Mining for truth

An anti-mining group is wrong about Minnesota’s mineral wealth.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) recently wrote an editorial in the Star Tribune arguing Minnesota’s titanium, copper, nickel and platinum deposits are low-grade and economically risky to develop. If these resources were truly valuable, they argued, the deposits would have been developed decades ago.

This argument could not be more wrong. It ignores how technological breakthroughs and changing market conditions can profoundly transform resources that were once considered uneconomical into powerful engines for regional economies.

A perfect example—history is full of them—occurred right here in Minnesota.

In 1945, Minnesota’s Iron Rangers worried the demands of building the tanks, battleships, and airplanes that propelled America to victory in World War II had depleted the region’s vast deposits of iron. Thousands of miners and their families wondered what they would do next.

Then, Dr. E.W. Davis and a team of scientists and engineers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Mines developed a technology that transformed taconite, a rock once considered low-grade waste material, into a viable source of iron ore. Taconite became the primary source of iron ore in the United States and saved Minnesota’s iron mining industry.

Similarly, a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota-Duluth recently developed a technology to process Minnesota’s massive titanium deposits, which once contained too many impurities to be economical, into useable titanium used to make white pigments in paint and prosthetic limbs. The United States imports 91 percent of the titanium it uses. Developing Minnesota’s titanium deposits will make our country less dependent on foreign nations while also creating high-paying jobs for hardworking Minnesotans.

Minnesota’s copper, nickel and platinum deposits are the largest undeveloped resources in the world. While the ore grades for these deposits—the percentage of usable metal contained in rocks—were low compared to other copper mining areas in the 1940s, ore grades have been falling around the world for decades because mining companies have already mined higher-grade deposits. Companies are now developing mineral deposits that have lower grades relative to historic mines.

This means Minnesota’s ore grades of 0.3 percent copper are now globally competitive. In fact, they are about the same grade as copper mines operating throughout North America. Changing market conditions mean it’s finally time to develop Minnesota’s resources, and environmentally responsible mining will be a tremendous boon to our economy.

Environmentally responsible mining for Minnesota’s copper, nickel and titanium resources will add $3.7 billion to Minnesota’s economy every year and create more than 8,500 jobs, according to Unearthing Prosperity, a new report published by Center of the American Experiment. These numbers were obtained using the economic modeling software IMPLAN, considered to be the gold standard in the industry.

We expected our report to receive attacks or mischaracterizations from groups that oppose mining, which is why we were very conservative in our estimates. We examined only the impact of mining projects in the preliminary planning or permitting stages and had filed reports that meet the strict regulations of the Canadian stock exchange. This means we did not estimate the tremendous economic potential of developing the Mesaba deposit, which is the largest deposit of copper and nickel in Minnesota.

Minnesotans deserve to know the truth about the economic impact of mining in their state, but MCEA did the public a disservice by refusing to acknowledge the important role that advances in technology and changing market conditions play in determining the viability of a mining project.

Minnesota has a long and storied history of ingenuity and perseverance in the mining industry, regardless of whether staff attorneys would prefer to pretend otherwise.

This article originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.