[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Companies strive for Minnesota non-ferrous deposits

MASTER+PLAN.+PolyMet+prepares+to+use+the+former+LTV+taconite+plant+at+the+Erie+Mining+Company+site+in+Hoyt+Lakes%2C+Minnesota+for+processing+the+non-ferrous+ores.+Henderson+clarified+the+difference+between+Twin+Metals+and+PolyMet%3B+he+said%2C+PolyMet+and+Twin+Metals+are+the+project-specific+entities+that+have+handled+the+development+of+the+respective+projects+in+Minnesota.+Both+are+held+by+larger%2C+multi-national+companies+%28Glencore+for+PolyMet%2C+Antofagasta+for+Twin+Metals%29.+

MASTER PLAN. PolyMet prepares to use the former LTV taconite plant at the Erie Mining Company site in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota for processing the non-ferrous ores. Henderson clarified the difference between Twin Metals and PolyMet; he said, “PolyMet and Twin Metals are the project-specific entities that have handled the development of the respective projects in Minnesota. Both are held by larger, multi-national companies (Glencore for PolyMet, Antofagasta for Twin Metals).”

Copper and nickel deposits were discovered near Duluth in 1948. While there are currently no mines in Minnesota, PolyMet Mining and Twin Metals Minnesota are developing the state’s first non-ferrous mine.

There is a current trend toward more electric equipment (trucks, drills, shovels) in the mines.”

— Joe Henderson, director of the Lands and Minerals Division at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Non-ferrous metallic mining includes mining for copper, nickel, zinc, gold, and silver. While mining in general often gets a bad wrap from environmental activists, each mining project entails different environmental outcomes. That being said, the production of primary metals and metal mining accounted for 12 percent of production-related waste in 2019. Each mining project is different in consideration of the greenhouse gas emissions from the facility. Joe Henderson, director of the Lands and Minerals Division at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said, “There is a current trend toward more electric equipment (trucks, drills, shovels) in the mines. The large drills used to drill for blasting have been electric for years. Some types of mining projects may soon provide opportunities for carbon sequestration.”

Carbon sequestration is the process of isolating and storing carbon dioxide to limit the amount entering the atmosphere and to instead use the greenhouse gas for the production of other materials. There are environmental consequences to non-ferrous mining, but nickel, copper, and other metals are needed to expand renewable energy resources. Metals make up the physical parts of renewable energy generation.

Both PolyMet and Twin Metals have had issues receiving permits to build the mines and begin mining. Most recently, the U.S. Forest Service applied for a mineral withdrawal in 250 square miles in federal land south of the Boundary Waters. The application process starts with an environmental study that could lead to another 20-year mining ban in the Boundary Waters area. It reversed a decision by the Trump Administration to make it easier for mining companies to build copper and nickel mines. For more information about the history of mining in Minnesota, view the timeline below.