Protection of Minnesota Water, Landowners and Taxpayers from Non-Ferrous Mineral Prospecting

Advocacy to Minnesota Executive Council to Delay Prospecting for Sulfide Mining (2015)

In August 2015, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed to put 103,000 acres of land across Northeastern Minnesota on the auction block for non-ferrous mineral leasing, WaterLegacy called upon citizens to ask Governor Dayton and leading state officials on the Executive Council to protect Northern Minnesota from a huge sulfide mining/prospecting district.

Auction of sulfide mining leases would pose the following risks:

  • State mineral leasing would give mining companies the power to condemn privately owned lands, whether or not the owners want to sell to mining companies.
  • Drilling for copper, nickel and other metals can contaminate groundwater, pollute surface waters, damage wetlands, and disrupt resort businesses and communities with excessive noise.
  • Mineral leasing would open up huge areas of the Cloquet and St. Louis Rivers and the Lake Superior, Boundary Waters, and Mississippi River watersheds to potential sulfide mining.

More than 875 comments were sent to the Executive Council asking that the State stop non-ferrous mineral leasing until water resources, landowners and taxpayers were better protected.

WaterLegacy Testimony to the Executive Council

On September 9, 2015, the Executive Council met to receive an update on the 2015 non-ferrous mineral leasing process. No public notice was provided of this meeting and no agendas or rules for public participation were available. WaterLegacy learned of the meeting and was able to testify as a result of a briefing we sent to one of the Executive Council members.

At the Executive Council meeting on September 9, 2015 WaterLegacy requested that the Council  protect Minnesota’s natural resources, landowners and taxpayers from the risks of prospecting and sulfide mining:

  • The Executive Council should ensure that no additional non-ferrous mineral leases be auctioned until environmental review is conducted and policy changes made to protect Minnesota water resources, landowners and taxpayers.
  • Environmental review should be required prior to state auction of non-ferrous mineral leases to analyze the location, sensitivity and ownership of the acres, screen out parcels from auction, and set appropriate conditions for any sales.
  • Policy review of the cumulative risks of creating a sulfide mining district across Northern Minnesota should take place before any additional auction of non-ferrous mineral leases.
  • Before any additional auctions of mineral leases on private property, Minnesota statutes allowing condemnation of surface estates should be amended so that private landowners and mining companies with mineral leases stand on equal footing.
  • Rules and policies should be changed to require financial assurance based on the complete life cycle of operations and reclamation for non-ferrous mining and to include parent and joint venture companies on permits to mine and pollution permits.
  • Environmental review of any sulfide mine proposed for Minnesota should include independent and accurate water modeling and analysis of pollution and wetlands impacts.

READ WaterLegacy’s testimony on non-ferrous mineral leases here.

Petition for Copper-Nickel Mining Prospecting Environmental Review (2012)

WaterLegacy worked with Northeastern Minnesota citizens to petition for environmental review of non-ferrous mining leases. Although the citizen petition was denied and litigation unsuccessful, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has provided greater detail on mining leases and locations as a result of this citizen petition and has allowed citizens to sign up for notice of proposed lease auctions.

READ the Citizen Petition for Environmental Review of Non-Ferrous Mineral Leases (Sept. 25, 2012)

FOLLOW ongoing non-ferrous mineral leasing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and sign up for notice of proposed mineral lease auctions

Protection of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest from drilling and prospecting near the Boundary Waters

Last year, the U.S. Forest Service decided to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in response to requests by mining companies for 29 permits to conduct exploratory drilling for minerals on Superior National Forest lands, particularly in the area near Birch Lake,  adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Forest Service initially planned that its Prospecting EIS would bootstrap other plans for prospecting throughout the Forest and plans for bulk sampling of sulfide rock containing minerals. WaterLegacy and other groups submitted comments on the draft Prospecting EIS asking for more protection from impacts of exploratory drilling and that the Forest Service insist that any additional drilling or mining activity not specifically included in the 29 permit applications require an additional and complete environmental review. Read comments submitted by WaterLegacy in June 2011 on the Forest Service draft EIS.

On June 1, 2012, the Forest Service gave legal notice of its Final EIS and Record of Decision (ROD) to allow prospecting, including various stipulations to minimize the harm of this activity.  The Bureau of Land Management will issue 28 prospecting permits in the Superior National Forest based on consent of the Forest Service.

You can read the U.S. Forest Service Final EIS and Record of Decision.

In its Final EIS and ROD, the U.S. Forest Service adopted many of the suggestions made by WaterLegacy, including the following:

  • Limiting the prospecting EIS to only the permit applications specifically identified for the project (WL DEIS Comment, p. 3, ROD-4)
  • Requiring that any future permits and operations plans must require a separate and complete National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) compliance process. (WL DEIS Comment, p. 14, ROD-6). This includes mineral bulk sampling. (ROD-18, FEIS, p. 8)
  • Ensuring that the prospecting EIS does not authorize any mining or minerals development, including, and that such a proposal would require a new and separate NEPA process. (WL Comment, p. 3, ROD-16).
  • Preventing impacts on water quantity resulting from cumulative withdrawals of water from the same water body by multiple companies and explorations. (WL DEIS Comment, pp. 2, 11, ROD-16, FEIS, p. 48).
  • Increasing protection of natural stands of wild rice in lakes, rivers and streams. (WL Comment, p. 10, ROD-16).

However, on two key points, the Forest Service did not provide protections of natural resources requested by WaterLegacy and supported by the evidence contained in the Forest Service’s own Final EIS.

  • Groundwater was only protected from contamination with brackish water as a result of drilling in areas adjacent to existing wells, not throughout the Forest.
  • Neither seasonal limits on drilling nor requirements for sound mitigation at all drill sites were required, even though the Final EIS said that these stipulations (Alternative 5) were practical and feasible and would reduce impacts to solitude in the wilderness, recreation, sensitive species, wildlife, soils, water and would minimize invasive species.
WaterLegacy Administrative Appeal (2012)

On July 16, 2012, WaterLegacy filed an Administrative Appeal to the Forest Service asking that groundwater be protected from contamination with brackish waters and brines throughout the Forest, not just near existing wells.

WaterLegacy’s Appeal also requested that the Forest Service require noise mitigation at every drill site and prevent exploratory drilling from May 1 through October 31 (Alternative 5) as well as implementing additional protection if noise levels above 30 decibels are detected in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Alternative 4). This appeal was denied.