A mining company has received conditional approval to begin exploratory drilling for copper and gold in Taylor County. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources authorized the company’s plans on May 4. The state DNR metallic mineral exploration approval grants the company to drill up to eight holes at six sites impacting less than an acre within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
State regulators say the Canadian company, GreenLight Metals, doing business as Green Light Wisconsin, must still meet additional requirements before work gets underway. Original authorization had been granted for the 2022-23 winter to lessen drilling impact on the area. Drilling had been postponed as granting agencies required additional project information.
GreenLight Wisconsin wants to conduct exploratory drilling of the Bend Deposit at a 40-acre site owned by the U.S. Forest Service within the Chequamegon National Forest about 19 miles northwest of Medford and 35 miles southeast of Ladysmith. The deposit is mostly copper-bearing sulfides with significant gold and minor amounts of silver in two overlapping zones, totaling an estimated 4.23 million tons of ore.
“We’re pleased to have received DNR approval of our very detailed work plan,” Dan Colton, the company’s president and CEO, told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Colton also told WPR the company will now work to secure a wastewater permit and authorization of its work plan by the U.S. Forest Service.
“We’ve asked the DNR to revise our work plan to include summer drilling, so that we can implement this plan either this summer or this coming winter,” Colton said.
The deposit, similar in geology to the better known Flambeau Deposit south of Ladysmith, was originally discovered in 1986 and drilled in the early 1990s by the Jump River Joint Venture and again in 2012 by Aquila Resources, LLC. Reserves are estimated to yield 2.77% copper, 0.05 oz of gold and 0.43 oz of silver per ton. Rare elements such as bismuth, arsenic and antimony are also present. It is likely that other rare minerals will come to light as deposit is studied further.
Metals like gold and copper that occur in sulfide ore bodies haven’t been mined in Wisconsin since the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith shut down in 1997. The mine served as a catalyst for the state’s sulfide mining moratorium that was repealed in 2017 under a law passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
On Feb. 21, 2022, the state DNR issued a Certification of Completion for the satisfactory termination of Aquila’s 2012 drilling sites.
GreenLight Metals bought interests in the Reef and Bend deposits for roughly $5.5 million last year from Toronto-based Aquila Resources. The company has four prospecting permit applications that are pending with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which officials hope to receive this year. The Reef deposit, which is roughly 12 miles east of Wausau in Marathon County, is estimated to contain around 454,000 tons of gold reserves.
GreenLight Metals filed technical reports last year with Canadian authorities on the Reef and Bend mineral deposits in Taylor and Marathon counties, stating the deposits contain copper and gold reserves of “economic interest” that warrant further exploration.
The cost of the exploration at the two deposits is expected to run around $1.3 million combined.
The transition to clean energy technologies is set to increase demand for minerals like lithium, nickel and copper, according to the International Energy Agency. A 2021 agency report said demand for copper is expected to grow more than 40 percent to reach goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, adding existing mines would supply 80 percent of copper needs by 2030.
Green Light Wisconsin obtained an exploratory drilling license in February 2022 and a subsequent license renewal in June 2022. GLW holds a valid nonferrous metallic mineral exploration license in accordance with State Statutes, and which will remain in effect through June 30, 2023.
GLW also submitted a Plan of Operation to the U.S. Forest Service in June 2022. An initial Notice of Intent for exploration drilling was received on Sept. 23, 2022, from Green Light Wisconsin.
The planned drilling sites are located on parcels with a private mineral estate called the “Soo Line 40” owned by Soo Line Railroad Company who is managing on behalf of Canadian Pacific Railway, who continues to hold deeded rights to the private mineral estate, and a surface estate owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
GLW had proposed plans to conduct operations during the winter of 2022/2023 with an emphasis on being completed under frozen conditions to limit impact. After detailed review, the WDNR responded to GLW, on Oct. 14, 2022, with a letter specifying additional information was necessary.
On Nov. 30, 2022, GLW submitted a revised notice of intent for exploration drilling. The state DNR reviewed the revised exploration plan and responded with a second additional information request by letter to GLW, dated Dec. 16, 2022, specifying additional information necessary for the submission to be determined complete.
On Feb. 17, 2023, GLW submitted a second revised notice of intent for exploration drilling to take place in summer 2023 or winter 2023/24. The state DNR reviewed the exploration plan and responded with a letter on March 7, 2023. The state DNR requested GLW provide two pieces of additional information and informed GLW of the necessary dewatering permit.
Exploration drilling will include up to 8 boreholes totaling a maximum of 7,190 linear feet of borehole including rock core samples. Drilling is proposed for either the summer of 2023 and/or winter of 2023/24.
According to WPR reporting, Acting Forest Supervisor James Gries said last September the company’s plan was consistent with the forest’s land and resource management plan.
A complete Notice of Intent submission was received from Green Light Wisconsin on April 17, 2023. On May 4, 2023, it was determined the proposal met all requirements under NR 130 and a conditional approval for metallic mineral exploration was issued.
An endangered resources review submitted Nov. 30, 2022, resulted in one required action and three recommended actions. The project is not expected to impact any known archaeological or historic resources. It is also not expected to result in a discharge of fill material to wetlands.
Conditions of the approval restrict dewatering activities, endangered resources impacts, erosion, wetlands and waterways, and sump and cuttings.
The state’s mining moratorium had required companies to prove other mines operated and then were closed for 10 years without causing environmental harm. Industry officials hope the 2017 law will open the door to mining and bring high-paying jobs, while environmental groups and Native American tribes fear it will lead to environmental degradation.
Both the Bend and Reef deposits are near water resources that include the north branch of the Yellow River in Taylor County and Eau Claire River in Marathon County. The DNR approval will remain in effect for one year.
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