Mining Reform Update: A View from the Trenches
By Sally Smith, Director of Responsible Mining
How much has changed in the realm of local mining since our update last fall? The price of copper futures first went up, peaking at over $3.32 a pound, inspiring ex¬ploration locally in existing mining areas and interest in other places not currently being mined. Copper prices have since declined again, to around $2.95 in late June. Prices are apparently very dependent on what’s happening in China, copper’s biggest consumer, as the US resists any rapid recovery and Europe’s economy stalls.
Officials at Freeport-McMoRan (FMI) remain cautiously optimistic and are going forward with plans to reopen the Burro Mounatins’ long-defunct Little Rock Mine as soon as permitting is complete. FMI considers the Little Rock to be a “key element in the viability of Tyrone Mine copper production” and wants Little Rock mining to begin as quickly as possible. But don’t hold your breath.
Tyrone Mine has requested a New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division permit revision for the Little Rock, which has been permitted as “on standby.” GRIP was granted a hearing by the MMD to review Closure Plans and the Financial Assurance bonding required for reclamation. FMI has said it is using a Mine Plan of Operation developed prior to 1997 that includes a 190-acre open pit, 40-acre haul road to Tyrone Mine (where ore will be leached), a 600-acre permit area, and an estimated 230 acres of disturbance. This hearing could occur within six months, but scheduling will depend on other factors, including review of a 1997 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the Bureau of Land Management. GRIP has had concerns about the Mine Plan since its conception, and revision of the Discharge Permit for the New Mexico Environment Department also is in the works. We could be talking molasses here! Tyrone continues to mine, however, with a workforce of about 430. There is expansion in some areas and an increase in production is expected this year and into 2011.
Meanwhile, a plan to reopen FMI’s Cobre Mine near Hanover is still in the works. Reopening dates continue to be extended as plans for the mining and leaching of Hanover Mountain are evaluated. Both the Little Rock and Cobre mines involve parcels of public land for which an EIS is required. GRIP will be following closely the permitting and plans for both projects and will participate in associated hearings.
Rumors concerning the Chino Mine abound. Reopening seems inevitable when talking to FMI — and possibly sooner rather than later. But start date remains undecided.
Reclamation is ongoing at the Chino tailings, visible from Highway 180 south of Hurley. Reclamation also continues on the Tyrone Stockpiles, next to Highway 90. GRIP was involved in Tyrone’s most recent reclamation financial release inspection, for the 288-acre stockpile across the highway from the main mine area. Currently, less extensive closure activities are being completed at historic sites at both Cobre and Little Rock. Closure-closeout plans are still not renewed in local FMI mines due to unresolved issues primarily concerning reclamation of areas within and surrounding open pits. GRIP continues in closure dialogue with FMI and various state agencies.
The AOC investigation and remediation of historic waste at Chino is ongoing. This is Year 13, with GRIP involved since the beginning in Community Work Group meetings, decisions, and review of ever-expanding files of documents. The latter are available, in case you’re bored this summer, at the Silver City and Bayard public libraries as well as WNMU’s Miller Library.
Even though it seems that changes are slow to come in the permitting of local mines, there is always plenty to keep up with!