Metallic sulfide mining (aka hard rock mining) is the practice of extracting metals such as nickel, gold and copper from a sulfide-rich ore body. Sulfides are a geologic byproduct of mining in this area, and by exposing sulfides to the air and water in our atmosphere, sulfuric acid can be created — threatening to poison the nearby water, environment, and communities.
Why Is Sulfide Mining Dangerous?
- If sulfide ore or sulfide tailings are exposed to water and air during mining, a chemical reaction creates sulfuric acid – basically battery acid.
- There has never been a sulfide mine that has not polluted nearby water resources.
- Pollution from sulfide mining is very expensive to fix, and a burden for taxpayers.
- The legacy of sulfide mining is Acid Mine Drainage. AMD poisons water forever (2,500 – 10,000+ years); once AMD pollution begins, it is very difficult to contain or remediate the problem.
- Acid Mine Drainage is a long-term pollutant. form multi-colored sediments in the bottom of streams and can disrupt the growth and reproduction of fish or kill aquatic plants and animals.
- Mining in wild and remote areas of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula threatens to destroy the essential wild qualities of the place – forever. Each mining project requires an array of changes related to infrastructure and industrialization. EXAMPLE: In the case of the Eagle Mine, constructed on the remote Yellow Dog Plains of northern Marquette County, the impacts have been staggering:
- seasonal logging roads have been turned into a paved highway ending at Eagle MIne’s gate
- industrial vehicle traffic runs 24-hours a day, including ore trucks, gravel and sand trucks, tankers containing water, drilling fluids, waste, and chemicals used by Eagle Mine, delivery trucks, Eagle Mine employee vehicles, contractor vehicles, and traffic related to widespread mining exploration on the Plains
- sound and light pollution from drilling rigs in the Eagle East exploration area
- the mine’s twice-daily underground blasts can be felt several miles away, and only one test (conducted prior to Eagle’s full operation) has been done to determine whether there are harmful seismic impacts on the viability of fish eggs in headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, directly above the orebody
- a cloud of light pollution has spread over the Plains, clearly marking the location of Eagle Mine and industrial truck traffic along the new highway
- a new trucking facility (MJ Van Damme) has been constructed near Eagle Mine to support the mine’s ore trucks, further expanding Eagle Mine’s industrial footprint and environmental impacts
- the mine facility has been completely cleared of vegetation; the industrial site can be clearly seen from satellite imagery
- the mine’s exhaust vent (Main Vent Air Raise, or MVAR) has no filter; the mine’s unfiltered air pollution plume (containing vehicle emissions, blasting chemicals, and particulate matter containing heavy metals and sulfides) are blown out over the Yellow Dog Plains every day
- the mine’s treated wastewater is being discharged into a shallow groundwater aquifer; this groundwater is modeled to be moving NE toward springs that feed the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River
- water monitoring in the area of Eagle Mine shows regular “exceedances” although these exceedances have failed to reach levels that would result permit violations
- groundwater dewatering (drawdowns) near the mine’s freshwater well are greater than anticipated
Why Is Sulfide Mining A Bad Deal for the U.P.?
- Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has 1,700 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes.
- There are 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and 4,300 inland lakes in the U.P.
- It takes over 190 years for contaminants to cycle through Lake Superior!
- The Great Lakes contain 18% of the world’s freshwater, a globally precious resource.
- Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality appears to be unable or unwilling to properly regulate Part 632, the State’s sulfide mining law.
What About Jobs?
- Mining is a boom and bust industry that produces only short-term economic stimulus. Over time, mining destabilizes and hinders the growth of local economies.
- The mainstay of Upper Michigan’s economy is tourism. Punching multiple heavily polluting mines into our wild areas threatens water and natural resources as well as the future of eco-tourism in the U.P. – worth 20 million in revenue to a small city like Munising Michigan alone!
What’s Happening With Sulfide Mining in the U.P.?
- Rio Tinto was the first global mining corporation to apply for a permit to operate a sulfide mine in Michigan, 30 miles north of Marquette on the Yellow Dog Plains near Lake Superior. Rio Tinto sold the mine in 2013 to Lundin Mining Company. Eagle began operation in 2014.
- The Eagle Mine was granted permits from State agencies to begin mining in Michigan under Michigan’s weak and untested sulfide mining regulations, Part 632.
- The Eagle Mine blasted their portal through an outcrop, Eagle Rock, which is sacred to indigenous tribal members.
- Polymetallic orebodies may be located throughout in the Lake Superior Basin. Multinational mining corporations are actively exploring for copper, nickel, uranium, and more – in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in northern Wisconsin, in northern Minnesota, and throughout Ontario.
- The Copperwood Project (Orvana Resources) applied for and received mining permits under Part 632. The proposed Copperwood mine would be located on the western boundary of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, on the shoreline of Lake Superior. The project was sold to Highland Copper, which is now (2017) conducting exploratory drilling in the Porcupine Mountains, and may request new permit amendments to allow mining to take place underneath the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
- In late 2015, Canadian-based Aquila Resources submitted a permit application for Back Forty project. In late 2016, and despite overwhelming opposition to the Back Forty project, the Michigan DEQ issued Aquila’s mining permit and an air permit. The Aquila Back Forty project is located on the bank of the Menominee River, and would result in the excavation of an 800′ deep open pit, less than 100′ from the river.