September 2014 - Thompson Creek Mine

Sep 10, 2014

Captain's Log 1XE, Day 28 in the month of July in the Earth Calendar Year of 2014.


What a world! An environmentalist's nightmare, or a testament to man's ingenuity.


That is what I felt as I toured the Thompson Creek Mine in Idaho, an open pit molybdenum mine just to the south of the Frank Church Wilderness. If you have ever been to Idaho and seen the remarkable mountain ranges of the Boulders, the White Clouds and the Sawtooths, or flown over these wildest of lands, you will understand the definition of wildness. Steep, steep valleys with rivers running through the heart, the absence of roads, and little sign of civilization. The Salmon and its many branches slice up this land, with not much interference from man.


But man has made his presence felt with the Thompson Creek Mine, which in its heyday produced 12 to 18 million pounds of molybdenum annually. Molybdenum is primarily used to strengthen steel, and in lubricants, and automobile airbags. The mine is now awaiting more approvals and is temporarily scaling back as the company is pumping its financial resources into a copper and gold mine in Canada until the price of moly comes back up. As "touring humans", we were dwarfed by the sheer size and scale of the undertaking, and the colossal equipment that is used to tear out whole mountainsides, and reduce these mountains to material that is the size of pebbles, which is then processed to extract the molybdenum.


Meanwhile, EcoFlight was doing what it does best, letting the land speak for itself. From the air you see just where this mine lies, and the extent of the landscape it affects. From the ground you would not have a clue that it even exists, or precisely where, as it is a secured location. On this day, after our aerial educational tour with tribal leaders of the Nez Perce, conservationists, water specialists and government representatives, we were on the ground looking up at a scale of engineering and human ingenuity that, for me, was mindboggling. From the size of the excavator shovels and two-storey trucks, to the narrow roads created after blasting, to the mammoth crushing stations reducing the bulk of rocks to smaller pellets, which then go through huge grinding machines, to the diesel fuel and other chemicals which separate the waste rock from the moly, to the acres of holding ponds containing tons of toxic chemicals.


What is most concerning from our eagle's eye-view in starship 1XE is the proximity of the Thompson Creek Mine to the Salmon River; it is just five miles from and 2,000 feet above the River. For those of us who care about clean drinking water, fish being able to survive and thrive, and all the other necessities related to protecting Salmon River country, this mine is built too close to our water sources for comfort, especially in light of the recent catastrophic failure of the Mount Polley mine tailings dam in British Columbia. Please watch this short video we created in order to understand the magnitude of this failure and the reason why we monitor mining operations, working to stop risky projects, and improving those where appropriate. Responsible mining is possible, but mining cannot come at the cost of our clean water.



Bruce Gordon