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CMC's "Environmentally Responsible Mining" Survey Fails to Demonstrate Example of Safe Metallic Sulfide Mine
Date: Mon, 26 May 1997 09:20:11 -0400 (EDT)
Critique of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration Inc. survey, Environmentally Responsible Mining: Results and Thoughts regarding a survey of North American Metallic Mineral Mines, 1997, J.W. Todd, and D.W. Struhsacker. This survey was commissioned by Exxon and Rio Algom's Crandon Mining Company (CMC).
The CMC survey was conducted ostensibly to answer the question of whether or not there are environmentally safe metallic sulfide mines operating in North America. Unfortunately it fails to answer the most important question: does the mining industry have a reliable track record of successful closure and reclamation? The Wisconsin state legislature is debating the Metallic Mining Moratorium bill (SB 3), which would prohibit metallic sulfide mines in Wisconsin, only until the mining industry demonstrates an example of a metallic sulfide mine in geology similar to that of northern Wisconsin which has operated safely for at least 10 years and been closed and reclaimed safely for 10 years without causing water pollution. CMC's survey fails to demonstrate any examples of mines that would meet this simple test. Despite this fact, mining proponents are misleading the public by calling the survey proof that CMC's proposed mine would be safe.
On March 11, 1997, the Wisconsin State Senate passed an amended SB 3 with a 29 to 3 vote. One of the amendments to the bill stipulates that a mining operation used to satisfy the requirements of SB 3 must be, "...in a sulfide ore body which is not capable of neutralizing acid mine drainage of similar geologic characteristics..." (added language italicized.) With this amendment, at least two examples used in this survey could not be used to satisfy SB 3. They are the Viburnum No. 27 and any of the mines that operated in the southwest Wisconsin lead-zinc district. Although they are now irrelevant to the debate, discussion of their use in the survey is still worthwhile as illustrations of specific problems with the survey.
The survey cites 6 mines plus the historic Wisconsin lead-zinc district.
1. The Henderson Mine and Mill The mine and mill are each located in different locations at least 15 miles apart (Empire, Colorado-mine, Parshall, CO-mill). This example is not yet closed or successfully reclaimed. This example is highly flawed-see attached report for detail.
2. The Cannon Mine, Wenatchee, WA This gold mine closed only one year ago. It operated for 9 years, but has yet to demonstrate any successful closure and reclamation.
3. The McLaughlin Mine, Lower Lake, CA This project is an open-pit gold mine. It is neither closed nor reclaimed.
4. The Stillwater Mine, Nye, MT This underground mine opened in 1987. It is neither closed nor reclaimed. Note that the Final Environmental Impact Statement for this mine stated that it is not a high-sulfide mine and that "no indication exists that this mine would produce acid." CMC's own testing of its waste rock has already demonstrated a high capacity for acid production. CMC's own documents acknowledge that the ore body and subsequent wastes left behind are high-sulfide.
5. The Viburnum Mine No. 27, Viburnum, MO This mine closed in 1978 and is touted as a safely closed mine in that it serves as the primary drinking water source for the town of Viburnum. No tailings were milled at the mine site or backfilled into the mine. Milling and processing of the ore from the No. 27 was done at the mill in Viburnum-5 miles away from the mine. There are two tailings dumps at the Viburnum mill, one still receives milling wastes and the other is closed and only partially reclaimed.
An additional important difference between this closed mine and CMC's proposal is that there are multiple layers of dolomite and limestone bedrock throughout the Viburnum
Trend that have likely helped to protect groundwater and surface water from acid mine drainage. These high-carbonate rock layers that help buffer acid production are not part of the geology of precambrian bedrock found throughout northern Wisconsin. An amendment to
SB 3 when it was passed in February, further precludes the use of this mine as a "successful" example due to its geologic setting unlike that of northern Wisconsin.
The use of the Viburnum No. 27 in this report still demonstrates a major flaw in the survey's methodology. The authors include an example, the Henderson mine in Colorado, where the operating mine itself is at least 15 miles away from the mill and waste dumps. Despite this, Henderson is touted by the authors to be a single successful mine. Contrast the use of the Henderson mine with the author's convenient "disconnect" of the Viburnum No. 27 mine from Doe Run's currently operating mill and tailings dumps in the city of Viburnum, Missouri-some 5 miles away from the mine site-in their effort to create a successful mine. By comparison, CMC's proposal is an integrated mine and mill complex, and waste dumps on one contiguous site. Additionally, Doe Run company officials confirm that milled ore from this mine was processed at their Herculaneum, MO smelter. This smelter processes lead concentrates and was cited in 1988 for 300 violations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration .
6. The Flambeau Mine, Ladysmith, WI This mine is not yet reclaimed. This open-pit mine operated for an unusually short period of time-3 years. There was no milling or chemical processing on-site, therefore no potential acid producing wastes from milled tailings. Yet the Flambeau mine is considered high-sulfide and waste rock overburden has yet to be successfully placed back into the open pit. Re-flooding of the pit will take place in the years to come and it is unclear whether the burial of the high-sulfide waste rock will preclude the production of acid drainage and groundwater pollution. Unlike the proposed Crandon mine, Flambeau's operators essentially shipped their waste problems to Canada.
The survey attempts to describe the southwestern Wisconsin lead-zinc district as meeting the requirements of "successful reclamation." This characterization is highly misleading. This area of Wisconsin was never subject to mining on the scale proposed by CMC. CMC's proposal could produce in 7 years, as much zinc ore as was produced during the 117-year high production period of zinc mining in southwest Wisconsin . Ultimately though, any consideration of the lead-zinc district for the purpose of satisfying the requirements of the Mining Moratorium Bill is inappropriate due to its dissimilar geology.
There are additional problems with the CMC survey's methodology that should be pointed out. It was not the product of an objective analysis by researchers unconnected with either CMC or the mining industry in general. One of the authors, Debra Struhsacker, is a geologist formerly connected with efforts by Noranda to develop the Lynne deposit in Oneida County and she is currently registered as lobbyist for Crandon Mining Company.
This survey cites as references only company officials from the mining companies cited. At minimum, regulators in the states where each project is located should have been identified for corroboration and asked to serve as objective contacts for verification. The survey did not include results from all the mines examined. And curiously, the authors failed to find a single example outside of the United States, despite research advertised as a survey of North American mines. Metallic sulfide ores found in northern Wisconsin are very similar geologically to those found in the Greenstone Belts of Canadian Shield bedrock.
Finally, Debra Struhsacker was asked during a 2/18/97 radio interview whether she had found examples of metallic sulfide mines that would fit the criteria called for in SB 3. She stated that, "we could find mines that meet the requirement but that's not the point." Struhsacker's statement completely dodges the question. The mining industry and Crandon Mining have been asked repeatedly to come up with a single example of a successfully reclaimed metallic sulfide mine; this survey fails to do so. Even the Wisconsin DNR had to acknowledge in a 1995 report, that they were unable to find an example. This survey does not demonstrate that new mining can be relied upon not to cause pollution. Ultimately, it is an indictment of the mining industry's track record in that it proves the original contention; that there has never been a successfully reclaimed metallic sulfide mine.
Mining Impact Coalition 5/97-Revised
Citations available for this Critique from:
Mining Impact Coalition of WI Inc.
P.O. Box 259034
Madison, WI 53711
Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin Inc. is