Earth Day Thoughts on Polymet and Oil Pipelines

by Dave Mindeman

It’s Earth Day and a good time to talk about Minnesota’s environmental concerns.

Number one on that list is Polymet Mining. The controversy in the 8th district centers around the Polymet proposal to open up a copper/nickel sulfide mine. This is a highly risky venture because the waste products are hazardous to the environment. The Boundary Waters will be at risk.

Granted, this will create a few jobs – I believe the number is around 300. But can we balance that with any risk analysis that is in play here? I’m not sure we can.

A big concern is Polymet’s plan for storing waste…

A hulking, man-made earthen dike that will stretch for miles and reach 252 feet high when finished, the dam will hold back millions of gallons of water mixed in a slurry with finely ground rock left over after crushing and processing — after the copper, nickel and other valuable metals are extracted.

A breach of this dam (not an impossible thought) would be catastrophic. There have been two such breaches at similar type mines…

Disastrous tailings basin dam failures happened in 2014, at the Mount Polley copper/gold mine in British Columbia, flooding downstream lakes with mine waste; and in 2015 at an iron ore mine in Brazil, killing 19 people and destroying downstream villages.

Of course, Polymet says that “cannot” happen here, but what else are they going to say? This kind of breach would destroy land surrounding that area – trying to reclaim it would be difficult and very, very costly.

To me, this seems to be too great a risk for the benefit. There are other places to mine and there are other jobs to be had….especially in renewable energy.

One mistake or breach will have far reaching effects.

My second environmental concern is oil pipelines. But here, I may have a different take. Pipelines have their concerns but the transport of oil is not something we are going to stop anytime soon. Not unless renewable energy is produced at a much faster pace.

And since oil will be transported regardless, if pipelines are blocked, then it will be transported by rail cars. To me, this is far more concerning. Pipelines will have ruptures and cause environmental havoc to be sure, but rail cars can explode and since they go through populated areas, they will cause casualties and deaths.

Now I do not fault people who protest pipelines. In fact, I still support their cause. The scrutiny of pipeline building and its safety needs to be vetted thoroughly. But if we must still transport the oil, I would rather use pipelines that can be routed through sparsely populated areas than using rail transportation.

The overall solution, once again, is a reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels. This needs to be accelerated and maybe someday, pipelines and oil itself will be a thing of the past.

Let’s focus on that for Earth Day and redouble our efforts.

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