Northshore Mining Proposed Expansion into High-Sulfur Rock

Northshore Mining has proposed to expand taconite mining by 108 acres beyond its current permit into high-sulfur Type II Virginia Formation rock. This is the first time that Northshore Mining will excavate rock with the capacity to generate acid mine drainage.

Northshore Mining -- Peter Mitchell Mine Pit    Photo: Cliffs Natural Resources
Nothshore Mining --  Peter Mitchell pit
 
Northshore Mining wants to expand its pit into an area that contains sulfur-bearing rock. The site would be south of Babbitt and just east of the proposed PolyMet sulfide mining project.

Seepage from Northshore’s Peter Mitchell Mining pit  and from new high-sulfur waste rock piles, and pollution pumped to wastewater discharge points will affect the Boundary Waters watershed and, over time, will also impact the Lake Superior watershed. Langley Creek, the Dunka River and Birch Lake as well as the Partridge River are likely to be affected by acid minge drainage, sulfate and metals leachate pollution.

In addition to the threat of acid mine drainage and sulfate pollution upstream of wild rice, Northshore expansion into high-sulfur rock would create significant increases in the leaching of metals like copper, nickel and cobalt that are toxic to fish and aquatic life.

MinnPost reporter Stephanie Hemphill has reported on this proposed expansion, Northshore Mining and environmentalists square off over proposed taconite-pit expansion on 10/31/2014.

"This is the first time the state has required environmental review before allowing a taconite company to expose rock with sulfur content. Earlier exposures at the nearby Erie/LTV mine in the1970s and 1990s resulted in acid mine drainage affecting the Dunka River."

"'This is 2014; we should know better,' said Paula Maccabee, attorney for WaterLegacy. 'Mining in high sulfur rock requires careful examination of scientific information, conservative assumptions, examination of alternatives to minimize harm, and caution in determining effects on both surface and groundwater,' she said."

Northshore Mining Expansion map
Map: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
The current mine limits are outlined in green. The proposed expansion area is outlined in red.
The yellow outline represents the proposed location for storing sulfurous rock.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is Needed to Prevent New Northshore Mining Pollution Generated from High-Sulfur Rock
As an initial step for environmental review, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) prepared an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). This EAW reveals the need for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess potential significant impacts of the Northshore expansion proposal and demonstrated threats to water quality.
  • Acid mine drainage, sulfates and toxic metals from the Northshore Mining expansion into high-sulfur Type II Virginia Formation rock are likely to violate water quality standards, degrade aquatic habitat, impair wild rice and contaminate drinking water.
  • State agencies have not required any alternatives to control or treat high-sulfur mining pollution. No alternative locations for mining or waste rock have been considered. No capture of polluted seepage or water quality treatment of contaminated water has even been considered.
  • State agencies have not required any analysis of cumulative harm resulting from water pollution from existing taconite mines and proposed sulfide mines in the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior watersheds.
  • Existing permits for the Northshore mine don’t limit sulfates or toxic metals. They would not protect wild rice, fish or aquatic life from new levels of mining pollution.
  • State agencies have not studied fractures or faults under the Northshore mine pit and waste rock pile locations to determine how much pollution from high-sulfur mining will seep into the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior watersheds and affect drinking water. The map below illustrates fractures and faults in the vicinity of the Northshore mine.
Northshore Mining Expansion map
Map: WaterLegacy Exhibit 5 to Northshore Mining Comments to MDNR

WaterLegacy’s Northshore Expansion Request to MDNR for a State EIS (October 14, 2014)

Exhibits
Consistent with the Clean Water Act, State and Federal Permits must be denied until alternatives have been developed to limit, contain and treat pollution, and ensure compliance with all water quality standards.

Clean Water Act Section 401

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) must deny “certification” under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act when a federal permit for mine expansion into wetlands would violate state water quality standards. WaterLegacy has requested that the MPCA allow an open public process and that the Agency deny Clean Water Act certification for Northshore Mining’s proposed expansion into high sulfur rock.

WaterLegacy’s Northshore Expansion Request to MPCA to Deny Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification (October 23, 2014)

Clean Water Act Section 404

The Northshore Mining expansion into high-sulfur rock would require a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to destroy wetlands. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Army Corps should deny and the United States Environmental Protection Agency should veto this permit, because acid mine drainage, sulfates, and toxic metals from the Northshore Mine expansion project would significantly affect wildlife, fisheries and drinking water, and would contribute to violation of State water quality standards. The proposed expansion also requires an Environmental Impact Statement under federal law.

TAKE ACTION:

Read, print and share WaterLegacy Northshore Expansion Fact Sheet

Contact Governor Mark Dayton https://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/ and ask for an Environmental Impact Statement before any permits are considered for Northshore Mining’s expansion into high-sulfur rock.

Contact the Citizens’ Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency at 651-757-2024 or email citizensboard.pca@state.mn.us and ask for a public meeting on the Northshore Mine expansion into high-sulfur rock.

 
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