Test drilling nearly complete along Wolf River in Oneida County.
An exploratory drilling operation is nearly complete in southeastern Oneida County, bringing the pristine area near the Wolf River one step closer to potential sulfide mining for gold, silver, or other minerals despite no assurances such an operation would not cause environmental damage.
Badger Minerals, a Michigan-based subsidiary of a Candian mining company, plans to finish test-drilling by the end of the month. The company is currently engaged in around-the-clock test drilling to determine whether valuable minerals are in the area. It is the first such drilling in Wisconsin since 2012 and the first in Oneida County since the 1980s, according to WXPR.
Should the company begin mining, it could cause pollution and health concerns for the surrounding area. Sulfide mining poses “several significant environmental risks,” according to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Sulfuric acid is released through sulfide mining, according to the MCEA. The acid can then pollute water sources, which in turn negatively impacts wildlife, the environment, and humans.
“Once you expose the elements to oxygen, it essentially turns into battery acid, which leeches into the larger aquifer and will damage people’s lakefront properties, property values, and drinking water,” Ed Vocke, a Democrat running to replace former Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany, told WJFW.
Tiffany, now a member of Congress, was a key player in even allowing such test-drilling to take place, WJFW reports. State legislation he introduced in 2017 repealed a longstanding “prove it first” law that required companies to prove their mines would not cause environmental damage and water pollution before they could start drilling.
The law Tiffany’s legislation repealed had been in place since 1998 and passed with bipartisan support at the time under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Vocke opposes Badger Minerals’ testing. Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski, who is also running for Tiffany’s vacant Senate seat, defended it in a statement given to WJFW. She said the company is “safely determin(ing) whether or not there are minerals below.”
Assembly candidate Kirk Bangstad, D-Minocqua, told WJFW sulfide mining could destroy Northwoods tourism to benefit an industry where the mining jobs would not go to local residents.
“Mining doesn’t bring good jobs to an area,” said Bangstad. “Mining brings people who know how to mine who aren’t local people. So you’re going to bring out of state talent to mine. Mining only lasts three to four years. And then they’ve raped our land and then they go.”
A Badger Minerals geologist told WXPR the company feels concerns over the test-drilling are overblown because the actual harmful mining has not yet begun.
Eric Quigley, the geologist, said “it is a little early on in the project to begin to address mining related issues/concerns without having an adequate understanding of the geology and potential mineral deposits that may or may not exist at the site.”
Environmental group the Sierra Club of Wisconsin is strongly opposed to sulfide mining. Its website points to a 2012 study of 14 of the 16 copper sulfide mines in the nation. That study found that each mine investigated had failures such as pipeline breaches and acid overflows that directly polluted their surroundings.
“Mining should not take place anywhere near lakes and rivers, important ecosystems, vulnerable communities, and tribal lands,” the Sierra Club wrote on its website.