Does Twin Metals really have a viable plan?

Sep 19, 2022
Jeremy Drucker


Does Twin Metals really have a viable plan?

New story from Ely's local paper casts more doubt on whether Twin Metals could realistically mine near the Boundary Waters

Ely, MN– A new investigative story from the Timberjay casts more doubt on whether Antofagasta's Twin Metals project has any realistic chance of becoming viable. The deeply reported story includes interviews from Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources, and both critics and supporters of the proposed project. The story looks at claims Twin Metals has made regarding whether it can mine next to the Boundary Waters safely, that the project is economically viable, and whether it has any prospect of controlling the land and minerals it needs for its proposed mine project. In each of these categories Twin Metals claims come up short. 

From the piece:

In legal filings and in public statements, representatives of Twin Metals have argued in recent months that they have a viable and environmentally-safe mine plan of operations, or MPO, that’s been submitted and is ready for environmental review. They argue that the company’s investors have sunk over $500 million into exploration, engineering, and other development costs to bring the project forward, and that they should have the right to a project-specific review of their plan to build an underground copper-nickel and precious metals mine near Ely.

However, critics of the proposal, and its potential impact on the 1.1-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness located downstream of the proposed mine, are dismissing those claims. They argue that the company lacks a viable mine plan to study and has yet to demonstrate it can operate its mine without significant environmental impacts, most notably to the Boundary Waters.

Meanwhile, the company has failed to demonstrate publicly that its proposal is economically viable, since Twin Metals has yet to release financial projections based on their current mine plan.

Twin Metals, which is owned by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, did submit an MPO to the Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Land Management for review back in December 2019. DNR officials spent more than two years analyzing the information submitted by the company, but never concluded that the information was complete enough to issue a draft scoping document.

In particular, the piece points out that Twin Metals' claims that its mine will not produce acid mine drainage is especially suspect, writing:

DNR experts have made it clear that while they recognize that some of the minerals that Twin Metals hopes to mine do have some buffering capacity, they appear far from agreement on how much and on how long that buffering capacity might last. In the end, DNR’s experts appear to agree that the material in question will eventually leach acid— it’s only a matter of time.

A long-term DNR-commissioned study of acid drainage potential on the Duluth Complex, where the proposed Twin Metals mine would be located, cautioned that only long-term analysis, like that undertaken for the DNR study, can provide any real certainty about the potential for acid drainage. “Emphasizing this point, drainage pH from one sample was circumneutral for 800 weeks (or 15 years) and then acidified, reaching a minimum pH of 3.8,” noted the study. That study also found considerable variability in test results, depending on whether samples were tested in the field or in a laboratory.

You can read the full piece here.