Mining minerals

Lithium and Mineral Alert: To Extract or Not to Extract? The perfect paradox | Goldberg Segalla

In March, ELM published an article on the emerging environmental conflict over plans to build an open-pit lithium mine in Thacker Pass, Nevada – plans triggered by what has become a momentous shift from a high-intensity economy. emissions and based on fossil fuels, to one powered by renewable energy. See: “Racers, conservationists and indigenous communities oppose homegrown lithium. “

Precipitated by the potential of domestically sourced minerals to boost local energy and, in turn, generate revenue, 21st century prospectors have flocked to the nation’s once-abandoned mineral deposits from coast to coast. With an increase in explorations for rare earth metals, including proposed lithium mining facilities in Texas, California and North Carolina, as well as the restoration of historic gold mines in California and uranium mines in Arizona, environmentalists, neighboring landowners and native tribes are primed. to slow the revival of the gold rush and ultimately prevent what appears to be becoming a lithium/uranium rush.

North Carolina lithium mine delay

In an effort to find local energy sources to power and meet the demand for electric vehicles, among other things, lithium mining in the United States, and specifically in Piedmont, North Carolina, has encountered a problem faced with regulatory challenges and opposition from local residents and environmentalists citing health concerns, landscape disturbance, noise pollution and water contamination. Such opposition has now forced mining company investors to start looking to select sites outside the United States, and so on the paradox.

Environmentalists and California residents are fighting a gold rush revival

Dating back more than a century and a half ago, California’s “gold rush” towns were known for their rapid rise and equally dramatic fall, leaving behind ghost towns laden with remnants of woes of boom and bust. However, dormant gold mines in the Sierra Nevada foothills are suddenly showing signs of life. Prospectors, who believe that there is still a surplus of gold in the Golden State, have once again set their sights on the second most gold-producing mine in the United States: the Idaho-Maryland mine. Despite the promise of new jobs, it may prove a Herculean task for gold diggers to overcome California’s formidable environmental philosophy. Nonetheless, investors have been and continue to be willing to shoulder the brunt of community opposition and California’s environmental regulations in order to covet the skyrocketing price of gold.

Closed in 1942 by the U.S. government after Pearl Harbor, the Idaho-Maryland mine reopened after World War II but ceased operations in 1956. Although the mine covers approximately 175 acres of land partly surrounded by large pines and firs, if the Idaho-Maryland mine reopened today it could expand to 2,585 acres underground, the limit of the developer’s mineral rights, with underground blasts likely felt in homes and nearby buildings. The developers are applying for an 80-year license to operate the mine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and intend to extract, on average, 1,000 tonnes of gold-bearing rock per day.

Opponents cite traffic problems and environmental risks associated with an industry that uses arsenic, mercury and other toxic chemicals in gold processing. In fact, if the mine reopens as planned, the developer will be responsible for a $3 million cleanup of a heavily polluted area of ​​the mine, a legacy from a previous operator.

Since the Sierra Nevada foothills are considered fire country and are adjacent to a very dry South Yuba River, there are also serious water concerns. Residents and environmentalists say many wells in private homes are destined to dry up due to mining use, and add concerns about potential chemical spills from leach ponds that could end up in the river system.

The reopening of a uranium mine in Arizona could again threaten indigenous peoples

As part of a global push to develop alternative energy and curb climate change, investment groups have begun exploring sources of uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, which in turn has encouraged the reopening of a former uranium mine just outside of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The legacy of the practice of uranium mining in Arizona, which dates back to the development of atomic bombs during World War II, is controversial to say the least. From 1944 to 1986, nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore were mined under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo worked in the mines, living and raising families near mines and mills. Native Americans working in uranium mines have reported higher rates of lung cancer, and a uranium mine waste pond collapsed in 1979, releasing more radiation than the Three nuclear power plant blackout. Mile Island. Today, there are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation land, as well as homes and water sources with high levels of radiation.

In the face of opposition, investors believe that uranium mining practices today are much safer and better regulated by environmental controls. Similar to California’s gold reserves, investors estimate there are 2.5 million pounds of valuable uranium waiting to be unearthed.

Catch 22

The revival of mining represents the perfect paradox for environmentalists. On the one hand, renewed attention and a return to mining will likely impact sensitive communities and ecosystems. Conversely, the United States must provide sources, such as lithium mining, for its energy transition to combat climate change. Government, the regulated community, and environmentalists must confront the realities of the alternative energy transition and recognize that it is not always a zero-sum game in order to overcome this textbook conundrum.