Sulfides! Evil, horrible sulfides! Attend any activist rally or meeting and this is the first thing you end up hearing in Ely, Minnesota.
You cannot ask the activist on the street about mining copper-nickel without hearing an "ide" word. When you hear "sulfides", if you watched enough TV in your life and you are not a chemist, it sounds like "cyanide". We all know that cyanide is bad, period. It has no uses whatsover other than killing everything - in the more limited-mind educated by murder mysteries, spy novels, and capital punishment.
Sulfides are essentially sulfur salts from sulfur compounds. Sulfur compounds are in everything we humans touch. Ever visit a Starbucks? That steaming hot cup of goodness is all sulfur. Ever eat coleslaw, asparagus, brussel sprouts, bok choy, onions, garlic, or a zillion other vegetables which are not in the Little Debbie food group? You are eating sulfur, and you are going to release sulfates whether you like it or not. When those sulfates get outside, they become sulfides after batcteria eats them and subsequently poops out a dreaded sulfide which in Northeastern Minnesota, bonds with porewater iron and sinks well below the roots of wild rice. You can read my interpretation plus Minnesota's HUGE study right here if you need reassurance.
I've merely touched the tip of the sulfur-based iceberg. I have a friend who hauls sulfur in a 53-foot-long trailer to farmers all over the country. They dump sulfur on fields because, guess what: cabbage and over half the items you eat to have a healthy heart suck up sulfur. Guess how we get sulfur? We mine it. We dig it out of the earth wherever it ended up after a million years of dinosaur poop separated out after dinosaurs ate a lot of garlic. I really don't know how the element sulfur gets to where it does, and I don't care. I just know that we mine, eat it, and it makes guns "go boom" with it. We need it and there is no really good way around using sulfur. As a result, we constantly add sulfides to the environment.
They aren't proposing mining "sulfides" in Ely, Minnesota, at the Twin Metals site. They want to mine copper, nickel, gold, palladium and platinum, but mainly copper-nickel.
Despite what you've been hearing the activists repeating over and over, the Twin Metals site will be an underground site. That means they start somewhere south of the deposit and make a big 14-foot diameter tunnel at an angle that would make a pile of rocks (mostly inert olivine used on sand paper and not much more) as they are drilling the tunnel with a big boring machine similar to what they use in subways all over New York. This makes a big pile of rock that can be rained on until the cows come home with no effects due to it being inert.
It will take years upon years just to reach the deposit where the copper-nickel is located. Hundreds of employees will be needed to do this job, and it won't even be happening directly over the top of the site. It will be in the middle of brown country where there are no lakes or homes or people. Once underground, you won't even know they are down there. Once 3,000 feet underground, they could make a lot of noise; and you won't even notice when you are fishing for crappies 3,000 feet above them in the Kawishiwi River. I also can't emphasize enough that they won't even be near the Boundary Waters line but the activists keep pushing to expand the buffer zone to that border.
Many plans, concepts, and refinements are still needed to be determined and approved by the State of Minnesota; but given a seven mile long tunnel and the costs associated in bringing up raw material for processing, you can rest assured that a lot of the processing of the rock will be down 3,000-5,000 feet below the surface. Just stop and think how much it would cost to haul raw rocks up to the surface, process them to separate out the valued parts and then bring all the tailings back underground to mix it with concrete and pack it back into the hole from which it came. I'm not a mining engineer or even a miner but it seems to me that processing underground to a valued concentrate would make more sense. Now, consider making a big room, deep underground where they mine and process the rock and then haul up a much more refined product (concentrate) to be sold to somebody seeking concentrate with copper, nickel, and the other precious metals. Hundreds of people are down there making little rocks out of big rocks and then taking those rocks with the horrible sulfides and putting them back into the ground 3,000-5,000 feet below the beautiful surface where we are fishing crappies and walleyes. The mining industry and the State of Minnesota know and understand the importance of properly handling and treating the tailings (waste rock) and preventing their exposure to surface air and water. They learned that back in the early 70's with the Dunka mine operation which exposed copper-nickel rocks during the quest for iron ore. They had a problem, they mitigated the problem and today, they catch 14" crappies in Birch Lake which is the watershed for the Dunka mine. Unlike the Gold King Mine wastewater release sponsored by the EPA in 2015 of unknown reasons and massive release of untreated water into the watershed, Minnesota solved the Dunka mine issue way back in the 70's. Minnesota knows that run-off from tailings allowed to oxidize can turn into stuff which absolutely nobody from Ely or the Iron Range wants in our water. Our water is our life. That is the crux of the activists' perpetual screaming about sulfides and stopping this mine from getting started. They think we're too stupid to know any of this important stuff.
Essentially, the activists, Sustainable Ely, Save the Boundary Waters, and all the other "stop everything" organizations out there are convinced that they know better, are righteous in their cause, and that all "corporations" are big ugly destroyers of everything who don't follow any laws of states like Minnesota. They also appear to conclude that we are not intellectually suited to understand the risk of mining activities no matter how small and intricate. Those same activists continue to attack the 100-plus-year-old, iron ore industry which is the reason the Iron Range exists. So, despite a clean environment that is here now and has been for years with mining all over Northeastern Minnesota, these same activists would rather it ALL be shut down. They also support that we, in turn, fulfill their insatiable need for metals from places like China where environmental standards and regulations are ignored or dismissed.
Unlike Minnesota, which has stringent mining guidelines and with every technology increase practices clean mining while protecting wilderness with regulations, China has few restrictions. The same goes for all the other developing nations that supply the world's metals. They dig it, dump the tailings in a river, and watch the farmers downstream go out of business while compromising health and life. Those despot and communist leaders want the money they get under the table from those mining companies who actually do follow rules and regulations when the aforesaid actually exist and are enforced. If they want to mine in the third world, they have to pay the big guy sitting high in the gold chair. Activists seem to overlook that fact conveniently when they are telling the public about sulfides and evil corporations - here in Minnesota - the land of regulations, rules and taxes. If there are no rules, the natural course is to make up the rules as needed to achieve the goal. Sometimes, rules are broken and ignored. We witness that every summer with privately outfitted canoe parties coming and going freely from nearby BWCA campsites. Despite the fact that their Boundary Waters permit is VOID the minute they paddle out of the park mid-trip to go have a latte' in Ely, they return to the landing and simply paddle back to their campsite as if they were camping at a state campground with their car. That is illegal. Completely illegal. But, since the US Forest Service doesn't stop them and fails to impress upon the would-be violaters the actual rule at permit pick-up, these people, many of whom hate big corporations for "breaking laws and hurting the environment," are doing exactly the same thing. Nobody says anything, so it's tacitly okay - even more okay when one is an anti-mining activist fighting for a cause and talking about rules for mines. The laws are seemingly for people with different mindsets as opposed to everybody.
When it comes to following rules and minimizing impact on the land, enviro-activists don't own the moral high ground as they would try to have us believe. With them in their large log homes, several cars, boats with motors, hi-tech computers, tablets, smartphones, and jetting around the world for much-needed vacations, there are rules and then there are "rules". (Note the irony: all assets and activities made possible and provided for by mining.) Stop and consider who the activists are and what their motivations might be for stopping a copper-nickel mine located 3,000 feet under ground in solid rock. If you live on the Iron Range, they sure aren't very concerned about you, your job, and your family's well-being. They take care of Number One and do so with relish.
Then consider the FACT that the Boundary Waters law provides for mining, logging, and other activities outside of it's borders. (Side note: It also provides for mining within its borders. Go read the law.) If nobody is allowed to operate anything within 75 miles (just an arbitrary number I chose) outside of the borders of a highly-regulated park that see just over 100,000 uses a year (compare that to the much-unregulated Yellowstone at 3.4 MILLION per year), that would make the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a ridiculously large playground for a relative few, rapidly-aging activists, wouldn't it? Considering that the Boundary Waters average user age is now 58 and the old-guard paddlers from the 1970's are dying off while a vast majority of Millenials have little to no interest in anything that might have boo-boos or bugs, where do you see Boundary Waters usage in the next five years? Ten years? Take a look at Minnesota fishing license sales each year and tell me what you see. Tell me again, why we can't sell the world our resources and instead are willing to turn to China who is wrecking the entire planet for your smartphone addictions?
We are instead being forced by enviro-activists to forgo a proposed underground copper-nickel mine that would bring hundreds of year-round jobs to Ely directly, and thousands more in ancillary support. The reason: so the activists can have their own playground when they decide to use it. Maybe not this year, but in a couple years, perhaps they may decide to visit the BWCA. Or what if the Millenial grandkids want to go? They might visit the BWCA in five to ten years - if they somehow magically learn how to paddle/portage a canoe and learn wilderness camping skills from Grandma who is now in her late 70s and no longer goes to the BWCA. Meanwhile, Grandma is fighting to stop all activites outside of the BWCA despite the fact that her paddling days are over and she live in a different state. She tells those of us born and raised right here next to the Boundary Waters need to find some other way to keep the lights on. Tourism - in the face of declining BWCA usage and declining fishing license sales - yeah, tourism has nowhere to go but up. Let's put all of our eggs in the tourism basket and try to hang on because mining and processing "sulfides" 3,000 feet underground for profit in the same state as the Boundary Waters is not going to be allowed. That's their playground, and it needs to sit and wait while they decide when they are going to use it, if any more, in the future.
Minnesota has mining rules that have allowed the comfortable existence of the Boundary Waters alongside the mining industry for years. Activists would perhaps declare it a contentious existence because "nothing is ever right" enough for them, and it's always their way or the highway. That's how their executive directors keep the donations flowing to the anti's organizations. There is always some attack against wilderness and their executive directors need money. They have a lot of lawyers among their ranks, and all enviro-activist lawyers know more than actual scientists. It's a wonder we even have state scientists in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources. Why have them when we have enviro-activist lawyers? Have the lawyers do the analysis and studies. We'd save money, and we'd always have the right answers.
It is now 2017. We have advance mining technology, and it continues to advance in our pursuit of efficiency to generate a better profit. Yes, to communists everywhere, "profit" sounds horrible. But the fact is, that paychecks received by ALL enviro-activists is gross profit. From that, they subtract their big log homes, fancy cars, boats, motors, and vacations. Any leftover cash is called net profit which they put in the bank. So, when they are out breaking the BWCA rules that exist to protect wilderness for their ice cream run to Ely, you know they made a profit this month. They just can't accept the evil word. Big companies do exactly the same thing. Mines only mine for profit. Otherwise, why do it? Ok, now - we've covered the enviro-buzzwords words "sulfides" and "profit" so far. It's good to throw them out there and clear the air.
In order to maximize profit, mining companies, who by law follow the rules in Minnesota, have to come up with more efficient ways to do a better job and prevent problems that arise in the future. Having dreaded sulfides leak all over the Boundary Waters would be a really big problem and a huge profit-eater because Minnesota and all the rest of us would be coming down on them on like a ton of bricks. This is our ACTUAL back yard. We live here for a reason. Being destroyed is not the reason.
Risk - the other enviro-buzzword. Is there risk in this mining venture? Absolutely. The enviro-activists want assured, zero risk guarrantees. Really? Do you think they take a risk turning on a light switch in one of their fancy homes? What if there is a gas leak? Sure the odds are ridiculously low that gas might be leaking, but lighting up the curio cabinet with mementos from back in the days Boundary Waters paddling, runs a risk no matter how small. I think they should follow their own demands for mining and never take even the slightest risk in their own lives. Do you think they would like the self-imposed paralysis? In all seriousness, rules and regulationss play a role in taking risk to public lands and valued resources. This is not China. Profit really demands consideration of risk. A risk ventured and failed means less than profit and maybe even huge losses, especially when the state of Minnesota requires that monetary protections be in place on Day One of an operation. Seriously, do you think that Minnesota is going to sit back and allow a risk to the Boundary Waters to exist without having an actuary determine the various outcomes for said risk and weigh those against actually allowing a mining operation? Or, are we, as a state, better served by listening to a bunch of aging activists who happen to be attorneys who think they know everything because they know how to work the legal system to their advantage? Did they ever take any calculated risks in their practices that won them huge profits year after year? How come everybody is okay with that, but if a mining should make a profit, it's evil?
So, when you hear an enviro-activist running his/her mouth about sulfides, ask them if they eat brussel sprouts. Then let them know that they've been producing sulfides all the while and don't even know it. Then tell them to be quiet.
And, yes, we all know that concentrating and dumping sulfides into a watersource, like the EPA did with the Gold King mine in 2015, is a horrific and detrimental thing to do. Only a complete idiot would not see how bad that was and probably still is. Funny, one would think the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States would feel adversely towards opening a dam and allowing millions of gallons of untreated minewater to dump into a river and wreck everything downstream at huge risk. That was sulfide-laden water, and I didn't hear one tiny peep out of the enviro-activists who insist that "federal government oversight is best." Not one peep, no protests, no nothing. It appears that Ely's activists have a sizeable rug and a large broom that they like to use in times of activism.
Sulfides - we're all gonna die. (but not from sulfides or copper-nickel mining)