NEWS DAY | Deep drilling and Minnesota waters / McChrystal’s wars

Sulfide mining is starting in northern Minnesota, reports MPR, and it could turn into our own Deepwater disaster:

A trickle of water runs from a six-inch hole Duluth Metals is drilling some 3,000 feet into the earth, seeping into a pit that holds water and a scum of grey muck, finely ground rock from deep in the earth. Koschak says it probably contains copper and nickel traces.

“But look what it’s going into, a wetland,” he says.  “That’s all this is, is a network of spruce swamps, all interconnected, this all goes into Birch Lake, all this water.”

So far, the mining is just test drilling. Duluth Metals, backed by the deep-pocket Chilean Antogofasta mining company, says there’s nothing to worry about. Environmentalists say that’s bunk – that every single copper mining operation has produced acid mine drainage. Back to the MPR report:

The drilling is a precursor to what could be a deep shaft mine, more than half mile below the surface of the earth.  A mine would produce many tons of ground-up waste sulfide rock.  When it’s brought to the surface, a chemical reaction occurs that produces sulfuric acid.  If the rock is not carefully isolated from air and water, it can acidify nearby streams and wetlands — possibly enough to poison the life in the water.

The six companies drilling test mines in northern Minnesota are looking for copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium. This is called “sulfide mining” because these metals are found in sulfide ore bodies. Iron is usually found in oxide ore bodies, which don’t produce the same kinds of trouble. But one taconite mine, the Dunka mine, accidentally expose sulfide ore bodies 30 years ago, and the clean-up is still not finished.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reviewed Polymet’s application for copper mining and its preliminary Environmental Impact Statement last year. The copper mining plan had strong political support and the public was relegated to back rooms during supposedly public comment hearings. The PCA and DNR were ready to sign off on Polymet’s proposals early this year, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blasted their reports:

“Our review has identified adverse environmental impacts that are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the (PolyMet project) must not proceed as proposed,” EPA acting regional administrator Bharat Mathur wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Read the Rolling Stone article – really. The most damning revelations are not about trash-talking the president, ambassador and anyone else in authority, but about McChrystal’s futile COIN (counter insurgency) strategy and its consistent, escalating failures in Afghanistan. The president’s worst embarrassment should be that he relied on McChrystal in the first place, sending 30,000 more troops to support an implausible plan for an unwinnable war that has nothing to do with protecting the United States from terrorists.

As Robert Scheer summarizes in The Nation:

More important, winning the affection of Afghans and turning their society into a model of Western-style secular democracy have nothing to do with the original purpose of the Afghanistan invasion—to react to the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaida has moved on to safer havens than the Taliban could provide, most significantly in Pakistan, and “victory” in Afghanistan no longer has a serious U.S. national security purpose. We are embroiled in a civil war—indeed, according to the McChrystal Report, several such wars—and all we are accomplishing is backing one gang of hopelessly corrupt and venal warlords against another.


Hats off to Rolling Stone for doing the tough, on-the-scene reporting that the mass media increasingly avoid. The lionization of McChrystal in much of the reporting which ignored his egregious role in the cover-up of torture in Iraq and his key role in distorting the facts in order to politically exploit the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman, a true hero, has been a journalistic low point.

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