Booth M. Minnesota

Sulfide Mining Near the Boundary Waters

Sulfide mining turns nearby water acidic and kills wildlife by creating sulfuric acid. Mines often refuse to clean up their mess, which results in taxpayers taking up the responsibility.

Dear Future President,

My name is Booth McGowan, and I am a sophomore from Minnesota. Minnesota is a wonderful state with numerous natural wonders and peaceful places. One of our most famous is the Boundary Waters, 1,090,000 acres of beauty with over 1,000 lakes and over 1,500 miles of canoe routes ( It has been people’s home since the first prehistoric natives walked the coast of ancient Lake Agassiz 11,000 years ago ( And all of this glory is endangered by greed! And it’s all because of low-grade, minimally profitable sulfide ore.

But this profit will not be made without a cost. The cost? Our gorgeous lakes. Although this cost is not monetary, it is worth so much. Sulfide mining is a form of mining that extracts metals such as nickel and copper from sulfide ore ( They do this by mining out sulfide ores from underground and then bringing them to the surface. Once at the surface, the ores are crushed and the sulfide in the ore combines with oxygen and hydrogen to form sulfuric acid ( Sulfuric acid pollutes the surrounding water for hundreds to thousands of years after it has been created ( It has even been known to turn entire bodies of water acidic, killing all life in them ( If this happens in Minnesota we could lose the Boundary Waters, a place that has been pristine for thousands of years. A place that harbors so much life.The Boundary waters are one of the only places on the planet where humans sleep and move in harmony with the environment. Silent, non-polluting canoes cut through the crystal water causing no harm. This non-mechanic, ancient peace is something that is already so rare in our world. Should we take all of this away? PolyMet and Twin Metals think that’s a dandy idea. Here’s why:

The area underneath the Boundary Waters and surrounding areas is packed with low-grade sulfide ore. Our sulfide ore has never before been worth the time and effort it would take to mine it, but now, with advanced mining technologies, the ore will make a small profit (

PolyMet, according to the Friends of the Boundary Waters, is “the snowplow leading the way.” They are the furthest along in the process of proposing a mine. They are proposing a mine that would be in the Lake Superior Watershed ( Antofagasta PLC, a Chilean mining company, and Duluth Metals have ‘teamed up’ to form Twin Metals ( Twin Metals has proposed an underground sulfide ore mine near Birch Lake (and possibly under it) and along the Kawishiwi River, just a few miles from the BWCA. This mine would be in the Rainy River watershed. Water in this watershed flows to the BWCA, Superior National Forest and Voyageurs National Park ( Even though the mine wouldn’t physically be in any of these three places, the inevitable pollution would inevitably pollute all three of them.

But don’t worry, the companies claim, the mines will have little negative effects on our waters because the sulfide ore only contains 1% sulfide ( But they said this before and it turned out terribly. Friends of the Boundary Waters give the ugly example of the Brohm Mine, in South Dakota. Mining companies claimed the mine would not create acid mine drainage because the ore they were mining was only 1% sulfide. It did. Awfully. A nearby stream turned acidic. All the fish died. 89% of the mines that have polluted originally said that they wouldn’t ( I know "liars use numbers” but these are some numbers too significant to ignore.

Not only are there environmental consequences, there are also economic consequences on the people living nearby. Often times, mining companies go bankrupt and desert their mines. Taxpayers are then subsequently forced pay the cleanup fees of the mine. Examples of this include the Zortman-Landusky mine in Montana. Taxpayers have had to pay $33 million dollars here and it is still rising. Summitville Mine, Colorado: $185 million adding $1.5 million per year. Grouse Creek Mine, Idaho: $53 million ( If the environmental aspect isn’t enough to convince someone, then maybe this economic aspect will be.

Now, I have stated so many problems but no solutions. Now is the time where we get optimistic. There are solutions to this problem. Wisconsin has implemented a “Prove It First” law. This law requires mining companies to show a sulfide mine that has been open for ten years without polluting, and then also show one that has been closed for ten years without pollution. Since there are no mines that fit into this criteria, Wisconsin is currently operating zero sulfide ore mines ( Also, the obvious, we need to raise awareness. Spread the word, bring it up awkwardly at a dinner party. Something. Friends of the Boundary Waters accepts donations, so if you have any money that you want to give to a good cause, I highly recommend donating it to help battle against this looming threat to our prestigious lakes.

I go on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park with a YMCA camp in Northern Minnesota called Camp Widjiwagan. I have so many memories from these trips. The time a tree fell on my friend and he blocked it with his massive arm. The time these two annoying kids threw a rock into the biffi and stunk up the entire campsite. The time that after a long day of paddling I sat on a cliff at dusk and watched the sun fall blissfully into a glistening lake. The time we cooked our dinner on a peninsula of granite and had to run around frantically to save our flying food, stove and plates when a massive storm struck and nearly blew it all into the water. After the storm passed I saw the most prominent rainbow that I have ever seen. Stretching from one end of the lake to the other, a mother loon called for her lost baby long into the evening. These are roughly 0.000000000000000001% of all of the memories that have been made in the Boundary Waters. 180,000 people visit the Boundary Waters every year ( They leave only footprints and take only memories. We can’t permit one mine to stop this all.

The Boundary Waters have been home to life for tens of thousands of years. They have changed naturally over time. Massive Lake Agassiz drained, the countless lakes we know now were formed. Let’s keep these changes natural. We have to save our lakes from toxic sulfuric acid, and we need to take action now.


Booth McGowan (15), a lover of beautiful places

St. Paul Central High School

Approaching Analysis - Hours 2 and 3

This is a sophomore honors class at St. Paul Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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