Twin Metals Flip Flop Falls Flat

Jun 13, 2022
Jeremy Drucker


Twin Metals Flip Flop Falls Flat


In late May mining giant Antofagasta's Twin Metals executives flip flopped on the risk their mine poses to the Boundary Waters, newly claiming it's "design" would prevent harm to the Wilderness

A week later they were being sanctioned for deficient tailings management and also admitted their flagship mine in Chile, Los Pelambres, had sustained an underground pipeline leak

(Ely, MN)– After years of admitting that their Twin Metals project posed a risk to the Boundary Waters, Antofagasta executives suddenly started singing a different tune at a Congressional hearing on May 24th, claiming that the proposed copper mine would not be a risk to the Wilderness because of its "design." Yet a week later Antofagasta admitted its flagship mine in Chile had sustained an underground leak. Mere days before that Antofagasta was told that it must  improve its tailings management in response to sanctions issued by Chilean environmental authority SMA. The authority issued a ruling in late May, saying tailings ponds at Los Pelambres copper mine in Coquimbo region were deficient and the emergency protocol failed in response to a leak detected in November last year. The fact that Twin Metals doubled down on this brazen claim of "no risk" in a Star Tribune commentary even after Antofagasta knew of the pipeline leak and sanctions shows just how little their word is worth. 

"Twin Metals knows their mine is risky, and the fact they testified under oath to the contrary even while their flagship mine was leaking and being sanctioned shows just how little they can be trusted," said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. "Studies repeatedly show that all copper mines pollute, and putting such a mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters is an invitation to disaster. Twin Metals' brazen disregard for the truth shows how little they can be trusted, and the need for permanent protection for this priceless Wilderness." 

At the May 24th Congressional hearing on Rep. Betty McCollum's Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act Rep. Pete Stauber, Twin Metals executive Julie Padilla, and other risky mining boosters promoted a parade of mistruths under the guise of "facts", provoking a corrective editorial from the Star Tribune, saying:

Stauber, who didn't respond to a request for further comment, predictably led the charge against the bill at the hearing, warning about "disinformation" and opinions wrongly framed as fact. On that last point, the Editorial Board could not agree more. The debate over McCollum's worthy bill should be driven by facts and full context.

Next time, Stauber should follow his own advice. "Opinions framed as fact" at the hearing mostly came from him and the two GOP colleagues who helped carry water for Antofagasta, the Chilean conglomerate controlling Twin Metals.

The Star Tribune editorial's takedown of Stauber and Antofagasta's less than truthful presentation, which they reiterated in an editorial counterpoint, was buttressed by two experts writing letters in this weekend's Star Tribune. 

Former US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell wrote:

As the former chief of the U.S. Forest Service who initially declined to renew Twin Metals leases at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area due to the risk posed to this irreplaceable wilderness, I read with interest Julie Padilla's June 5 editorial counterpoint "A few more facts for the mining debate." Her claim that "the Twin Metals project will not negatively impact the BWCA. It cannot by law, and it will not by design" caught my attention because it is the kind of pablum mining companies always say, and they always fail to deliver.

Here is a troubling fact for Twin Metals: A 2012 review of water-quality impacts from 14 operating U.S. sulfide-ore copper mines found that 100% of the mines experienced pipeline spills or accidental releases and 13 out of 14 mines experienced failures to control contaminated mine seepage, leading to harmful water-quality impacts. Despite assurances to the contrary.

In a 2019 update to the report, records reflecting the performances of 15 U.S. copper mines were examined, and it found that 14 of the top 15 copper mines (93%) failed to capture and control wastewater, resulting in significant water-quality impacts. Recently, a report of five hardrock mines in Alaska, some identified as "model" mines by Twin Metals, documented 8,150 spills from 1995 to 2020.

This is the challenge with mining. Even with the best of designs and best efforts, spills and leaks happen. Mining occurs in the natural environment, not in a controlled factory.

Geophysicist David Chambers also specifically rebutted Twin Metals ridiculous claim that acid mine drainage posed no risk to the Wilderness writing:

I am a registered professional geophysicist. Since 2009 I have been reviewing the potential for mine proposals within the Duluth Complex to produce pollution, including but not only acid mine drainage (AMD). Contrary to recent talking points from Padilla, a Twin Metals mining company executive, the Duluth Complex contains disseminated metal sulfides proven to generate acid. If built, Twin Metals has the potential to generate AMD.

The risks have been well-known for decades, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Minnesota's state agencies and by mining companies. AMD is still occurring at the nearby and now-closed Dunka mine, where millions of tons of Duluth Complex rock were blasted and stockpiled and have been leaching AMD since at least the early 1970s. Despite steps taken to neutralize the acid, the Dunka mine drainage still carries sulfate and dissolved metals at concentrations hundreds of times higher than background levels for northeastern Minnesota.

Water contamination from mining wastes can still be an unanticipated problem, despite all the planning involved, money spent and good intentions. There is no 100% guarantee that AMD won't cause off-site contamination.

The Twin Metals deposits contain sulfides at higher concentrations than other Duluth Complex deposits and could be expected to produce the same contaminants at higher rates and concentrations, in mine drainage more likely to be acidic. Suggestions that we can guarantee the prevention of AMD do not represent the risks of AMD, and the caution that is needed to protect the Boundary Waters watershed.

As their prospects for risky mining near the Boundary Waters grows increasingly dim, it seems Twin Metals will continue making more and more outrageous claims about the supposed safety of their operation. The record however is clear that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place, and nothing they can say will change that fact.