Proposed nickel mine presents limited risk to St. Croix for now

Prospecting company signs deal with electric car maker for products of mine in Mississippi headwaters.




3 minute read

Drill cores showing nickel mineralization from the Tamarack Project. (Photo courtesy Talon Metals Corp.)

A company drilling bedrock and developing a mine proposal near Tamarack, Minn. could someday venture into areas that drain to the St. Croix River, but for now is focused on areas just outside the watershed. Talon Metals Corp. announced recently that electric car manufacturer Tesla is committed to buying a significant portion of the mine’s production if it goes forward.

The Tamarack Project would primarily be located near Big Sandy Lake near the upper Mississippi River. The type of mining can produce harmful acid mine drainage and other pollution of groundwater and lakes, rivers, and streams.

The mine could produce metals used in computers, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and many other uses. The company, based in the British Virgin Islands, has been exploring deposits mostly owned by the state of Minnesota as it attracts investors and puts together a proposal.

The deposits do include areas near the headwaters of the West Branch of the Kettle River. But an analysis of recent drilling locations shows the company is focused north of the St. Croix’s watershed. Wherever it is located, the mine will threaten wild rice, water, and wildlife.

The location near the Sandy and Tamarack Rivers, tributaries of the Mississippi, is causing concerns among Ojibwe tribes, other communities, and environmental advocates. The Mille Lacs Reservation is nearby and the area is rich in resources the sovereign nation depends on and is legally empowered to protect through treaties signed with the federal government.

A tribal leader recently told MinnPost that band members live near the proposed mine site, and are concerned about air and water pollution, wild rice, and more.

“The Band supports green energy but not at the expense of our environment or natural resources or our people,” Kelly Applegate, commissioner of natural resources for the Mille Lacs Band, said. “Our greatest natural resource is our people.”

In a commentary in the Duluth News Tribune last month, a resident of the town of Tamarack and an environmental leader urged caution regarding the mine. They also said the company’s own documents show it can make more money selling nickel for purposes other than batteries.

“Talon states it will mine underground and store high-sulfur wastes underground,” wrote Lynn Anderson and Paula Maccabee. “But Talon’s own documents show that highly reactive wastes will be stored above ground as well. In addition, faults and fractures underground could carry highly reactive waste through local aquifers in toxic plumes.”

The deal recently announced with Tesla would guarantee the car manufacturer 165 million pounds of nickel for its batteries. The deal also requires the mine to be operational by 2026, an aggressive timeline considering the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine farther north has been in environmental review for 17 years.

“This agreement is the start of an innovative partnership between Tesla and Talon for the responsible production of battery materials directly from the mine to the battery cathode,” said Henri van Rooyen, CEO of Talon, in a statement. “Talon is committed to meeting the highest standards of responsible production that is fully traceable and that has the lowest embedded CO2 footprint in the industry. Talon is excited to support Tesla’s mission to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.”

The deal with Tesla comes as Talon continues to drill to better understand the ore deposit at the site. The company is focused on determining how much ore is available and attracting investment funds to continue its exploration activities.

Drilling is currently concentrated on one known deposit near the town of Tamarack. As the company moves into future phases, it’s possible it could expand its activities to what it calls the “south unit,” mostly located in the St. Croix River watershed.