Proposed nickel mine in northern Minnesota moving forward with first phase of EIS process
The proposed nickel mining project, known as Tamarack Nickel Mine, has frequented state and national news since it’s introduction last year.
It returns to the headlines yet again, as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) moves forward with preparations to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Tamarack mine would be developed by Talon Metals under the umbrella of the massive Rio Tinto mining company. Talon Metals is proposing to develop an underground mine in central Minnesota for the extraction of nickel ore that would be processed offsite, in North Dakota, to produce metal concentrates for the domestic battery supply chain. The proposed project would involve construction of an underground mine and supporting facilities approximately 1.5 miles north of Tamarack, Minnesota.
The decision to move the processing plant to North Dakota came after concerns from environmental groups and the tribal bands of the Lake Superior Chippewa.
Todd Malan, a Talon executive, told WTIP in Oct. 2022, that relocating the battery-minerals processing plant to North Dakota “would mean that we would only need to permit the mine and rail loading facility” in Minnesota.
“We will need to obtain both North Dakota permits and conduct a federal NEPA review for the facility in North Dakota,” he said.
The proposed nickel mining project, north of Tamarack, would have an 80-acre footprint on the surface that would include an access portal to the underground mine, temporary storage for ore and waste rock, and facilities to collect and treat water. Talon Metals intends to mine ore-bearing rock containing nickel and other precious metals at depths of approximately 500-2,000 feet below the surface.
Mined rock would then be transported by rail to a processing facility in Mercer County, North Dakota. Disposal of waste tailings would also occur at the Mercer County facility.
Per the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act, the proposed nickel mining project requires preparation of an EIS, with the DNR as the designated responsible governmental unit.
“We understand that Minnesotans have widely differing perspectives regarding this proposed project and nonferrous mining more broadly. The DNR, however, must base its decisions on the facts and the law,” said Katie Smith, director of the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division. “I want to assure all Minnesotans that the DNR is committed to a rigorous, transparent, and neutral review of the project, based on science and applicable state law.”
In 2022, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act in order to increase the mining of critical minerals that can be used to power electric vehicles. In doing so, Biden specifically referenced the Tamarack mine as a key component of the president’s vision toward changing what travels on America’s roadways.
Following the news of the proposed nickel mining project last year, Tesla announced it intends to source nickel for electric vehicle batteries from the Minnesota mine. Tesla has committed to purchasing 75,000 metric tons of nickel concentrate over six years from planned mine.
Talon Metals has received a $114 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project, the Associated Press reports.
Moving forward, the DNR will review Talon Metal’s submittal to assess whether the basic information is present to begin scoping, the first phase of the EIS process. The DNR states the purpose of scoping is to identify potentially significant environmental and socioeconomic issues, reasonable project alternatives, and potential environmental mitigation options to address impacts. There are three parts to the EIS process: EIS scoping, EIS preparation and EIS adequacy.
A public meeting will be announced at a later date to allow the public an opportunity to comment on the draft scope of the EIS prior to the DNR finalizing the scope.
In the meantime, the DNR has launched a webpage for the proposed Tamarack Nickel Mine. The page includes basic information about the project, status updates, and timelines; documents such as information submittals and Talon Metals-developed data and studies; and DNR fact sheets to help explain the process and summarize complex issues.
Under Minnesota law, the environmental review process informs, but is separate from, the consideration of permit applications. The proposed Project would need permits from local, state, and federal governments prior to construction and operation. No permit applications have been received at this point, and no local or state permits/approvals could be granted until the EIS is complete and deemed adequate by the DNR.