Following is a transmission to the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources asking them to seriously confront and consider the apparently limited quality and quantity of metallic ores we have and whether even if we could build the most outstanding legal framework ever Maine has the capacity for competent oversight or any quality miner would want to mine here.
The following e-letter was sent to Senator Thomas Saviello and Representative Robert Duchesne as principal sponsors of identical bills LD159 and 160. We are hereby retransmitting as testimony on LD16O which is before the JSCENR because it points to a central and almost overriding issue over the 5 years struggle on mining law: the complete absence of expertise or even adequate knowledge in metallic mining which has kept us from defining an adequate legal framework for mining. What is written as law takes on its own life no longer connected to whatever intent the authors have. It has to be well structured to make those intentions clear and operative.
As Bowker Associates has written literally 100’s of pages of testimony on the need for a statute and regulations specifically geared to our unique and rare deposits, volcanogenic massive sulfides, it is inexcuseable that after 5 years no one on the JSCENR yet understands what this term means and has resorted to a bizarre made up definition. That’s not an insult. That’s a fact. That’s a problem. A very serious problem.
Subsequent to the publication of this Bill, LD160, Representative Duchesne in private correspondence with an associate has indicated that his intent was to ban mining if we are not capable of writing a legal framework for it or overseeing it. That is a legitimate and perhaps front and center issue.
To Representative Duchesne’s point, I posed 4 questions to a colleague, Dr. William Williams, an economic geologist with many decades of experience in economic assessment of deposits to whom JD Irving granted access to all records and drill core copy ing Both Senator Saviello and Representative Duchesne:
Can you have a regulatory framework entirely dependent on an expert panel when there is absolutely no in state expertise?
Can we be certain even with an absolute prohibition some mining onslaught won’t come at us again in the next supercycle especially given that our deposits while small and remote do have good grade compared to global averages?
How could we go about assessing that in a more formal way?
Dr Williams responded as follows copying Senator Saviello and Representative Duchesne ( highlighting added)
I appreciate that you have reached out to me for comment. As an “outsider”, I am impressed with the amount of discussion regarding Maine’s consideration of modifying the mining regulations given that the state 1) has no significant mining legacy and 2) is not metallogenically endowed, relatively speaking, yet nearly all residents benefit from the lifestyle provided by extractive industries, including metals mining. The latter point, however, may actually be a result of inadequate exploration, which then speaks to 1) limited mining development in the past and/or 2) Maine’s regulatory and investment environment was unfavorable. My applicable experience to this conundrum is having led the team that was granted the 2nd mining permit under revised regulations in Michigan where 1) there is a mining legacy, 2) it has a reasonable metallogenic endowment, 3) the regulatory and investment environment is favorable, and, most importantly, 4) there was a consensus that the Michigan populace wanted mining in their state. Note that 2 of the 3 deposits on which mining permits were granted were essentially discovered (or delineated) AFTER the new mining law/regulations were enacted.
Anything that is decided will always have critics and opposition. As practical as an expert panel sounds, a Maine resident could always claim that such a panel does not have their interests in mind. Incidentally, in Michigan, regulators used experienced professionals to evaluate and opine on fields that they believed would enhance the information upon which they would make their decision.
On the future, unless deposits that are at least the same size as Bald Mt. are discovered, it is highly unlikely that Maine would be a focus of a major rush of miners. Again, exploration is necessary and that won’t happen unless miners believe they could develop any discovery, which would be based on reasonable permitting procedures and regulations in general.
Meanwhile, neighboring New Brunswick and the Maritime provinces, which are metallogenically endowed, are undergoing a resurgence in mining investment and development due to the rising Zinc price. I have been working in the zinc space these last 12 months, and when I was asked about Maine, I could not recommend spending money there. Even if Bald Mt. were available, very, very few bona fide mining companies could expect a return on investment under current conditions.
I need to ponder the issue a bit more in order to convey a more meaningful contribution to a wider audience.
Just to translate this a bit, he is saying that exploration dollars go first to areas that have historically had profitable mining and to areas that have a sound regulatory framework. We have neither.
Our largest known deposit is too small and too remote to attract quality investors in the forseeable future. You can bring State Geologist Dr. Marvinney forward a hundred more times to contradict that but it doesn’t change the economic reality that our resources are not that attractive. Another expert said that yesterday, was it Mr. Borrow, that the way to go about this was to begin there with systematically evaluating our resource. Bowker Associates has banged that drum for 5 years.
People want to believe it will be like the Gold rush..everyone getting suddenly rich. It’s nothing like that and the mining industry is in its own global crisis after 10 years of overproduction and glut chasing the supercycle price rise between 2004 and 2011..
Dr. Williams has counseled me often that this low status for mining exploration and development investment will not keep everyone away..it will attract the fringe, the marginal, the risk takers and speculators. We already had that with Blackhawk, our only applicant ever. We are so lucky they withdrew their application. They left a giant mess in Manitoba, their only project ever. This is DEP under the 1991 rules.
Ed Borrow, one of many expert witnesses at yesterday’s hearing testified to the incompetence in almost every line of the DEP/BEP rules reeling off a litany of specifics that he noted leave Maine vulnerable to exploitation .( After three tries in 5 years) .He specifically noted the very wrong assumption apparent in the rules that what works for landfills works for mines, a fatal flaw in the thinking about how to approach metallic mining here in Maine from the outset..
From the beginning Bowker Associates has banged this drum of competence to oversee mining as a key issue for us here in Maine. Dr. Williams in his note questions whether Mainers could ever accept and trust oversight by a panel of folk who have no Maine connections talking a language they don’t understand, essentially what a life of mine expert panel would beas the susbstitute for mining regulatory competence.
I am no longer sure we can overcome our limited in state technical competence in mining. I know we can build that competence though the framework of law and in the form of a life of mine multidisciplinary expert panel but I am not sure Maine being Maine would allow that to work. Even the enviros would resent it. It would put a damper on their being able to build stewardship through their mining advocacy. Their contributions over 5 years and now in LD820 show that they are more interested in having a political cartel with statewide clout on environmental issues than they are in building sound well informed policy. Their version of our staute,.the existing plus their LD820 + a ban on open pit mining and on “wet mine waste units” would not pass muster with such a panel.That is an obvious conclusion.
At the close of yesterdays hearings the mic picked up a friendly exchange between Beth Ahearn and Thomas Saviello in which the Senator was seeking more information for the work sessions on “wet mine waste units”. She fumbled a bit not having a ready answer. Neither seemed aware that DEP made that term up. It has no meaning in mining at large. Isn’t it notable that the co chair of the JSCENR and te head of a statewide coalition representing 100,000 Mainers they say is seeking a to shore up LD820 with a prohibition on “wet mine wastes units” when neither has a clue what that means or more importantly that the term has no meaning.
It would be a huge mistake to once again retereat to work sessions to try and patch up our staute. A meaningful consesnsus requires a meaningful undersanding of the probelsm and available solutions.
Having said that, the following is the text I transmitted sometime ago ascomment on LD160 and am re transmitting here.
January 23, 2017
Dear Senators Saviello & Dill & Representative Duchesne:
With reference to the two identically worded bills you have sponsored, LD159 directed to the Mining on Public Lands Statute and,LD160 to Pl 2011 C653 , The Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act, Maine has no identified massive sulfide deposit with > 1million tons of “metallic minerals” . Bald Mountain, Maine’s largest identified massive sulfide is a deposit of 33 million tons per USGS ( Slack et al,) most recent re examination of core contains far less than 1 million tons of “metallic minerals”( somewhere around 300,000).
As you also know, all of the identified metalically mineralized deposits in Maine are “Massive Sulfides”, the others much smaller than Bald Mountain so the framing of both bills has no effect whatsoever on how or where any of Maine’s existing known massive sulfide deposits can be mined and no effect whatsoever in lowering the extremely high level of potential public liability of metallic mining which can accrue under our present two mining statutes and under the third round of Chapter 200 rules DEP is advancing.
Even a complete ban on sulfide mining would still allow gold and silver mining of the Gossan at Bald Mountain and I refer you to the Black Hawk application, coordinated by MarK Stebbins, for a better understanding of the never resolved possibilities of total loss . Under our present legal framework and the third round of Chapter 200 rules these liabilities are not reduced but actively accepted as public loss through exemption from previously applicable environmental law, most egregiously specifically allowing onsite groundwater contamination.
From the beginning, JSCENR has not been completely truthful with the people of Maine or the legislature on the fact that our Metallic Mineral Mining Statute (Pl 2011 C 653). restructured previously existing Maine environmental law to remove those provisions that Bolidens mining consultants at Bald Mountain had identified as not attainable by any known mining technology. The effect of that was to simply accept the public liabilities of removing those standards from mining while leaving them in place for all other public and private enterprise.
The JSCENR has not been forthcoming with the people of Maine or our legislators on the conflicting provisions of the pre existing 1985 Mining on Public Lands Statute.
It is more than disappointing in light of this legislative history as lead by JSCENR and further enabled by DEP to see these two bills put forward when the need identified over these several years is to start over with both laws.
Here is the exact language of both bills
“Massive sulfide ore deposit” means a metal sulfide ore deposit that, contains in total 1,000,000 tons or more of metallic minerals.”
So many elements of these two seeming simple and straight forward bills repeat exactly the same kind of legislative errors that have kept us from meaningful progress towards a clear, well informed legal framework for mining.
(1) inventing definitions inconsistent with established and universal definitions and terminology in the mining industry “Massive Sulfide” ( more properly “Volcanogenic Massive Sulfide” for our geology here in Maine”) is a designation within the science of geology that already has a definition. Recall how much time has been wasted over these several years over DEP’s made up term “wet mine waste units”. Making up terms or alternate definitions is not helpful or even responsible in the context of a legal framework for an industry as complex and high risk as metallic mining . Such practices do not not inspire confidence among quality prospective investors and responsible mine developers. There is no clarity if law makers reinvent and misapply the lexicon of the regulated industry.
(2) lack of due diligence in understanding the complexity and nature of mining operations and applying that to the framing for our legal structure for mining. The “massive” part of the geological classification “massive sulfide” has nothing to do with size ( I believe it refers to the extraordinarily high concentration of sulfides compared to other types of ore, eg porphyry the dominant source of metals globally). VMS deposits the most prevalent form we have in Maine, are the second highest risk category among all geological designations and the public risk inherent in a given deposit derives from geochemistry not its size. Our Bald Mountain which has much less than 1 million tonnes of metals t is off the charts high public liability risk .No massive sulfide of any size anywhere in the world has ever been developed with higher arsenic and sulfide levels than exist at Bald Mountain. Reams and reams of scientific and technical documentation constituting “best knowledge” has been presented to JSCENR and to DEP for several years. It is incomprehensible that these very basic truths about VMS deposits are still avoided with determination by both DEP and by JSCENR when these should be the very focus of how we define “the public interest” in our legal framework for mining.
A deposit like our anomalous Bald Mountain that may now be well beyond any known proven technology for protecting against off site degradation of ground and surface waters may in time become economically and environmentally feasible. We need to build a legal framework that survives and works well over time as technology develops and understanding deepens. This is the perfect moment to undertake that work as the entire mining industry is in economic chaos and recovery is not expected until arund 2020.
As you stripped out the entire contents of Ralph’ Chapmans well informed LD750 for a completely different purpose , I ask you to do the same with these two bills. Use them to repeal both the Mining on Public Lands Statute and the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act and to create a mandate for a sructure involving a multidisciplinary super panel of mining expperts to give us the foundation elements of modern mining law from which we can build new and better law from scratch with participation by all stakeholders.
Lindsay Newland Bowker, CPCU, ARM Environmental Risk Manager
Science & Research In The Public Interest
15 Cove Meadow Rd.
Stonington, Maine 04681
207 367 5145