State Environmental Commission adopts new mineral mining regulations



Plumbago North Spodumene. Spodumene is a mineral containing lithium oxide, from which lithium can be extracted. Courtesy of William Simmons.

Environmental Protection Commission unanimously votes to amend Maine’s strict mining rules to allow open pit mining of certain metals, including metals that facilitate the transition to clean energy, as long as mining does not pollute the environment Agreed.

The interim amendment is the result of a state law adopted last July to overhaul mining laws to allow for the mining of non-reactive minerals such as spodumene, the hard rock source of lithium, and is currently in final consideration. It has been returned to Parliament for this reason.

If these rules were adopted, retired rock hunters Mary and Gary Freeman, who split their time between Maine and Florida, would be able to tap open-pit mines into large lithium-rich deposits they discovered while hunting. This means that the rigorous testing necessary to build a new one can now begin. Newry Gem of 2018.

The Newry deposit is a potential part of a global increase in lithium production to store clean wind and solar energy and make batteries to power electric vehicles. Alternative batteries that do not contain lithium are being tested, but for now, lithium is still used in most electric vehicles and grid batteries.

Despite government and industry interest in building a domestic lithium market, Nevada currently has the only operating lithium mine in the country. The Silver Peak Mine, which began operations in the 1960s, pumps lithium-rich brine from underground into large evaporation ponds.

But Patrick Donnelly, a conservation biologist at the center, said the U.S. has at least 100 domestic lithium mines and needs to compete with countries such as Australia, Chile, China and Argentina, which currently dominate the global market. He said he is trying to get permission. For biodiversity.

In a 2020 paper detailing the discovery, the Freemans said the 10-metric-ton Plumbago Mountain deposit was a 36-foot-long giant crystal buried deep within a coarse brown-and-white rock surface. claimed to have the highest average lithium content of any known spodumene deposit, including

Initially, the Freemans said they wanted to sell to the battery market, where on-site or nearby chemical processing would likely be required. They then said they wanted to sell the spodumene rough, which contains the highest levels of lithium, to scientific glass manufacturers, which could eliminate the need for processing.

Neither the Freemans nor their attorneys responded to email or telephone requests for an interview.

The interim rule requires applicants seeking open-pit mining exemptions to demonstrate that their operations are not likely to violate state water quality standards or expose radioactive materials that would endanger human health or the environment. is required to do so.

Applicants will be required to conduct extensive testing and sampling to demonstrate that the deposit will not react when exposed to the air and water of an open pit mine. Although spodumene is non-reactive, other metals such as copper and silver can cause harmful acid discharges when exposed.

For example, the Newry spodumene deposit is thought to contain galena, a blue-black mineral containing lead sulphide. Lead sulfide can leach lead, often in combination with iron sulfide, which is the primary cause of acid mine drainage.

“We don’t know if galena is present at dangerous levels, but the only way to know is to characterize deposits in detail in the way these proposed rule amendments propose,” Natural Resources said. Council staff scientist Nick Bennett said. Maine.

One of the reasons the NRCM supported this interim rule is that the Environmental Protection Commission requires applicants to conduct real-world testing, This is because we have decided to reintroduce the requirement that dynamic testing must be performed. .

“We support the DEP-drafted and BEP-approved proposed rule because it believes that open-pit mining of metallic minerals is only permitted when the risk to water quality and the environment is very low. ,” Bennett said.

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