Since taconite iron ore can be attracted by magnets, it is called a magnetite. Magnetite is abundant in the Minnesota Iron Range as well as the Michigan Iron Range that is located next to Marquette as well as in the Penokee Range in Wisconsin, Minnesota. In Wisconsin-Minnesota's Gogebic-Penokee Range, the taconite iron ore deposits are concentrated on the bands that run from the Mellen area in Ashland County up to the area near Upson in the Iron County.
The taconite iron ore extraction process
The mining of taconite iron ore in the Gogebic-Penokee Range is carried out by means of open-pit mining methods. The mining process commences by the drilling of a hole into the ground in order to determine the exact location and quality of the iron ore deposit. The drilling also reveals the characteristics of the rocks that surround the ore. For the rather large modern mines, there is a need to carry out several exploratory as well as characterization drilling of bore holes into the iron formations. After the adequate characterization of the iron ore body as well as the one for the overburden has been characterized, the next process involves the removal of the non-ferrous rock that lies over and next to the iron deposit. The ratio of the iron ore to the waste rock that has to be removed in order to access the iron ore (striping ratio) of 2:1 or 1:1 is common. If the iron ore deposit has vertical orientation to the ground surface, then the amount of overburden that has to be removed in order to access the iron ore may be greater that the amount of the iron ore to be extracted. The rock that surrounds the iron ore area/zone is then hauled out of the open pit mine and then stored appropriately as waste rock. In order to remove the iron ore, the rock is blasted with dynamite explosive and then loaded onto trucks. They are then removed from the pit area. The ore is then transported to the processing plan a place where it would be crushed using a series of crushers as well as mills. The scale of land alteration that is associated with the mining activities for the extraction of taconite are enormous. The open pi mines would create permanent alterations to the landscape. The resources and the habitats that the Gogebic-Penokee Range supports would also be removed permanently.
What makes the Penokee Range special?
The Penokee-Gogebic Range is made up of two large and steep ridges that lie parale to each other. These two ridges dominate the local landscape and rise to about 1200 feet above Lake Superior which is located nearby. The soil condition and the region's topography results in a diverse habitat that supports a large number of natural communities and species.
Water is one of the resources that are at risk of being polluted or depleted by the proposal to start extensive mining at the Penokee-Gogebic Range. Close to 71 miles of rivers and intermittent streams have been noted by the Nature Conservancy (2011), to flow through the area that has been ear-marked for the proposed mining activity. These rivers and streams currently empty their water into Lake Superior and Bad River. The surface as well as the ground water that originates from the Penokee Range is noted as one of the main sources of waters that are used in the Upson, Marengo, Udanah, Ashland, Highbridge as well as Mellen municipalities.
A large part of the various waterways that include Potato, Bad as well as Tyler Folks rivers are given the Exceptional or Outstanding Resource Waters designation to mean that they are Wisconsin's rivers of highest quality. The good quality water makes them favorable for fishing and wildlife rearing.
It is worth noting that the proposed area of mining embodies a large part of the headwaters that are part of the Bad River watershed. This supports close to sixteen thousand acres of the Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs. These are known as the largest watershed complex that is underdeveloped in the upper Greater Lakes region.
The sloughs in the wetlands have a very strong cultural significance to the natives of the area. They also support the Great lake basin's largest natural wild rice bed. That has been used for several centuries. The streams as well as sloughs that feed the entire wetland system comprising of Kakagon river, Bad river as well as Wood and Bear Trap creeks are all directly dependent on the ground and surface water that emanates from the Penokee Rage. The Sloughs are also noted to be perfect natural homes to several endangered and threatened species like bald eagle, trumpeter swam, piping plover as well as lady-slipper orchid.
Since the proposed mining area covers close to thirty five square miles of the northern hardwood forest, the current forest is at risk of being destroyed despite the fact that it has been used for the production of hardwood for several decades
A large part of the land is protected by the Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law which makes it open for the recreation of the general public. Activities such as hiking, hunting as well as snowmobiling can be carried out here. The forest in this region acts as a link between the Ottawa National Forest located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that is located ion in northern Wisconsin. This means that it provides close to forty miles of an expansive continuous forest cover that supports the lives of several animals such as timer wolves. The forest also acts as the breeding grounds for a large population of birds that are noted to be migratory.
A detailed analysis of the effect of Iron ore mining on the Penokee-Gogebic Range
A review of literature clearly indicates that the concept of iron ore mining has devastating effects on the surrounding environment in regard to pollution and general damage (Ratha and Venkataraman,1995).The recent discovery of the Penokee-Gogebic Range by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as a potential source of a large copper as well as nickel deposit makes it the concept of iron ore mining in the region environmentally detrimental. This is because the two heavy metals, copper and nickel would automatically be produced as the by-products and thus pose environmental risks associated with the mining of metallic sulfides (Clements and Sack,2008).
The mining of metals in the Penokee-Gogebic Range have been noted to pose a significant amount of environmental threat to the surrounding communities who depend on the area as their source of sustenance. Other than the extensive aesthetic impact that it might have on the landscape, the trees that are currently intact would become very fragmented and the increased runoff as well as the potential level of acid and heavy metal contamination that might emanate from the tailing pile may drastically change the health of the existing river systems. The heavy machinery that is to be used as well as the industry to be constructed on the land may produce too much hydrocarbon emission as well as ore dust that may deteriorate the air quality while contributing to anthropogenic global climate change.
Since the area is the headwaters of rivers such as Bad River, a river which is regarded as the largest watershed in Wisconsin and which also drains into Lake Superior, the seventy two rare species as well as endangered plants and animals that reside in the Bad River may perish as noted by the Nature Conservancy.
The changing water levels as well as the pollutants that may get their way into the water may have a great impact on the Wild Rice beds that grow at the mouth of the river. The Mahnoomin region is of great economic value as well as source of livelihood of the Ojibwe people. Additionally, the tourism-based economies of the communities that live in lakeside regions like Washburn, Ashland and Bayfield could be negatively impacted by the contaminants from the mining activity which could easily find their way into Lake Superior. Even though the mining executives have attempted to convince the people that they are sensitive to their concerns of the environmental impact of the mining activities by claiming that they would rely on technologies that would reduce the level of pollution. Most residents and experts still worry that the overall image of the paradise of North Wood would forever be altered by the creation of large open-pit mines. It is noted by Clements and Sack (2008) that even the very best of technologies, the environmental consequences may well outweigh the perceived short-term economic benefits that may be derived from the creation of the mines.
Figure 3: A diagrammatic representation of Gogebic section at the Penokee-Gogebic Range (Marsden,1978)
Shashtri (n.d) presented an elaborate analysis of the potential environmental impact of iron ore mining on the environment. He pointed out that Iron ore mining operations have a significant impact on…