions that are released in the atmosphere from sources on the mine site controlled by the mine and calm. Okay, so actual emissions from the site. This could be emissions from blasting, diesel fuel consumption for drilling, loading, hauling liquid propane gas consumption for heating, includes whatever happens on the mine site it could include destruction of forests and peatlands to create the mine site. If electricity generation or metal refining is occurring on the mine site that we be included a scope one emissions, okay and scope two emissions, also called indirect emissions, these are emissions released into the atmosphere due to the consumption of an energy commodity not generated by the mining company. Okay, now in the case of Polymet and Twin Metals, one thing they have in common is they will not generate their own electricity, nor will they do refining on site, they will purchase electricity from Minnesota power that is within the state. And they will look sport concentrates for refining overseas. Okay, so with these two mines, we could say the scope one emissions plus the scope two emissions are the greenhouse gas emissions within the state of Minnesota, there’s one additional thing I’ll add to that will come up later in terms of an in state emission.
Dr. Steve Emerman 05:54
Okay, now, all other emissions are called scope three emissions, okay. So all other emissions generated indirectly by the mining activity and which are not controlled by the mining company. Okay. So this could be fabrication of a product that includes the mined metal, it could be the recycling of the metal, it could be the refining of the metal at some other location, it could be the greenhouse gas emissions from shipping the concentrate to the refining facility. Okay. When we say cradle to grave, that’s everything from the ore body till the metal is finally permanently buried in a landfill. And that would be scope one plus scope two plus scope, three emissions, all the greenhouse gas emissions through the whole life of that piece of metal. Okay, now scope three emissions, things like fabrication of a product recycling of a metal, those are not normally reported. And there’s not really a standard methodology for reporting that. We’re going to consider something more restricted in this talk. I’m going to talk about cradle to gate. Okay, so the gate is when the metal is ready for fabrication into a product. So cradle to gate means scope one plus scope two plus shipping plus refining, and that’s when we’ll stop. Okay. So, mining and greenhouse gas emissions, mining is not a minor part of greenhouse gas emissions. This is from a article in Nature. It’s the most prestige science journal in the world. February 2020, is a quote from the abstract paper called transparency on greenhouse gas emissions from mining to enable climate change mitigation. Okay, quote from the abstract. Overall, we estimate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary mineral and metal production was equivalent to approximately 10% of the total global energy related greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Okay, so a mining accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Okay, the abstract continues for compromising fuel consumption increased by 130%. And electricity consumption increased by 32% per unit of mine copper in Chile, from 2001 to 2017, largely due to decreasing oral grade. Okay, so what’s happening as or grades go down as there’s less copper and a ton of or you’re still using the same amount of fuel to grind up all of that ore? Okay, so it means that for each ton of metal, you’re using more fuel and you’re using more electricity and you’re creating more greenhouse gas emissions. It’s simply a consequence of decreasing or grades as or as become as the high grade ores become exhausted. Okay, now in this respect, let’s look at some key characteristics of the Polymet and Twin Metals mines. Both mines are mining a sulfide or Polymet would be open pit Twin Metals would be underground.
Dr. Steve Emerman 09:28
Polymet would process 32,000 tons of ore per day, Twin Metals would process 20,000 tons of ore per day Polymet would produce 113,000 tons of copper concentrate per year and 18,000 tons of copper nickel nickel hydroxide, Twin Metals would produce 174,000 tons of copper concentrate per year and 84,000 tons of nickel concentrate, but I especially want to draw your attention to the grades of the ore Polymet 0.26% Copper, 0.04% nickel, Twin Metals 0.69% copper 0.22% nickel, those are very low oil grades even a comparison with the low oil grades occurring globally at the present time. Okay, so I call Polymet and Twin Metals ultra low grade ore. Let’s look at a comparison on the left hand side. This diagram is just for Australia. So if we look at copper ores, those are the circles mid 19th century copper ores are like 15 to 20% copper by 1900 to 1930 Those were all gone. Australia was mining ores that were 5% copper and now on Australia. Ore bodies are 1% copper 1% nickel that is fairly standard, at least in Australia. Okay, so 1% copper 1% nickel, that is standard in the world today compared with Polymet 0.2 point 0.26% Copper, 0.04% nickel, Twin Metals 0.69% copper 0.22% nickel. Okay, so Polymet and Twin Metals we mined in ultra low grade ore bodies, so we’re really paying a premium in terms of fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, electricity consumption to get the copper out of these low grade ores. Okay, so on the left hand side, we can look at energy consumption as a function of oral grade. Okay. So what we see is on the y axis, we have energy intensity, that’s kilojoules of energy per ton of copper that is per ton of copper metal. And on the x axis is the ore grade percent of copper. So we see as we go less than about 0.5% Copper, we have a huge increase in energy per ton of copper metal. Okay, so really paying a premium for energy consumption for these very low grade ores. Same thing for greenhouse gas emissions. Look at the diagram on the right. On the y axis, greenhouse gas emissions, kilogram kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of copper metal on the x axis, the oral grade, and as we go to or grades less than about 0.5%. Okay, we’re really paying a premium in a lot of greenhouse gas emissions for a kilogram or for a metric ton of copper. Okay, so, these ultra low grade ore bodies not ideal for producing copper metal in terms of fuel consumption, electricity consumption, greenhouse gas emissions. Okay. Now, my goal was to apply the mining industry trends to the Polymet and Twin Metals mines. Okay, so this was a report I wrote for friends, the Boundary Waters, wilderness sides, it’s publicly available now, comparison or projected greenhouse gas emissions with industry trends for the proposed Polymet and Twin Metals copper nickel mines in northeastern Minnesota. Okay, so how did I get those mining industry trends? I was able to find 23 academic studies of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from copper and nickel mining, all these studies use different datasets use different methodologies, or reach somewhat different conclusions.
Dr. Steve Emerman 13:51
How did I apply all of that? Okay, so I ask the questions of all these studies, which ones are most applicable to the Polymet and Twin Metals mines? Okay, so I had a set of priorities, one being the highest priority. Okay, so first, I favor the more recent studies. At the same time estimates that were clear outliers, I treated with great caution, even if they were more recent. In general, I prefer to choose estimates from a full small set of studies, rather than pick and choose estimates from many studies. Okay, second, I preferred estimates specific to the circumstances of the Polymet and Twin Metals mines. Okay, so the case of on site or in state estimates. This meant choosing estimates specific to open pit mining for poly mat, or underground mining for Twin Metals for cradle to gate estimates that would include that greenhouse gas emissions or energy consumption from refining. I chose estimates specific to sulphide ores called Pyrometallurgy process of extracting carbon and nickel from sulphide ores. And finally, since the oral grades are so low for Polymet and Twin Metals mines, I favored on site and in state estimates that took that or graded into account or the looked at energy consumption per ton of ore. Because you have to spend the energy to grind up all of the ore regardless of how much metal is present in that order. Okay, so let’s just look at a few examples. What we’re looking at here is various studies, we have eight studies that have looked at on site diesel fuel consumption rates for production of copper concentrate. Okay, so we have various estimates. We obtained by applying on industry trends from those studies to the circumstances of the Polymet and Twin Metals mines, the ones that I think are most applicable I circled in red. So Raphson Schmidt 2020 That’s the most recent study, we have an estimate for open pit mining 166.36 to a terra joules per year, we have an estimate for underground mining 113.91 terra joules per year, I regard those as most reliable. This was a very interesting steady couple are uncouple are 2016. They looked at energy consumption as a function of both or great and depth. I’m very hesitant to rely on that study. Because you get such very different results depending upon which aspects of the study you look at if you take into account the grade and the depth, if you just look at results for open pit or just for underground, very hesitant about that study. So (study name) is what I favor even though it has the lowest diesel fuel consumption rates. Okay, here’s another example. electricity consumption rates for production of copper concentrate on this area five we have a 14 studies along these lines. Okay, for Polymet mine I am most relying on the study by Faker strong in 2015 (study name) are 2016 is more recent, but such a wide range results depending upon which of their equations used. This last one by(study name) is really a clear outlier. Okay, in the case of the Twin Metals mines, I’m relying on (study name) okay 2020. Okay, one more example, cradle to gate total energy consumption rates for copper production. This most recent study based on sulphide ore is ranking in 2012. I applied both of that
Dr. Steve Emerman 18:13
Both of those to the Northmet mine and the Twin Metals mine (study name) at all is more reliable a somewhat hesitant to use that one is such a clear outlier to other studies. Okay, so some judgment was involved in here, but in each case, I decided which studies were most applicable to Polymet and Twin Metals mines. Okay. So with that we get the best estimates for these proposed mines based upon industry trends applied to the Polymet mine apply to the Twin Metals mine. We have on site estimates, that’s a scope one emissions, we have in state estimates that scope one plus scope two, in what I call global estimates, same thing as cradle to gate, that scope one plus scope two plus shipping plus we’re finding important consideration is we have estimates for electricity consumption. But that must be converted to greenhouse gas emissions and how you do that depends upon the power source. Okay, that this diagram on the left that’s coming from the final environmental impact statement for the Polymet mine. Okay, so both of these models will get their power from Minnesota Power. And actually, by Minnesota standards, Minnesota Power is a relatively inefficient generator of electricity. In terms of greenhouse gases for a certain amount of electricity, smaller providers, Xcel Energy, Allianz energy, Otter Tail power, are actually more efficient.
Friends of the Boundary Waters 19:54
We’re going to take a short break here to ask, Do you need help planning for your next Boundary Waters trip? Visit our website at Friends-BWCA.org, where you’ll find amazing trip resources, route maps, articles and free guides to prepare for your next BWCA adventure.
Dr. Steve Emerman 20:14
Okay, so now here’s the main thing, compare the best estimates the industry trends and the projections by the mining company. Okay, so let’s look at some interesting things here. For Polymet, we have direct greenhouse gas emissions 186,342 tons per year, commonly oxide, indirect greenhouse gas emissions 511,000 tons per year. So for the Polymet mine the sum of the instate emissions 697,342 tons of carbon dioxide per year, that would be equivalent to 137,540 passenger vehicles. Okay, so the in state emissions be equivalent to putting 137,540 more passenger vehicles on the roads of Minnesota for Twin Metals mine, direct greenhouse gas emissions that is on site emissions 50,071 tons carbon dioxide per year, indirect greenhouse gas emissions 1,144,492 tons per year. Okay, so we get out in state emissions about 1,202,563 times carbon dioxide per year is equivalent to putting onto Minnesota roads an extra 237,990 passenger vehicles. Okay, so we can look at those two mines together. It’s equivalent to a little under half a million passenger vehicles on Minnesota roads. Okay, now, by the way, this is a way in which the in state emissions were not included scope one plus scope to his emissions on site, plus submissions from generating electricity from Minnesota Power. It does not include shipping, but there is going to be some shipping on Minnesota roads. Okay, as we consider Twin Metals, 250,000 tons of copper and nickel concentrates per year, which ship it to Duluth into town to time trucks. That’d be 353 trucks per day, each truck doing a 200 mile round trip. This is a standard figure for two ton trucks for Carmody, oxide emissions per ton miles. So shipping on Minnesota roads adds another 9203 times of harmony oxide per year. Okay, now this is what we really want to do is decide how, how much can we rely on the projections by the mining companies? That is how do they compare with trends in the mining industry? Okay, so let’s look at Polymet direct greenhouse gas emissions by industry trends 83,076 times Polymet projects, under 86,342 times Okay. Polymet is projecting more emissions that will be standard in the industry. Indirect greenhouse gas emissions from generation of electricity industry transfer Polymet 271,149 times Polymet projects 511,000 tons. Okay, so we see here is actually Polymet is being appropriately conservative in projecting that they’ll have more greenhouse gas emissions than our standard in the industry. And that is a correct procedure. Okay, so Polymet has been appropriately here, I have many other criticisms of Polymet but not their projections of greenhouse gas emissions. Okay. Now, Twin Metals is a different story. Okay. So we see based upon industry trends for direct greenhouse gas emissions, industry trends projects, Hunter 57,293 times between metal says their greenhouse gas emissions will be 50,071 times. Okay, so projections by Twin Metals for onsite greenhouse gas emissions are about 1/3 of mining industry trends. Okay.
Dr. Steve Emerman 24:33
So why is that but first, let’s ask, why is that discrepancy so important? Okay. In fact, that is explained by Twin Metals themselves. Okay, this is a quote from their environmental assessment worksheet. Preliminary greenhouse gas emission calculations show Carmeli oxide equivalent emissions would be 58,072 times per year. Most important which is well below the threshold for a major source of air emissions of 100,000 tons per year in manasota. This is based on the mine heaters being used a maximum capacity 24 hours per day, seven days per week and six months out of the year. Okay, so it’s very important to Twin Metals to be below that threshold at 100 and 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, you’re called a major source of air emissions in Minnesota. Okay, so whole concept of major source of air emissions is connected with the Clean Air Act, okay. If you’re a major source of air emissions, you’re supposed to have a PSD permit PST meaning prevention of significant deterioration. Okay. And there’s various components to getting this PSD permit. They include installation of a best available control technology, a thorough air quality analysis, thorough additional impacts analysis of the impacts of these air emissions as significant public involvement. And Twin Metals is really trying hard to not cross that threshold. Okay, but let’s see how they do. So, okay, this is the worksheet from Twin Metals. And let’s see how they arrived at that total greenhouse gas emissions of 58,071 tons of carbon dioxide. Okay, we only have two components to this worksheet. We have liquid propane gas for heating, and is total greenhouse gas emissions. We have water based blasting emotions and their associated greenhouse gas emissions. Okay, so their on site emissions are a sum of emissions from liquid propane gas and emissions from blasting. And if I was teaching an in person class right now, I would say what’s missing from this calculation? And I don’t think I would proceed until a participant can name what was missing. But I will help you out and I will just tell you, what is missing from here. Okay, what is missing as What about consumption of diesel fuel? Okay, so that same environmental assessment worksheet says that Twin Metals will be consuming 20,700,000 litres of diesel fuel. And what about those associated greenhouse gas emissions? There’s no mention that’s not part of the calculation. So that’s a significant missing factor. Okay. Now that same document, Twin Metals also recognizes that’s missing and they promise they’ll take care of that later. Okay, so they say in the environmental impact study, greenhouse gas information would be refined by inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions from certain on site mobile sources of emissions, including haul trucks and loaders. Okay, so that’s all those consumers of diesel fuel, they will take care of that later. Okay, but the calculation really isn’t that hard at all. If you know how much diesel fuel you’ll be consuming and they tell us they say 20,700,000 litres of diesel fuel per year. Okay, well that’s well known. How many tons of carbon dioxide is emitted by burning of the tunnel or a kilogram or whatever of diesel fuel? Okay, so we can easily add the diesel fuel greenhouse gas emissions to liquid propane gas and water based plastic emotions. So now we have 45,481 times per year from liquid propane gas 12,590 times per year from water base blasting emulsions 61,091 tons of carbon dioxide per year from burning diesel fuel. Okay, so that gives us total onsite emissions of 119,162 tons of carbon dioxide per year. And now we have certainly crossed that threshold. We have crossed that threshold of 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Okay, but what else is missing here? What about greenhouse gas emissions from destruction of peat lands?
Dr. Steve Emerman 29:27
Okay. All this information is coming from Twin Metals. The project area includes 912.4 acres of peat lands that includes acid peat lands forested rich peat lands, open rich peat lands. So all of those peat lands are going to be destroyed to create this mine. Okay, now how much carbon is being stored in these Minnesota peatlands? This is a report from Minnesota DNR. loss of the carbon contained in 1000 acres of peat land would release approximately 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increasing Minnesota’s total annual emission of carbon dioxide by 2%, above 2000, and then five levels. Okay, now we’re talking about 912.4 acres of Minnesota wetlands and its destruction will release 2,715,519 tons of carbon dioxide. Okay, keep in mind that the quote has been referred to metric tons and now I’m doing the calculation in the US short time. Okay, so for 25 years of operation that would be 100 and 1621 tons of carbon dioxide per year. But probably most of this carbon is going to be released in the first few years in constructing the mine site. Okay, but let’s still let’s take this destruction of peat land and its associated carbon dioxide emissions and let’s average that over the 25 years of the mine project. Okay, so now we have an additional additional 108,621 tons of carbon dioxide per year, we’re adding up emissions from liquid propane gas water base blasting emulsions, diesel fuel and P land construction. We now have total onside emissions of 227,783 tons of carbon dioxide per year, meaning that with the most straightforward calculation, starting with estimates from Twin Metals, straightforward calculations based upon diesel fuel and peatland consumption, we can say the Twin Metals would far exceed the threshold for major source of greenhouse gas emissions. That is 100,000 tons per year. So this might just certainly be considered a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But even this list is not complete. We have not included emissions from forest and wetland destruction simply being peatlands the major sources of carbon storage. Okay, so anyway, look at that list. What’s number one on that list? Most important on that list is peatland destruction. Okay, now that is unavoidable. Okay. The major source of on site greenhouse gas emissions is peatland destruction, and that is unavoidable. Okay, we might say there might be less diesel fuel consumption. Twin Metals uses electric vehicles they use robots they use other technological advances. But this conversion of peatland into a mine site is unavoidable is inevitable. And simply the peatland destruction itself marks the Twin Metals mine as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Okay, so to summarize three major points. low grade ore bodies result in high greenhouse gas emissions per quantity of copper and nickel. According to mining company projections, inside emissions by the Polymet and Twin Metals mines would be equivalent to 137,540. passenger vehicles on Minnesota roads for the Polymet mine and for the Twin Metals mine an additional 237,190 passenger vehicles on Minnesota roads, but in this respect, I’m not including the emissions from transportation related to carrying these products from the mines to shipping ports in Duluth. Third, the projected on site emissions by the Twin Metals mines are about 1/3 of mining industry trends, even taking the low grade ore into account. This low projection projection places Twin Metals well below the threshold for a major source of air emissions.
Dr. Steve Emerman 34:15
Okay, fourth point, including diesel fuel consumption and peatland destruction would place Twin Metals far above the threshold for a major source of air emissions. And finally, the major source of onsite emissions is peatland destruction. This is inevitable simply a consequence of constructing a mine at that location. This will not be affected by electric vehicles or robots for other technological advances. And with that, I think I’ll turn it over to you mine.
Maya Swope 34:49
I met hoping that this kind of presentation is urging folks to take action and would just ask you to visit our Prove it First website so this would be a bill that would hopefully stop both Twin Metals and Polymet. But basically would ask any company that wants to build a sulfide mine in Minnesota to first prove that it can be done safely. And you can learn more about that at the website here.
Friends of the Boundary Waters 35:14
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Maya Swope 35:37
I think I just kind of want to start off not not a question exactly. But just to comment that, you know, as we’re talking about the COP26 this climate summit as we’re hearing, local Minnesota leaders talk about climate change, and Minnesota’s climate action plans, it’s kind of ridiculous to, you know, see that these mines are still proposed to go forward from those very same leaders, when we can see that, you know, they clearly are going against a lot of the climate goals that we as a state and as a community are trying to accomplish. And I think that the half a million vehicles added to the road, that number really stands out to me.
Dr. Steve Emerman 36:18
I would I would if you don’t mind, I’d like to respond to your last comment. Yeah. Okay. Okay. Just another thing to consider. Some argue that in order to address climate change, we need more copper, if you made that argument, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area and its neighborhood would be the worst possible location for that. Okay, the first reason being it’s an extremely low grade ore, okay, it does not make sense to expand the fuel the electricity create the greenhouse emissions to pull the copper out of such a low grade or, okay, the other point being that your worst possible choice would be an irreplaceable, valuable ecosystem. And I put the Boundary Waters into that category. Okay, so mining, a low grade copper nickel ore from a precious, valuable ecosystem would be the worst possible choice.
Maya Swope 37:16
Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. That makes a lot of sense. Um, okay, I’m looking through the chat and the q&a. Mike is asking, what are the implications of exceeding that 100,000 GHG emissions? Does it affect the permitting? And what are the increased costs to mine?
Dr. Steve Emerman 37:41
Okay, if you exceed 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year threshold, you’re now called a major source of air emissions, okay, that does significantly increase the costs of getting the permit and operating the mind, it puts you in a whole different category. Okay, you’re not have to have a special permit called a PSD permit, which means prevention of significant deterioration. And there’s many more parts to this, okay, you have to show that you’re using the best available control technology, you have to have a very thorough analysis of what the air emissions are going to be a very thorough analysis of what will be the impacts of those emissions, human health impacts and so on. there supposed to be much more significant public involvement. Okay. I’m trying to pretend like you’re below that threshold as a way of trying to fly under the radar. Okay, when even the simplest calculation says the Twin Metals, mine will be well, easily twice that threshold. Okay. So it does present significant new costs to the mining operation to to recognize that you’re above the threshold for a major source of air emissions.
Maya Swope 39:08
Let’s Yeah, thank you for that answer. Um, let’s see. We’ve got somebody in the q&a asking if the price of energy increases based on Minnesota powers, recent requests for rate increases, and the passage of a proposed price on carbon and Congress. When does the cost of energy make these mines economically non viable? And is there you know, a price hike in energy increases that would would contribute to the mines not finding that useful anymore?
Dr. Steve Emerman 39:39
Okay. Okay. Is that That’s an excellent question. Okay. Which is what happens to the mining operation as a whole what happens to their balance sheet, if you have an increase in their cost of their inputs, like their electricity consumption? Okay. That’s not a simple question. I can answer off the top of my head. Okay. But I can explain to where you would go for that in from to try to analyze that information. Okay, is that, um, both of these mining projects? Have they have feasibility studies, they have technical reports, that’s the information they provide to their investors. Okay, so that information needs to have a very detailed cost analysis, what they’re projecting their cost of electricity, how that affects their overall balance sheet. That number i gave for Twin Metals for their projected electricity consumption, that’s coming out of the feasibility report that they provided to investors. Okay. And those kinds of reports to investor should have a kind of sensitivity analysis, that is saying, Well, what if the electricity costs goes up significantly? How does that affect the balance? Okay, but certainly as a factor. At what point does the mining operation no longer become profitable? It’s not a simple question I can answer okay. But it’s certainly a factor to keep in keep in mind to take into account
Maya Swope 41:19
I see that Linda in the q&a is asking if the statistics that you’ve presented have been shared with regulatory agencies as expert opinions, or what the process for that has looked like.
Dr. Steve Emerman 41:33
Oh, okay. So I’m the expert report that I wrote was written for friends of the Boundary Waters wilderness. Okay. So I’ve been a consultant for the friends. And that’s how consulting works is you work for their client, you work for your client, okay. You don’t work for other parties interested in the same issue? Okay. So, that’s a question for the friends to answers. How have they shared that report?
Maya Swope 42:02
Yeah, and I know that from our perspective, I know we have passed it along to certain policymakers and other people in Minnesota and I think we’ll continue to kind of Yeah, spread that to two different leaders here. Um, I see a question from Lesley and maybe you know the answer to this a PT and PD says that platinum and something else give the most economic return from the mines. How do these metals affects the estimates
Dr. Steve Emerman 42:39
Okay, so So, for example, the Twin Metals mine is primarily a copper nickel mine. It’s also producing some platinum group elements palladium, platinum, some others. Okay. Terry, what was the particular question about that? I didn’t I didn’t quite Miss quite
Maya Swope 43:04
me just pull it up. Um, so asking if PT and PD sourcing PCM PD give the most economic return from the mines how do these metals affects the estimates?
Dr. Steve Emerman 43:23
Okay, so did the platinum group elements get the most return for the mine? I don’t know if I’m persuaded of this. Okay, that’s possible. I haven’t really seen a calculation that argues this. This slim producing much more copper and nickel than these platinum group elements. Okay. Now, if we ignore the competent nickel, then the cap kill he has become quite a bit more difficult in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, okay. Because there’s a lot of study on greenhouse gas emissions by copper mines as a lot of copper mines in the world. Their studies on greenhouse gas emissions by Nickel Mines. There actually are no studies for copper nickel mines, okay as the miser produced both okay. So in my report, I explained some reasoning. Okay, how they combined estimates from both copper mines and Nickel Mines. Okay. In terms of looking at industry trends, for mining of platinum group elements, you’re talking about a very small database there. Okay. I am aware of a couple studies from Australia. We are talking about a pretty small database, okay. Otherwise that would be an interesting question. To just ask what what is typical for mines that produce platinum? And if you then apply that to the Twin Metals, mines, what estimates would you get Okay, yeah, that would be interesting. Earliest, primarily a copper nickel mine. Okay. And just to add a bit more the most important thing here in terms of fuel consumption, energy consumption, the most important thing is how much or you have to grind up. Okay, so you have to grind up all of that or regardless of how much copper nickel platinum is present. Okay, so my guess is simply looking at this primarily as a platinum mine is not really going to affect my estimate so much.
Maya Swope 45:35
Yeah, I think that makes sense. And thanks for the response to that. I see a couple of questions here. This is something that I was wondering about as well. If you can just talk more about the environmental impacts of shipping all of the materials, to Duluth or to other places each day. Rob had a question, Has anyone figured out the environmental impact on the roads that need to be built or the trucks to accommodate the the transportation piece?
Dr. Steve Emerman 46:06
Okay, well, in terms of the roads or the infrastructure, it’s not something that that I have examined, presumably, all those trucks are going to take the same route every day. Okay. And if you’re on that route that sees I think I said 353 trucks per day. Okay. So if you have 353 trucks go by your house per day, every day for the next 25 years, it’s soon as something that you’re going to be aware of. Okay. In terms of the greenhouse gas emissions, I calculated, all of that would be equivalent to about 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Okay. So that, yes, that’s certainly a significant factor. The impact on roads? I don’t have an answer to, but certainly a significant, I mean, the overall impact on quality of life of people who live along along that route certainly would be significant.
Maya Swope 47:06
Yeah, I can imagine that what would not be pleasant to have all those checks going by your house in northern Minnesota, like that? I’m just stepping into a few of these other questions. Um, somebody is asking, it’s clear from your presentation. And from what we know that this is not a good idea to start with. I wonder if you have data of the kind of impact that similar types of mining has had in nearby areas, as well as the timing, for example, if mining proceeds, when are we expecting to see water contamination, fish species disappearing, other things like that? And I know that’s a little bit outside of the scope of this report, but I wonder if you if you have any information on that.
Dr. Steve Emerman 47:52
Okay, so this is a very good question. It turns up your what tends to be the impacts from copper nickel mining, when you see those impacts develop, etc. Okay. And this is connected with the whole discussion about Prove it First. Okay, so I don’t mind kind of sidestepping into that area. So what the Prove it First bill is about, of course, Mike can say more about that, if you like is that the type of ore body that would be mined, it’s called a sulfide ore body. Okay. And sulphide ore bodies tend to generate acid mine drainage and tend to have significant impacts in terms of water pollution, also air pollution, but mostly water contamination. And these ore bodies are very different than the kind of ore bodies oxide or bodies that are mined for iron in Minnesota. Okay, so So currently, and I don’t think anytime there’s been no mining of sulphide ore bodies in Minnesota, so that’s a new thing for Minnesota. Okay. Now, with a Prove it First law says is that if you want to find a sulphide ore body in Minnesota, show us an example of where this has been done safely somewhere else in the US, okay, so where in the US has there been a sulphide ore mined? That has operated for 10 years without water pollution? Where is there a sulphide ore body somewhere in the US anytime, anywhere, that has been closed for 10 years without water pollution? Okay. And Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wisconsin had a similar law. It was passed in 1997. And they were certain mines that were proposed as examples of these clean mines, clean sulphide mines that are operated without water pollution. And all of those proposed mines were discredited that it wasn’t true. There actually were records of water pollution fewer violations of regulations, there were academic studies, etc. Okay, now no one ever found an example of a clean mine that would pass that Wisconsin law, the way that mining companies got around if they have a law repealed. Okay, so that law was repealed in 2017. Okay. Now, in this discussion now about the Prove it First Ville Is It a Good Idea is unnecessary. People are suggesting Well, there’s mines that they have operated without water pollution. They’re the exact same mines that were proposed as rebuttals to the Wisconsin law, and we’re discredited, okay, so those exact same mines that were called Clean mines as a way to try to get around the Wisconsin law, those same mines are being recycled as examples of clean mines, even though you’ve all all have already been discredited. Okay, it means there aren’t any new examples for anyone to come up with, meaning there aren’t any examples. Okay, I’m not saying it’s impossible to operate a copper nickel sulphide mine without water pollution, but it’s never happened. Okay, it’s never happened anywhere in the US anywhere in the US under any circumstances. It’s never happened. Okay. If it was possible in Minnesota, it would be the first time that’s ever happened. Okay, but Minnesota, I understand Minnesota saying we’re not the guinea pigs here. Okay, let someone else be the guinea pig. Okay, let someone else show we’ve had a clean mine in our state without water pollution. But there sit there simply are no examples of that.
Maya Swope 51:38
Okay, yeah, and I think just to kind of jump on that Prove it First point a little bit, um, this law will really, if we can get it passed. And that is, you know, one of the things that we had the friends are really focusing on and these coming years will allow us to require some more science in our permitting process, and Minnesota and some more verification. That is, I think, a really good thing overall, both, you know, when we’re talking about specifically Twin Metals, or Polymet, but also any proposed future mines, any mines and other parts of the state, it would really kind of improve our process in general, in addition to stopping, you know, these particular mines that we are fighting here. And as I mentioned before, you will see a follow up email from me that has a link to those details on Prove it First, as well as an ask for folks who are on the call here to become Prove it First delegates, I your local caucuses this winter. And I’m just kind of looking at the time here, I don’t want to go much past the hour. So I will start to wrap up. And I realize that we are not able to get to all of the questions that are here. But please feel free to reach out to me if anyone has follow up questions that we weren’t able to address. And I really want to to kind of highlight a couple things that we have going on this week, in our friends in the Boundary Waters worlds. So we are kind of our climate week, overall, and you have a couple other presentations coming up later on. So tomorrow at noon, we will be hearing from Bill rom who grew up in Ely and is now a professor at the NYU School of Public Health. So he’ll be talking about climate and public health. And I think that’ll be a really interesting way to continue thinking about this. And then on Thursday, we will have also at noon, a presentation from we free like at the University of Minnesota, who has some really interesting studies that he’s done on the northern boreal forest and how climate change will affect that affect, you know, what the Boundary Waters will look like in you know, 2050 100 years. So tune into both of those. I will put in the chat, the link to all of that information. So that is in there right now. So you can sign up for both of those there. And yeah, I just want to say a big thank you to Dr. Emerman. This is super interesting and such important science for us here in Minnesota. Thank you to all of you for for tuning in really appreciate, you know you’re being engaged and protecting the Boundary Waters and and fighting for a safe and healthy climate for all of us. One last plug. It is our gift to the max week next week. So it gives the max day is one of the largest fundraising days for us at the friends and to keep this work going keep doing projects like this. We really rely on support from all of you to make it happen. So I again will put that link in the chat where you can sign up to support us we do have a match going on right now. So every every dollar that you donate will be doubled. So that’s kind of a really exciting way to contribute to all of this. So Dr. Emerman Any any final words before we close out for the afternoon?
Dr. Steve Emerman 55:05
Oh, well, thank you very much. Thank you very much for the invitation. Okay. I do think it’s important of the audience to give careful consideration to this Prove it First concept. If you can’t run a mine without water pollution anywhere else ever, what makes it possible in Minnesota? This Id actually is catching on I believe Buckingham County, Virginia also has a Prove it First ordinance and country of Ecuador has such a bill before the National Assembly So, so think about it, give it some thought.
Chris Knopf 55:41
Thanks again to Dr. Emerman. for that informative presentation, and reminder that you can find a video of this presentation and more information on copper-sulfide mining and climate change on our website at Friends-BWCA.org. And thanks to you for joining us today. You are the strength of our organization. We look forward to having you join us again on our next friends the Boundary Waters podcast
On the Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast, we bring together people who share a love of the incredible BWCA wilderness in Northeastern Minnesota. The podcast will features scientists, political figures and experts in outdoor recreation and wilderness skills to help you learn new facets of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the most visited wilderness in the United States.Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts Listen on Amazon Music Listen on Spotify Listen on Stitcher
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