The dangers of a Minnesotan nickel mine

The dangers of a Minnesotan nickel mine

Noah Furman, Contributing Writer

What do you do when a corporation decides that the area next to your house is the prime area for a nickel mine? This is the exact question being asked in Northern Minnesota as Talon Metals is quickly working to open a mine to provide nickel for the nation’s infrastructure and car batteries. 

In early 2020, Talon Metals Corporation announced their plans to partner up with Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company, to open a nickel mine in the small town of Tamarack, Minn. The Talon-Rio Tinto mine would be the first large scale nickel mine in the United States, drawing attention from industry leaders across the globe in direct opposition to the movement for sustainable projects that are good for the people and the planet. Nickel is an essential material in the construction of car batteries, making it particularly important for electric car manufacturers. 

It is no surprise that Tesla has declared their support for the Talon-Rio Tinto mine, signing a deal for Talon to provide 75,000 metric tons of nickel for Tesla cars. 

By providing nickel for electric cars, Talon and Rio Tinto have presented the mine as a green initiative, a prime example of greenwashing, the process of a company spending more effort on marketing themself as environmentally friendly rather than actually being environmentally friendly. 

Nickel sulfide mining is an inherently risky and damaging process for the land, water and wildlife surrounding it. As explained by the Tamarack Water Alliance, when sulfide ores are exposed to air and moisture, sulfuric acid is generated, releasing heavy metals into the land and water. These metals are toxic to fish and wildlife, placing the wild rice in extreme danger. Appallingly, almost every place where a nickel mine has been opened, contamination has occurred. 

Importantly, this mine is being proposed in close proximity to land owned by members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with no respect for their concerns about the project. Members of the tribe have expressed their disapproval with the mine’s proximity to bodies of water and the interruption that it may cause in harvesting wild rice, an important part of Anishinaabe tradition. 

This would not be the first time that Rio Tinto has shown blatant disregard for Indigenous cultures during their extractive projects. In 2020, Rio Tinto destroyed a 46,000 year old Aboriginal cave system in Australia. While Rio Tinto’s leadership has changed since, this represents a pattern in their disregard for the rights of Indigenous groups. 

None of this has stopped their push to open this mine and profit off their green display. 

Talon Metals and Rio Tinto are able to entice some in the local community through the promise of high paying mining jobs. Enbridge, the owner of the Line 3 Pipeline, made similar claims about hiring locally, but ended up only having 33% of their workforce from Minnesota. After a few years of these jobs existing, the environmental impact will last longer than the workers’ paychecks. These jobs themselves are often unsafe, leading to elevated rates of miners being diagnosed with respiratory problems and deformities despite having no health care to help them. Instead of the State of Minnesota investing in these destructive industries, they should invest in community forums populated by those most affected by extractive industries. It should be within the power of these communities to decide the source of their energy usage. 

For these reasons, our team at Public Lab is working to support the efforts within these communities to participate in community science. It is clear to us that Talon-Rio Tinto are working in conjunction with the government on this project, as the Department of Natural Resources owns all mineral rights in the state. By returning the community’s role in analyzing the scientific risk of this project, they should be able to decide if a nickel mine belongs in Tamarack, Minn. If we as a society are actually committed to switching to green energy and having a more environmentally friendly future, the Talon mine should not go into operation.

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