Sulfide Mining and Your National Park
On December 6, 2013 a 2,100-page Environmental Impact Statement for PolyMet Mining Corporation’s NorthMet open pit sulfide mining project was released. While northeastern Minnesota has a rich history of iron mining, sulfide mining is different and is proposed in the water-rich Duluth Complex, where it has never been attempted.
In sulfide mining, a small portion of the metals found within the sulfide ores are extracted. When brought to the surface, as is done with mineral extraction, sulfide ores interact with air and water and undergo a chemical reaction that creates sulfuric acid. This acid drainage from the mine’s waste rock can create long-lasting contamination to water, plants, and aquatic species and wildlife. Acid mine drainage from the proposed project could require 500 years of water treatment and is of particular legal, financial, and environmental concern to those who love the waters, wildlife, and land of northeastern Minnesota.
The NorthMet project lies in the Lake Superior watershed, however it is not the only sulfide mine project being proposed in northeastern Minnesota. Twin Metals, LLC is proposing an underground sulfide mine within the Rainy River watershed, which flows through Voyageurs National Park. The Bureau of Land Management is set to release an Environmental Assessment for two of Twin Metals’ mineral lease renewals in 2014. Many Minnesotans worry that if the NorthMet project becomes a reality, so will other proposed projects, posing new dangers to the aquatic life in the pristine waters of Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters, and Voyageurs National Park.
Voyageurs National Park Association is carefully monitoring this issue and the potential impacts on Voyageurs. VNPA is mindful of the importance of strong, vibrant communities surrounding Voyageurs National Park and recognizes the need for a balanced approach to economic development, including mining. VNPA’s concern is the effects of acid mine drainage leave at least the potential for permanent damage to the park’s delicate natural resources, particularly our waters and wildlife. It is important that we have a realistic understanding of these risks and are ensured that adequate remediation measures are in place before permits are issued. VNPA will work with experts and partner organizations to address potential threats to Voyageurs’ ecosystem, educate project stakeholders, and respond to an Environmental Assessment on the Twin Metals project.