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Mining Industry Malarkey August 24, 2006

Posted by angryscientist in Bad Science, Uncategorized.

Barrick, a gold mining company based in Canada, recently got approval from Chile to go ahead with its controversial Pascua Lama project. Opponents claim Barrick will destroy two glaciers high in the Andes to get at the gold beneath. Originally the plan was to relocate these glaciers. Barrick denies the orebody it wants to mine is under any icefields or glaciers. It says glaciologists classify the icefields involved as glacierets or ice reservoirs rather than traditional glaciers. However, Barrick quotes COREMA, the regional Chilean environmental agency: “the company shall only access the ore in a manner that does not remove, relocate, destroy or physically intervene the Toro 1, Toro 2, and Esperanza glaciers.” So if there was never any plan that would endanger these glaciers, since according to Barrick they are outside the limit of the pit containing the orebody it intends to mine, what is COREMA referring to?

Another mining company just won the 2006 Hardrock Mineral Community Outreach and Economic Security Award from the Bureau of Land Management. The Kensington gold mining project, being developed by Coeur d’Alene Mines, is under fire from environmentalists because of its plan to dump the mining waste in a nearby lake. From Yahoo Finance http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060809/sfw045.html?.v=68

In an award letter, BLM Director Kathleen Clarke noted that the award is presented annually to “those hardrock mining projects that have shown responsible mineral resource development while demonstrating an understanding of sustainable development. We salute the effort of all employees at Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Gold Mine for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the community.”

Coeur’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis E. Wheeler said, “We are honored and humbled to be recognized by the BLM with this award. BLM is uniquely qualified to determine what constitutes responsible development because of its very charter, which is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of some 260 million acres of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Since its inception, the Kensington mine has been guided by principles that are entirely consistent with this charter.”

The Alaska U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit challenging a permit given Coeur by the Army Corps of Engineers to dump its waste in the lake. Coeur is primarily involved in silver mining, and has won several environmental awards over the years. Presumably these awards are as meaningless as this recent BLM award.


1. Ron - January 9, 2007

Interesting that Coeur got this award when just 6 months earlier they were suspended from operations and subsequently finded over $100,000 for water quality violations. I guess environmental issues are not considered in this award.

2. angryscientist - March 20, 2007

The permit for Coeur d’Alene Mines to dump their wastes in the lake has been thrown out!


Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation reports that, on March 16, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced a ruling in the Kensington gold mine permit challenge. In the Court Order, the Ninth Circuit said it is reversing a lower federal court decision and vacating the permits associated with a tailings facility at the Kensington gold mine in Alaska. Coeur Alaska had obtained its Section 404 Army Corps of Engineers permit in 2005 for the placement of fill material at the mine, which is currently under construction.

Coeur’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis E. Wheeler, said, “We are surprised and disappointed in the Court’s announcement and what it might mean for the over 400 Kensington workers and the economy of Southeast Alaska. We followed the rules and established process set by the regulatory agencies involved to obtain this permit. As a result, we are simply at a loss to explain the basis for the Court’s decision. Once the Court releases a full explanation of its ruling, the company will consider all options of appeal.”

Wheeler continued, “In a public statement issued yesterday, the plaintiffs expressed the hope of working with Coeur on possible solutions to this issue. Separate and apart from any possible appeal of the Court order, we intend to take them up on that offer.”

Wheeler is at a loss to explain this decision, huh? This is the CEO of a mining company that prides itself on environmental stewardship? I hope his intention to work on possible solutions is more sincere than that malarkey!

3. angryscientist - December 6, 2007

Here is an article about gold mines in South Africa poisoning rivers.


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Dec 3, 2007, 2007 (IPS/GIN via COMTEX) — Gold-mining companies operating to the west of Johannesburg, South Africa, stand accused of contaminating a number of water sources with radioactive pollutants.

One case involves the Wonderfontein Spruit — a stream that runs 90 kilometers from the outskirts of Johannesburg to the southwest past the towns of Krugersdorp, Bekkersdal, Carletonville and Khutsong, before flowing into the Mooi River near Potchefstroom.

Mariette Liefferink, an environmental activist, blames the mines for the high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, cobalt and zinc in the waters of the “spruit” (watercourse). She is particularly troubled by the levels of uranium, which gives off radioactive byproducts such as polonium and lead.

“The Wonderfontein Spruit is of major concern to us because every year the gold mines discharge 50 metric tons of uranium into the receiving watercourse. The Water Research Commission has found that there are approximately 1,100 milligrams per kilogram of uranium in the upper Wonderfontein Spruit and 900 milligrams per kilogram in the lower Wonderfontein Spruit area.”

Government bodies have commissioned several studies to ascertain the gravity of the water pollution in the Wonderfontein Spruit. The most recent study, known as the Brenk report, was commissioned by the National Nuclear Regulator — a governmental body set up to monitor and regulate the production and use of nuclear materials — and compiled under the direction of German physicist Rainer Barthel.

Initially the government was so embarrassed by the Brenk report that the National Nuclear Regulator refused to release it to the public. Barthel was due to present his findings to the Environmin 2007 conference July 24-25, so organizers of this event were told to withdraw his invitation.

When the Brenk Report was eventually made public in August, it resulted in a number of contradictory messages.

Harmony Gold — the world’s fifth largest gold producer, and one of the mines responsible for the uranium discharge — relayed to farmers on its lands a directive from the National Nuclear Regulator saying that livestock may not consume water from the Wonderfontein Spruit.

The report said water in the river had absorbed polonium and lead. Barthel also noted in the study that there was no natural water in the area that was safe for use by humans, animals or plants.

However, Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said in a written response to a question posed in parliament that none of the 47 samples from the Wonderfontein Spruit exceeded the National Nuclear Regulator regulatory limit for public exposure. “The use of this water is therefore safe for drinking purposes, but it should be borne in mind that the water is raw or untreated river water that has not been treated to potable drinking water standards,” Hendricks said.

This assurance came despite her acknowledgement, in the same response, that “elevated levels of radioactive contamination have been detected in the sediments of dams and weirs along the river. This may pose potential problems should it be ingested by livestock churning up the sediments.”

The chief executive of the National Nuclear Regulator, Maurice Magugumela, has made an effort to quell public fears over this situation, saying that the poisoned water and sediments posed “no cause for concern.”

Uh huh. Just like depleted uranium weapons are deemed no cause for concern. What blatant malarkey. Just par for the course for the mining industry!

4. angryscientist - January 13, 2009

Coeur has not given up on its plan to dump its wastes in the lake! Today its lawyer was pleading before the Supreme Court to uphold the permit.

Gold mine wants court to OK dumping waste in lake
Monday January 12, 3:43 pm ET
By Matthew Daly, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — A lawyer representing an Alaska gold mine urged the Supreme Court on Monday to uphold the mine owner’s permit even though he acknowledged that the company’s plan to dump metal waste into a nearby lake would kill all aquatic life.

But mining company lawyer Theodore Olson told justices that the waste is more accurately defined as “fill.” And, after a decade or more of mining, he said, the lake could be restocked with no permanent harm to the environment.

“There will be more fish in a bigger lake, and more livable conditions for the fish and the aquatic life after this process is finished,” Olson said.

Justice David Souter called that logic “Orwellian.” He said the mining company, Coeur Alaska Inc., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which granted a permit for the mine, were “defining away” the problem by calling the wastewater discharge fill.

“When you are destroying the entire living (bodies) of this lake, it seems to me that it’s getting Orwellian to say there are rigorous environmental standards,” Souter said.

Other justices appeared to disagree, noting that an alternative to the dumping would destroy nearby wetlands and create a stack of tailings larger than the Pentagon.

“Isn’t it arguable that the best place for really toxic stuff is at the bottom of a lake so long as it stays there?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 issued a permit for waste disposal at the proposed Kensington mine north of Juneau. Under the plan, tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from ore — would be dumped into Lower Slate Lake.

Environmentalists sued to halt the practice, saying dumping the mine tailings in the lake would kill fish. A federal appeals court blocked the permit, saying the dumping is barred by stringent Environmental Protection Agency requirements under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The company and the state of Alaska appealed the ruling, setting the stage for Monday’s hearing.

The high court’s decision in the case could set a precedent for how mining waste is disposed in the nation’s streams, rivers and lakes.

A ruling in favor of the mining company could allow such waste to be dumped into waterways throughout the United States, said Tom Waldo, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice.

If this is a relatively environmentally responsible mining company, what does that say about the rest? What about that work to find a better solution? It must have been shelved, hoping for a favorable decision by the Supreme Court! If Coeur prevails, the precedent will be disastrous. Congress would probably have to pass a new law to deal with such an evisceration of the Clean Water Act.

Here is more information on this ongoing battle to save the Lower Slate Lake.

5. angryscientist - June 22, 2009

The Supreme Court ruled today 6-3 in favor of Coeur. What a travesty. The opinion says the Army Corps of Engineers decision to issue the permit was reasonable and deserves deference. On what grounds? Those wacky environmentalists were not deemed reasonable. Here is more from Reuters.

UPDATE 3-Miner Coeur gets OK to dump waste into Alaska lake
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON, June 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday for Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp by upholding a government permit that will allow the company’s Alaska gold mine to deposit rock waste into a lake on federal land.

In a closely watched environmental case, the justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that had invalidated the permit for Coeur’s underground Kensington Gold Mine northwest of Juneau.

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the company’s Alaska unit a permit to put 4.5 million tons of rock waste, or mine tailings, into the lake over a decade.

The Corps of Engineers, not the federal Environmental Protection Agency, has the authority to permit the slurry discharge, and the Corps acted in accordance with the law in issuing the discharge permit to Coeur, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion.

The deposits would have raised the height of 23-acre Lower Slate Lake by 50 feet, so the company proposed building a 90-foot-high dam at the site in the scenic Tongass National Forest.

The appeals court sided with environmentalists and ruled the permit violated the federal clean water law. It said the toxicity of the discharge might have lasting effects on the lake, killing all the fish and nearly all aquatic life.

Idaho-based Coeur argued that depositing tailings in the lake was the most practical and environmentally sound option.

Both Coeur and the state of Alaska appealed to the Supreme Court. The federal government supported their appeals.

Environmentalists argued that modern mines had never been allowed to dump tailings into lakes, and the appeals court ruling confirmed a rule of law in place for more than 30 years.

Writing for the six-member court majority, Kennedy said deference must be given to the reasonable decision by the Corps of Engineers.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

Officials at Earthjustice, one of three environmental groups involved in the case, expressed disappointment over the ruling.

“The Clean Water Act was intended to halt the practice of using lakes, rivers, and streams as waste dumps,” said Tom Waldo, who argued the case. “Today’s decision does not achieve these purposes.”

The officials said the Bush administration rule giving the Corps of Engineers authority in such matters had reversed thirty years of successful regulation under the Clean Water Act. They urged President Barack Obama to act immediately to repeal the rule.

Good luck on that score. The Obama Administration has just sidestepped on mountaintop removal coal mining, claiming the new regulations will adequately protect the environment. It could have banned the practice, but that would upset Obama’s buddies in the coal industry. The Clean Coal demonstration project, FutureGen in Illinois, will be funded under the stimulus plan. Obama is striving, like Bill Clinton, to strike a balance between the desires of big business and protecting the environment. In most cases, that policy produced compromises that did precious little to protect the environment, but helped convince big business that the Democrats were friendly, not out to ruin their profits in order to protect public health or the environment. In other words, business must be coddled, especially during these dire economic straits. Who cares what this will do to the lake, jobs are at stake!

6. angryscientist - November 2, 2010

Canada has put the kabosh on a proposed copper and gold mine owned by Taseko Mines. Here’s more from Reuters:

UPDATE 3-Canada blocks development of Taseko mining project
Tue Nov 2, 2010 7:51pm EDT

Nov 2 (Reuters) – The government of Canada has decided to block the development of Taseko Mines’ (TKO.TO) controversial copper-gold mine in British Columbia, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said on Tuesday.

Ottawa’s decision — based on “concerns about the significant adverse environmental effects” — overrules British Columbia’s provincial government, which had granted permission for the Prosperity project to go ahead.

The company could submit a revised proposal, said Prentice, adding that he agreed with a federal review panel’s report which warned that the proposed project would destroy a nearby lake and the local ecosystem.

“(The report) was scathing in its comments about the impact on the environment. It was, I would say, probably the most condemning report that I’ve seen,” Prentice told a hastily convened news conference in Ottawa.

Taseko said it plans to fully evaluate the federal government’s decision on the project.

“We are extremely disappointed by this decision,” Chief Executive Russell Hallbauer said in a statement.

“Our next steps will be discussions with both the federal and provincial governments to look at options so that this mining project can move forward and meet the criteria that the federal government deem appropriate.”

Local aboriginal groups have opposed the mine, saying it would infringe on their rights.

“We hope today’s decision will demonstrate the need to find a way forward for industry and governments to work with First Nations from the outset to identify and develop projects that are environmentally and culturally acceptable,” said chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, in a statement.

The project, a conventional open-pit mine located about 125 km (80 miles) southwest of Williams Lake, British Columbia, was expected to have a 20-year operational life with a production capacity of 70,000 tonnes of mineral ore per day.

The provincial government gave its approval to the project in January, saying the mine would not have a significant adverse environment impact apart from the loss of a lake, which would be replaced with a newly built lake.

But native opponents said Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, was critical to their culture, and federal fisheries officials had warned the project’s backers years ago to find an alternative way to dispose of the mine’s tailings.

Replacing a lake with a new one? These mining companies think environmental destruction is just a nuisance to be covered up. The natives have been put upon enough. So what’s up with this conservative Canadian government blocking this project, while this allegedly liberal government in the good ole USA hasn’t said a peep about that outrageous Supreme Court decision allowing Coeur to destroy the lake near its Kensington gold mine? It’s not as though the tailings can’t be dealt with in a more responsible manner; that would cost more, so the mining companies naturally balk at anything that would lessen their profits.

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