Minnesota’s Sulfide Mining Industry Ignites Environmental Controversy

Water used in the mining project can contaminate local water sources. (Flickr)

Water used in the mining project can contaminate local water sources. (Flickr)

Twin Metals, a Minnesota based mining company, announced on July 18 that it will use the dry stacking method to handle waste for an upcoming sulfide mining project.

Dry stacking is a technique in which water is filtered out from iron tailings after certain minerals, such as copper, nickel, and gold, are processed. The wastewater is then recycled back into a processing plant. This measure was aimed at reducing the risk of leaks and dam failures associated with sulfide mining among locals, in addition to lowering long-term water treatment needs. 

However, a month later, residents of Minnesota still continue to question the practices of various sulfide mining companies and the potential disastrous environmental impact of the new mine.

Twin Metals plans to set up its new sulfide mining operation near the BWCA, which is a designated wilderness area otherwise known as the Boundary Waters. Concerns abound about potential water pollution in the protected area as the proposed mine would be in the watershed of Boundary Waters. 

Polluted runoff could potentially damage the wilderness area, disrupting wildlife and potentially destroying habitats for several animals dwelling in or around the watershed.

Several organizations are speaking out against the proposed sulfide mine, even with this new dry stacking measure added. Becky Rom, the national chairwoman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, has stated that she still opposes Twin Metals’ new mining proposal. 

“There should be no sulfide ore copper mine located in the watershed of the Boundary Waters, period,” she remarked, pointing out that dry stacking or not, the sulfide is “still toxic,” and this new measure does not negate all the risks associated with it.

Others have a different point of view. Nancy Norr, who is in charge of Jobs for Minnesotans, a coalition of corporate and labor groups who generally support the mining industry in the face of the economic opportunity they present, believes this new announcement was good news. “We need to mine somewhere. If not here, where?”

Others, such as Julie Padilla, are inclined to agree with Norr. Padilla, a regulatory officer, believes that the Twin Metals operation is “not your 1967 mine,” and is in fact far cleaner than most Minnesotans realize. 

Still, others point to evidence that new mines in general could lead to the decline of permafrost in the state, an issue at the heart of the modern climate change movement. Sulfide mining could lead to permafrost melting faster, increasing methane emissions.

Taken together, these environmental questions prove that amid global concerns about climate change, the mining debate in Minnesota enters a new phase, with more citizens and environmental groups speaking out to end sulfide mining in the state altogether.