Mine-contaminated water shows up in Hanover Creek
Mine-contaminated water from the Cobre mine has discharged into Hanover Creek. The turquoise-blue precipitate has shown up in a quarter-mile stretch of Hanover Creek on the east side of Hanover Mountain, where active mining has been going on since July 2018. After local residents posted photos to Facebook, GRIP contacted state agencies and Freeport-McMoRan to alert them to the problem. NM Environment Department (NMED) staff conducted an inspection and tested water quality. The working hypothesis is that underground adits have filled with water from heavy rains in September and October. The acidic mine-impacted water is discharging at the base of Hanover Mountain, where it seems to be co-mingling with the more neutral water of Hanover Creek. The sharp reduction in acidity causes dissolved metals to precipitate out, forming a solid coating along the creek bed. Freeport and NMED have agreed to interim actions to protect Hanover Creek and groundwater quality. Sumps have been constructed to collect impacted water. Flow rate and chemistry data will be collected in order to develop a plan for properly managing the polluted water.
The fact that this situation was not anticipated raises questions about the accuracy of Freeport’s groundwater model for the Cobre Mine. As the next five-year discharge permit and reclamation plan review for the Cobre Mine kicks off, GRIP will focus its attention on the groundwater model and adequate containment of contaminated groundwater.
Tyrone Emma Expansion Project does not meet industry best management practices
As a new unit of the Tyrone Mine, the proposed Emma open pit must be designed and operated using the most appropriate technology and best management practices according to the New Mexico Mining Act. GRIP’s public comments to the Mining and Minerals Division as part of the August public hearing on Freeport’s mine permit application demonstrated how the company’s proposal does not meet these requirements. The company fails to propose monitoring and mitigation plans to minimize impacts to neighbors in the areas of groundwater supply, lighting, noise and vibration, and air quality. The reclamation cost estimate is significantly underestimated and is inadequate to cover the long-term monitoring, maintenance, and operations costs of the open pit. The company’s current grievance mechanism does not provide sufficient accountability to the community and needs to be strengthened.
Freeport is now responding to agency and public comments. The draft water quality discharge permit has not been released yet, as NMED continues to have questions about the groundwater modeling.
Freeport’s new marketing tagline is “Foremost In Responsible Copper.” We’re not seeing that commitment reflected in the Emma proposal. The company must address community concerns and amend its application so that it meets industry standards.
Freeport proposes Financial Assurance for Little Rock Mine
As the last step in the permitting process for the Little Rock Mine, Freeport has proposed a surety bond of $8.9 million in financial assurance to cover the cost of reclamation and long-term monitoring of the mine once it ceases operations. The financial assurance is intended to meet requirements of the Mining Act, state Water Quality Act, and federal Bureau of Land Management rules. GRIP is pleased that Freeport has proposed this secure form of financial assurance rather than a very risky Third Party Guarantee that pushes the liability risk for cleanup onto the public should Freeport go bankrupt.
Malone Bronco Exploration in Burro Mountains completed for now
Bronco Creek Exploration Company completed in May its exploration for copper, lead, zinc, gold, and silver on the west side of Knight Peak in the Burro Mountains in the Gila National Forest. Exploration took place at five of the 12 locations approved on the west side for drilling. Bore holes were plugged and drill pads were reclaimed. MMD completed its inspection in June. The company is evaluating the core samples and may renew its permit if it decides to drill at three locations in Gold Gulch on the east side of Knight Peak. Based on public comments, the Forest Service and the state Mining and Minerals Division modified the company’s operating plan, requiring relocation of proposed drill sites out of drainages and reducing overland routes. No application for permit renewal has been filed as of press time.
Copper Flat update
The New Mexico Copper Corporation is trying to reopen the Copper Flat Mine outside of Hillsboro. The mine has been closed since 1982 after operating only a few months. GRIP, Hillsboro Pitchfork Ranch, and Turner Ranch Properties appealed the Water Quality Control Commission’s (WQCC) decision on the water quality discharge permit to the NM Court of Appeals, which upheld the WQCC’s decision. In August, the NM Supreme Court denied the petitioners’ request for review of the appeal decision. GRIP, Sierra Club, Percha Animas Watershed Association, and several water rights holders are protesting the water rights transfer from Santa Teresa to the Copper Flat Mine. NM Copper Corporation does not have sufficient water rights at the mine for operation and closure, so is proposing to lease water rights to meet its needs. A protest hearing is expected to be held in 2023.