Opinion by, Roger Featherstone
A recent Opinion piece by David Briggs, who works for several of the mining projects he references, attempts to cast doubt on the veracity of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and our member organizations. The Coalition’s goal is to protect Arizona’s people and its environment from bad mining practices.
It is correct that we oppose the Resolution, Rosemont, Florence, Gunnison and Hermosa projects. None of them are in the best interest of Arizona.
All but one of these projects are owned by foreign corporations. The two projects listed here that have written mining plans — Resolution and Rosemont — make it clear that their ore concentrates would be shipped abroad for processing, and others likely would do the same. How do minerals mined by a foreign corporation and shipped overseas help reduce dependence on foreign metals? How can one expect a foreign company to act in the best interest of Arizona and the US? Is it responsible for our governments to allow foreign companies to take public land and minerals without royalty payments to those who own these resources? No other country in the world allows the taking of public minerals without compensation!
Two of the mines Mr. Briggs mentions (Florence and Gunnison) are proposed “in-situ” mines co-located with drinking water aquifers on which towns depend. In-situ mining is a non-starter in Arizona — the intentional pollution of groundwater by a series of wells that inject acid into the ground, which dissolves the minerals for recovery from surrounding wells. The technology depends on perfect modeling of aquifers, perfect recovery of acid, and perfect corporate performance. No in-situ mine ever built has restored groundwater to pre-mining conditions. Not one. In Arizona, where every drop of water matters, it’s irresponsible to risk the permanent contamination of our groundwater. History has shown groundwater contamination is inevitable for in-situ mines, but existing mines in Arizona have also caused extensive groundwater pollution and the substantial lowering of water tables statewide.
Mr. Briggs casts modern mining companies as benevolent keepers of public trust who want to do the right thing. The truth is that mining companies often make terrible choices and mistakes, and because of weak laws and poor enforcement usually escape the consequences.
The Summitville Mine in Colorado was owned by a Canadian company, Galactic Resources, which operated in the 1980’s and 1990’s under the same federal mining laws that exist today. Galactic took $60 million in profit from the mine. However, it had problems from the start, and a toxic spill killed all life within a 20-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. Galactic Resources declared bankruptcy and walked away from the mine leaving only $27 million for the cleanup. To date, it has cost state and federal governments more than $210 million and the cleanup is still not done. This is not responsible mining.
In 1996, Australian-owned BHP Billiton purchased the San Manuel Mine in Arizona – a large underground operation that enjoyed decent environmental performance. However, in 1999, BHP closed it, at which time it had at least 25 years of proven reserves. Now, BHP is the minority partner in Resolution Copper, which wants to destroy Oak Flat. Closing a mine with 25 years of production remaining, and then proposing to destroy a sacred, recreational, and ecological haven is not responsible mining. What matters to these companies isn’t always what makes sense, but what makes a bigger profit.
In addition, all of the proposals that Mr. Briggs mentions are in locations that have or are developing tourism-based economies. Currently in Arizona, the recreation industry brings in twice the money and more than twice the jobs as the mining industry. In these places, tourism makes more sense, and the two can’t always coexist.
There is no shortage of copper now or in the foreseeable future, and Mr. Briggs’ portrayal of the industry is quite distorted; Arizona has a number of mines that are not operating at anywhere near peak capacity, and most can produce for decades to come. While they may not have perfect environmental track records, it’s far better to continue producing from operating mines than to sacrifice important lands and existing industries to open new ones.
The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition is not opposed to mining. However, when the industry brings us bad proposals, we have no choice but to oppose them. We can, do, and will sit down with mining companies, but unless they are willing to lay better proposals on the table, there isn’t much to talk about. We won’t negotiate away Arizona’s well-being.
Roger Featherstone is Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and lives in Tucson.