Dairy Syncline Mine Q & A
What is being proposed?
J.R. Simplot Company submitted a mine and reclamation plan proposal to utilize open pit mining methods to extract phosphate ore from federal phosphate leases located approximately 12 miles east of Soda Springs. The proposal incorporates two main components: (1) A mining and reclamation plan for mining, processing and reclamation activities on federal mineral leases owned by Simplot within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest; and (2) a tailings pond and other facilities located off of Simplot’s federal mineral leases located on National Forest and BLM managed public lands. The company’s initial discussions with federal land managers resulted in a proposed mitigated sale of 1,142 acres of BLM-managed lands; and an exchange involving 631 acres of National Forest Lands to accommodate the tailings pond portion of the proposal.
Why is the BLM considering Simplot’s proposal so early?
At first glance, it does appear that this proposal is occurring fairly early. The J.R. Simplot Company is currently supplying their fertilizer manufacturing plant with ore from their Smoky Canyon Mine located several miles east of the Dairy Syncline property. Ore from the existing mine is expected to independently fulfill production needs until the year 2022, where at that time, ore will need to come from another source. Obtaining phosphate ore from the Dairy Syncline area would necessitate the construction of a new mill and other mining-related facilities at the property. The construction of these facilities would require several years to complete and would need to be completed prior to exhaustion of ore reserves at the Smoky Canyon Mine. The comprehensive federal review of the proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will take three to four years. In addition, possible appeals and lawsuits could add more time to the project’s time line. Simplot has considered this lengthy process and decided to make application with the agencies sooner rather than later.
Why is the BLM involved?
The proposed new mining operations at the Dairy Syncline Phosphate Lease Area lie within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest on lands where the surface estate is administered by the FS and the Federal mineral estate is administered by the BLM. In 2000, the BLM and Forest Service completed an EIS to support a decision to lease phosphate development rights by competitive bid. The BLM issued Federal mineral lease I-28115 to the high bidder, the J.R. Simplot Company in 2000. Simplot acquired another existing federal mineral lease, I-0258, from P4 Production LLC in 2009. These leases grant the lease holder, Simplot in this case, exclusive rights to mine and otherwise dispose of the federally owned phosphate deposit at the site. As the agency which administers federal minerals, the BLM will analyze environmental impacts of the proposed mining operations, land sales, land exchanges, and reasonable alternatives through the EIS process.
Why is the BLM considering another mine when Simplot is under investigation for CERCLA violations at older mines?
Simplot has submitted the Mine and Reclamation Plan to exercise their rights as leaseholder, and as the agency which administers the Federal mineral estate, the BLM must consider the proposal. The BLM does not have legal authority to delay or defer consideration of a proposal for new mining activity simply because the proponent has other mine sites under investigation for CERCLA violations. Since the discovery of selenium, technologies have been developed and are available that address issues with selenium and other potential mining contaminates that allow BLM to consider Simplot’s proposal or other alternatives. Monitoring, mitigation and containment at new mining facilities are designed to ensure that additional mine sites are not added to the southeast Idaho CECLA investigation and cleanup list.
Why is the BLM considering a land sale related to this proposal?
Simplot uses pipeline technology to transport mined phosphate ore that is ground to a powder in a mill, mixed with water and pumped through the line to their Pocatello fertilizer plant. This process also separates natural clay materials from the ore. These materials need to be disposed of in a tailings pond facility. The company has identified a flat lying tract of federal land, comprised of BLM managed public land and National Forest land, north of the proposed mine site that is suitable for a tailings pond. The Forest Service has indicated they will consider a land exchange for this site. By law, they cannot sell lands, and by regulation, they cannot authorize a tailings pond on National Forest System lands.
BLM is a land management agency and doesn’t normally manage facilities like a reclaimed tailings pond over the long term as part of its mandate. BLM has indicated they will consider a mitigated land sale since BLM lands targeted by Simplot are isolated from other BLM lands in the area and are currently difficult and expensive to properly manage. In a mitigated sale, the government would receive fair market value for the land and would also receive a donation of private lands that have very high natural resource value such as elk winter range. BLM and Forest Service will consider other options to the exchange/sale. BLM management intends to formulate a final mitigated land sale package in a way that will increase the benefits to the public and wildlife resource more than the present land tenure situation.
What is the BLM doing?
The Bureau of Land Management is in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposed Dairy Syncline phosphate mine project. Once the EIS is complete, the BLM will need to decide: (1) whether to approve the proposed mine and reclamation plan (MRP) or another alternative; (2) whether to approve the proposed lease modifications (enlargements); and (3) whether to approve a mitigated land sale to accommodate the proposed tailing ponds.
How does the process work?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the BLM to go through a strict environmental review process prior to approving or denying mining proposals. The general process is described below. Once the proponent submits a proposal, the BLM would formally issue a Notice of Intent (NOI) to notify the public that BLM is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to analyze the proposal. The NOI formally starts the scoping period during which time the agency will gather public, agency, and Tribal input to consider when drafting the EIS. When the scoping period has ended and all comments and concerns are considered, BLM will draft the EIS. The BLM will then issue a Notice of Availability (NOA) of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). The public, agencies, and Tribes again have an opportunity to review the DEIS document and voice comments or concerns with the environmental analysis. After comments are received and considered, the BLM would issue a final EIS (FEIS), at which point an organization or individual may still submit comments. Following the FEIS, the BLM will issue a record of decision (ROD) regarding approval of the proposal. The ROD would document the selected alternative and any accompanying mitigation measures required by the deciding agency.
What is phosphate used for?
Phosphate is an important chemical used in a variety of products including baked goods, personal care products, textiles, electronics and fertilizers. Phosphate mining and processing contribute to $2 billion in value-added products to the U.S. economy and directly employ over 1200 people in high-paying jobs. Development of phosphate resources has been an integral part of the economy in southeast Idaho for nearly 100 years.
What is CERCLA?
CERCLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and was enacted by Congress in December of 1980. The law provides broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. CERCLA does three main things: (1) It established prohibitions and requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites; (2) it provided for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous waste at these sites; and (3) it established a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party could be identified. In southeast Idaho, CERCLA is being used to work with the parties responsible for causing contamination at historic phosphate mining sites to identify contamination problems and conduct appropriate remedial activities. .
What is open pit mining?
Open pit mining refers to a type of mining where an excavation or cut is made at the surface of the ground for the purpose of extracting ore. To expose or mine the ore, it is generally necessary to move large quantities of waste rock into piles or used to backfill open pits left from previous mining. Surface mining is often more advantageous than underground mining in terms of recovery, grade control, economy, and flexibility of operation, safety, and the working environment.
What is selenium?
Selenium is a naturally occurring element. In phosphate mines, it is typically found with other heavy metals in waste rock piles that contain shale rock. It is normally insoluble unless oxidized, which it does over time in the waste rock piles. Soluble selenium can then be transported by surface and groundwater and taken-up by plants, sometimes creating toxic forage.
Toxic levels of selenium emanating from phosphate waste rock in southeast Idaho was first identified as a problem in animals in 1996, when six horses were diagnosed with toxic selenosis and had to be put down. Several other cases were documented soon thereafter, and the phosphate companies, government agencies, and other interested groups formed a selenium working group to study the issue.
BLM requires phosphate mining proposals to include detailed mine plans and mitigation measures to control selenium and other potential impacts to the environment. BLM evaluates mining proposals using state-of-the-art water quality impact modeling and work with agencies such as EPA and the Idaho DEQ and the mining applicant to determine appropriate methods of eliminating or controlling selenium and other contaminants in order to meet requirements in the Clean Water Act and the Groundwater Protection Rule.