Saturday, August 18, 2012

Letter: Comments on Keweenaw Now's Aug. 4 article, "Keweenaw Now tours Rio Tinto Eagle Mine water treatment plant"

[Editor's Note: Jack Parker, mining engineer, whom we quoted in our Aug. 4, 2012, article, "Keweenaw Now tours Rio Tinto Eagle Mine water treatment plant," recently sent the following comments on this article. We are printing them here as a letter to the editor.]

Dear Editor:

No comments to date, August 16th -- so somebody had better do it. I will.

It should be recognized that the water-treatment plant is Kennecott’s showpiece, and they have put a lot of work and money into it to show us how much they want to save Lake Superior from pollution. Give them five points for that but realize that they do not know how much water they will have to treat, how much will come from the mine and how much Mother Nature will send as rain and snow and floods, or what will be in the water.  Neither do they know where the treated water will go.

To get a fix on mine water they did test the permeability of the rock, as you were told, and found it to be low; but any thinking person would suspect that greater quantities could come from broken rock and fissures, not through intact rock. The diamond drill cores show plenty of both, and, contrary to standard practice, driller reports of water encountered or water lost were not in the application for permits.

Similarly we are told that the treated water will infiltrate the soil at the drainfield and flow gradually to the northeast. An impervious layer "C" of clay and silt "will" keep that water in the upper aquifer and prevent it going downward into the lower aquifer, maybe into bedrock above the mine, maybe back into the mine.

What they did not tell you, and perhaps nobody told your guides, is that there are big holes in that "impervious layer." One of them is at the infiltration site. When they presented their study to MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) for approval they "forgot" to include those test borings which showed the gaps. For their study they spaced their test holes hundreds or thousands of feet apart, which is entirely inadequate in the highly variable glacial geology at the site. Their interpretation of the data from those holes is, therefore, questionable, as a hasty effort which a freshman geology student might submit. (See the "North Jackson Hydrogeological Report."**)

But note that MDEQ did not object to or reject the report. That should raise your eyebrows.

Note that the mine will be under or near one of the several branches of the Salmon Trout River, not under the main stream.

The surface plant is impressive, exceptionally neat. Good housekeeping.

The tunnel is not being "drilled," as if by a boring machine, but drilled and blasted conventionally.

Most of the water they treat today comes from precipitation. That may not be the case if and when the mine goes into production. Neither should we expect to be able to predict amount of precipitation. Ask NOAA about 100-year floods.

The statement that the effluent from the plant will be sampled monthly should have been questioned. Would the 5 minutes of sampling be representative of the one month of operation, which is 43,200 minutes? No way! And a schoolboy would quickly learn that there are good times to take samples and times to be avoided. "Selective sampling" we call it. But MDEQ raises no objection.

In answer to Steve Garske’s question about possible lowering of the water table your guide told you about the "impermeable" layer preventing interaction of mine water and ground water, without considering the holes in layer "C." She even pointed out that there are other test wells, sampled quarterly, but that won’t help.

Then Dan brought the conversation back to the treatment plant.

I, JP,  don’t know enough about water treatment to comment on the process but believe that since they frequently promise water "too pure to drink" they will have to keep that promise.

Dan’s statement that "A coagulant creates bigger chunks so it settles solid metals" may or may not have been misquoted. The coagulant causes fine particles to clump together so that they are more easily settled and/or filtered. Metals may or may not be involved.

I am curious about the large amount of solids filtered out, shown in a bin. Are they mostly vegetable material, blown into the water?

What chemical contents might not be acceptable to the County Landfill?

I remember the sodium zeolite ion exchange. One of my jobs as a kid was to replenish the sodium chloride every weekend, at home. After refilling we had to flush the system, down the drain.

At the reverse osmosis stop I would have asked how much electrical power is needed at full capacity. I know that it’s a lot, but wonder if that’s really why they switched from diesel gens to line power.

I would not dwell on the HCl spill too much. For them it was a welcome, easily-handled diversion.

Most important, I think, is the fact that "accidents" do happen. If an accident is defined as a happening which could not have been prevented -- then most accidents are not really accidents. My truck will never run into anybody if nobody drives it. If a mine collapse could have been prevented it will not be an accident.

"The treated water will be sampled." Here again I think that sampling should be continuous, not subject to deceptive selection. An example of selectivity: At the White Pine smelter rubber-coated copper cables generated thick black smoke -- so woe betide the operator who dumped some in the furnace on day shift!

Next we head for the underworld. "Development rock … does not contain nickel and copper ore." That is not necessarily true. Some of it will.

"All development rock will be returned underground as fill." Given the changes in ventilation system -- (Did anybody see an amendment for that, or participate in public comment?) -- that rock will have to be trucked in via the portal, right?

"Every 100 ft the tunnel drops 13 feet." A giant staircase. Hard on trucks and kidneys.

The close-up photo of the portal shows a vent pipe going into the tunnel structure. Will the air there be recycled? We’ll see, when we get some frosty mornings and condensation.

"The tunnel is to be a mile long." That does not include the spiral ramp down to the sump, does it?

Neither does it prepare for production, right?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought that the area at Eagle Rock inside the outer fence "was not to be disturbed." It has been disturbed significantly. For example -- there is now an inner fence -- an open admission that the application statement that there was nothing of religious or historical interest was a false statement.

I see mention of "Partially treated waste water?" Is that correct?

There are quotes from my earlier trip report, and that’s OK. Missing is the most significant statement, I think, which is that I thought that the men on the job were earnestly striving to do good work and should be exonerated from all blame -- but that MDEQ and upper KEMC/Rio Tinto management should be prosecuted for submitting/accepting a substandard, deceptive and fraudulent application and a questionable mine plan. That has not changed.

Jack Parker, Mining Engineer
Toivola, Michigan

P.S. Surely there is something amiss about Dan's statement that Kennecott Exploration "Has found no mineralization."  Please explain ...  jp


* Click here to read our Aug, 4, 2012, article, "Keweenaw Now tours Rio Tinto Eagle Mine water treatment plant."

** Click here for this this April 24, 2005, report: "Kennecott Minerals Company Eagle Project Environmental Baseline Study Bedrock Hydrogeologic Investigation, prepared by Golder Associates Ltd.

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