Kennecott’s Eagle mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has yet to produce an ounce of nickel or copper, but the controversial facility has already logged a serious environmental incident.
The mine suffered a spill of about 100 gallons of hydrochloric acid at its wastewater treatment facility. Company officials said the spill was contained and didn’t pollute the environment. The Marquette Mining Journal first reported on the incident.
Kennecott officials said the spilled acid didn’t reach two nearby trout streams — the Yellow Dog and Salmon Trout rivers. But the incident was unsettling, to say the least.
Why? Because it lends credence to critics who argued that sulfide mines cannot operate without polluting the environment. There is virtually no room for error when operating a sulfide mine.
Kennecott’s $469 million Eagle mine will exact nickel and other metals from rock deposits that are high in sulfides. When exposed to air and water, those sulfides create the equivalent of battery acid.
Over the next several years, Kennecott will extract huge quantities of sulfide-laden rock from the ground and truck large quantities of that rock to facilities located miles away. The company has claimed it can do this without the sulfides being exposed to water and air and generating acidic wastewater that could pollute streams, the landscape and, ultimately, Lake Superior.
Critics have said that every sulfide mine around the world has polluted the environment.
Time will tell whether Kennecott can blaze a trail of clean mining operations in one of Michigan’s most beautiful and ecologically fragile areas. Clearly, the company’s Eagle mine is not off to a good start.