THE QUESTION: A concerned citizen, Sara Culver, asks a good question: How many potential mines are known to exist in the UP, other than the Kennecott Eagle project? What are we letting ourselves in for?
THE QUICK ANSWER: We, the people, do not know. The mining and exploration companies, primarily Kennecott, Prime Meridian and possibly Aquila, have some answers but do not share them.
Let us count them, to the best of our ability.
1. The Kennecott Eagle on the Yellow Dog Plains is the furthest ahead, flagrantly disregarding the mining laws to get into production.* Their application for permits came out in February 2006, disclosing about 4.5 million tonnes of exceptionally high grade ore -- enough to last ten years, they said, later changed to eight years, now six. (A metric tonne = 2205 pounds). I expect to learn later that both tonnage and value were understated, just as they were understated at Kennecott’s Flambeau mine in Wisconsin -- as if to minimize the impact.
2. Also at the Eagle property we know of about a BILLION DOLLARS’ WORTH of leaner ore, referred to as "disseminated sulfides," which they do not intend to mine. A responsible operator would blend the leaner ore with the high-grade to recover more of the values and to extend the life of the mine another 12 to 16 years.
If the State of Michigan’s incoming administration has the intestinal fortitude to enforce the state requirement to ensure responsible recovery of our resources, the disseminated sulfides become a second orebody.
3. At last year’s Annual Meeting Rio Tinto disclosed something we already knew about -- a significant amount of ore east of Eagle Rock, which they refer to as Eagle East, not yet fully defined at depth. I would count that as a third.
4. We already knew of several additional targets within a few miles of the Eagles, but Rio Tinto-Kennecott only hints at these. Although these ores are hidden by younger rocks and by glacial sand and gravels, their presence is disclosed by "airborne geophysical mapping," which senses gravity, magnetic and electromagnetic properties associated with metallic ores. I will be conservative and assume that only one of them will be an orebody. That makes four.
5. When Kennecott first disclosed some results from their airborne surveys, they told us they had about 35 promising targets on and around the Plains. Can we assume that 10 percent will work out? Say three of them? That would make seven.
6. Prime Meridian has done its own airborne surveys and plans on diamond-drilling one of them this winter, in Section 35, north and west of the Eagles. Eight?
7. Prime Meridian tells us that they have three or four additional targets on their mineral rights within two or three miles of the Eagles. Total now nine?
8. West of the Plains, within the KBIC Reservation but on a parcel of private land, another copper/nickel orebody has been drilled already. It is ore-grade -- sometimes recognized as one percent combined nickel and copper -- not as rich as the Eagles. Ten!
Still in the UP but west of the Porkies State Park is the Orvana Copperwood deposit, much like the White Pine orebody, ready to apply for permits. Eleven!
And in the Lower Upper Peninsula, at the Wisconsin border, lies the Aquila orebody, primarily zinc and gold.
SO I DON’T THINK WE’D BE FAR OFF IF WE THOUGHT THAT A DOZEN OR SO OREBODIES COULD BE BROUGHT INTO PRODUCTION WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE OR TEN YEARS.
And not just the mines -- but all that comes with them. Think about that.
All are waiting to see the outcome of the Kennecott Eagle permitting process -- whereby the would-be mine operator will say anything, promise anything, do anything -- to get the permits from an unqualified agency -- and think about details later, as they have done at the Eagle and at the Flambeau operations.
It is obvious that neither the DNR nor the DEQ, nor even the Federal EPA, has funds and qualified manpower to evaluate and oversee even one operation; and we are inviting disaster. More than one such operation would bring chaos.
WE NEED TO CALL AN OFFICIAL TIME-OUT, DEAL WITH THE LAW-BREAKERS, THEN FORMULATE A LONG-TERM PLAN FOR OUR RESOURCES, FOR A HUNDRED YEARS PERHAPS, BEGINNING January 1st 2011.
Jack Parker, Mining Engineer, Baltic Michigan 49963
* Author’s Note: For more information on this aspect of the Kennecott Eagle mine, email Jack Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.