USFS seeks comments on proposed drilling

The Stillwater mining company’s proposal for drilling is seeking public comment as reported by the USFS in last week’s Carbon County News. CCN asked the USFS to discuss their role in such requests, specifically regarding whether animal habitat was a consideration in granting permit requests in general for drilling and what the specific nature was of this request for “mineral exploration,” a broad area. The USFS provided two responses that explained the nature of the request and how the mining company works with the USFS in practicing disclosure. Beartooth Ranger District’s District Ranger Traute Parrie responded first. “Yes, the USFS has a role in protecting habitat. As stated in the scoping letter, this is not the 1st application for exploratory drilling in the area My understanding is there is no fracking involved in this drilling for PGM minerals – this is not related to oil and gas.” Dan Seifert, Assistant Forest Geologist for Custer National Forest responded with further details. “Fracking is used to faci l i tate hydrocarbon extraction. No fracking or hydrocarbon extraction is currently proposed on the Beartooth Ranger District. SMC’s proposal is to extract samples of drill core for evaluation of mineral and geologic properties in support of ongoing hard rock mining. The rock that SMC is proposing to drill is part of the Stillwater Complex, which is an igneous intrusion. The Stillwater Complex does not contain sedimentary shales.” Seifert said that he is unaware of any data indicating that the rocks of the Stillwater Complex contain radioactive metals or mercury. A recent study in the Dakotas revealed significant mercury surrounding fracking sites. Fur thermore, SMC informs the USFS on all drill additives. “Based on past mineral exploration projects of a similar nature, no use of mercury is anticipated. Similar to past projects, SMC will provide Mater ial Safety Dat a Sheets for all drill additives they use. Based on MSDS from drill additives used in past similar exploratory drilling projects, the substances most likely utilized would have no potential to bioaccumulate and are not toxic to fish, microorganisms, and humans.” Seifert then responded to USFS’ role in habitat. “Regarding the USFS’s role in managing habitat, numerous mitigation measures are included in SMC’s Plan of Operations to try to minimize or eliminate effects to wildlife and habitat. Based on the environmental analysis, additional measures may also be required. Effects to habitat for Threatened, Endangered, Sensitive, and Forest Plan Management Indicator Species will specifically be considered and disclosed as part of the environmental analysis process. He added, “Because there are threatened species and habitats in the proposed drilling area, the findings specific to these species and habitats will also be reviewed by US Fish and Wildlife Service.” For anyone who would l ike addi t ional detai l regarding the current Stillwater Mining Company proposal, the request for comment letter is on the following website beneath the “Under Analysis” heading toward the bottom of the page: http://prdp2fs.ess. usda.gov/projects/custer/ landmanagement/projects. The decision document approving a similar 2012 proposal (Decision Memo for the 2012 Surface Exploration Drilling Plan of Operations - Portal and 23.0 drill sites) can also be viewed on the same webpage under the “Project S c o p i n g d o c ume n t s ” heading.