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Friday, May 26, 2017

Eagle Mine Conceals Underground Collapse



Gregg Bruff, UPEC Coordinator, upec@upenvironment.org  (906) 201-1949
Kathleen Heideman, UPEC Mining Action Group, gadmin@savethewildup.org  (906) 662-9987
Alexandra Maxwell, UPEC Mining Action Group, grassroots@savethewildup.org  (906) 662-9987
Nathan Frischkorn, UPEC Mining Action Group, nfrischk@nmu.edu  (906) 251-0113
Eagle Mine Conceals Underground Collapse
Marquette, MI — Concerned citizens are publishing the details of an underground collapse incident at Eagle Mine, citing grave concerns with the company’s lack of transparency. The revelations follow several “Eagle Mine Community Meetings” in which the company failed to disclose the details of a significant incident that happened in 2016.

“I attended Eagle Mine’s meeting anticipating some honest discussion of their 2016 underground collapse. Instead, they demonstrated how to use a virtual fire extinguisher to fight a virtual fire. Their 2016 safety review mentioned only medical incidents: a contractor who fell from a ladder and sprained an ankle, an employee who experienced a heart attack, etcetera. Eagle claims that ‘providing transparent information is important to the way we do business,’ but Eagle Mine’s behaviour is anything but transparent,” said Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator.

"Representatives of Eagle Mine failed to address the collapse until they were asked by a concerned citizen at a community meeting in Big Bay, at which point they tried to claim it was an insignificant and harmless incident,” said Nathan Frischkorn, a resident of Marquette.

“Eagle Mine’s failure to disclose a serious underground collapse is outrageous, in light of their request for more permits to expand mining into the new Eagle East orebody. Permitting hinges on public accountability. At the same time, Eagle Mine wants to remove more ore from the very highest levels of the Eagle Mine – a move which experts have long warned could cause the mine’s ceiling or ‘Crown Pillar’ to cave in,” said Kathleen Heideman, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) board member and a member of the Mining Action Group.


Rumors of the underground collapse at Eagle Mine first surfaced in fall of 2016, when a story circulated that some “mine contractors” had quit over an underground incident they felt was “dangerous.” Responding to the direct question “Was there a partial pillar collapse?” Eagle Mine confirmed that an incident had taken place, but did not use the term “collapse” and provided only a few details:

“In early August, there was a fall of ground incident that occurred during a routine blast in an active stope. The fall of ground occurred due to an unidentifiable natural horizontal feature that failed during a blast, causing a section of ore to fall. Eagle Mine safety standards require all employees to be on the surface during a blast, therefore no employees were underground or at risk at the time of the incident. The situation was identified by employees during the post-blast inspection. Eagle Mine notified the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) who conducted an investigation.  MSHA notification is required whenever an unplanned fall of ground occurs at or above the anchorage zone in active workings where roof bolts are in use.” 

Documents received in May of 2017 from the federal MSHA via a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request filed by a local concerned citizen make it clear: the unplanned “fall of ground” was a significant “large block failure.”
  • Eagle Mine’s Wilhelm Greuer told the MSHA investigator, “this was a wake up call.”
  • A large portion of an underground stope unexpectedly collapsed. The mining term used by the company is an “unexpected fall of ground.” It was described by MSHA  inspector as a “substantial” event, and could have happened at any time.
  • While no one was working in the drift below the stope when it collapsed, a crew of Cementation employees had been installing rock bolts into the stope prior to the collapse. It could have been a fatal accident. 
  • The “unidentifiable natural horizontal feature that failed” (as described by Eagle Mine) was actually a fault, a critical fracture or flaw within the orebody. Was it truly unidentifiable – or simply unidentified? The geological fault or crack ran diagonally through stope 1485 on level 215, which is a “secondary” stope (unit or compartment of ore) contained between two primary stopes, which were already mined out and backfilled. A large quantity of ore below the fracture collapsed without warning. Mining experts describe these fractures as “rock discontinuities” and have warned that the Eagle orebody is filled with hard-to-map “smaller-scale discontinuities that could weaken the rock mass.” 
  • The blast that “triggered” the collapse actually took place elsewhere in the mine, in another stope. Eagle said the collapse took place in an “active” stope, but it was not targeted for blasting when it collapsed. 
  • The stope dimensions were approximately 33 feet wide by 80 feet high. A working access drift (tunnel) had been widened to the full width of the stope, further destabilizing the ore block. MSHA’s report states “the back broke approximately 9 meters (30 feet) above the existing 20 foot cable bolts.” 
  • According to the MSHA investigation, the bolts that were installed “represented approximately one-quarter of the capacity” that was actually necessary for supporting the ore block.


Alarmingly, MSHA concluded that “because the planar discontinuity (...) was unanticipated, and the failure block was too large to support with a reasonable bolting system, it must be assumed that similar discontinuities could be encountered, any time.” 

For greater stability, MSHA recommended leaving ribs of ore in place between stopes: “rib pillars should be left in place in secondary stopes to provide physical, standing support.” According to Parker, this mining method was recommended from the beginning. Why was this common sense safety practice (leaving ribs for better support) not done? Simply put, the company did not want leave behind valuable ore. Full-stope mining means taking everything – leaving no ore behind.

While questions were raised about the integrity of cemented backfill, MSHA concluded “this event is not considered a backfill failure issue.” In the wake of the incident, however, several changes were made to Eagle Mine’s backfill regime: changing the cement recipe, heating water before adding it to cement, and even the method of cement placement. Edges of backfilled stopes were found to contain voids and loose material, which may have further contributed to the instability of the ore block.

It is not clear whether MSHA’s recommendations were suggestions or requirements, or whether Eagle Mine has modified their mining practices to avoid future unexpected collapses.

"Criminally defective decisions made by the Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) caused the permit to be issued despite obvious and serious legal and technical shortcomings. Eagle Mine's permits were built upon false design and false data provided by amateur consultants who blatantly fabricated numbers, maps and sections which are in no way representative of the conditions in and around the orebody. The mine owners and their consultants still share responsibility for these errors, some of them life-threatening, all of them jail-worthy," said Jack Parker, a veteran miner and mining consultant.

“Lundin and the Eagle Mine management have demonstrated to the general public what we have known all along: they will withhold information from the public if it might be damaging to their image. Lundin could have disclosed this information at the Eagle Mine forums held last fall or last week. They chose not to,” said Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay.

“It is incomprehensible why Lundin would widen the access drift below the stope without providing additional support. The MSHA report indicates that the affected area was only 28% supported. Greed is indeed a powerful force. This was not the fault of some overactive employee trying to impress the bosses and become employee of the month, as suggested by Matt Johnson’s comment in the Big Bay meeting. Someone gave the order to widen that stope. The public needs to know who. This was an accident waiting to happen and possibly could have happened without a blast occurring and while our working neighbors and relatives were still underground,” said Champagne.


Prior to the collapse, Eagle Mine submitted a stability report to the MDEQ, seeking to revise the mine’s critical “Crown Pillar” design. Lundin wants to extract an additional two levels of ore from the top of the orebody. The Michigan DEQ reviewed and quietly granted their request, with no opportunity for public comment. Reports were made available only recently, after a request made by the Upper Peninsula Environmental Stakeholders Group.

Lundin Mining acknowledges in their most recent Technical Report on Eagle Mine that “due to the location of the mine under a significant wetlands area and overburden cover, a crown pillar is necessary for the Eagle Mine to prevent surface subsidence and/or large-scale collapse.” The precise thickness and strength of the mine’s “crown pillar” or rock roof has been a hotly debated issue for more than a decade. Several mining engineers, after examining drill cores and rock quality data, have concluded that Eagle Mine’s design is fundamentally unstable, based upon flawed or falsified stability data. Some stated under oath that a crown pillar less than 300 feet thick would be likely to collapse. Eagle Mine, with DEQ’s approval, has now thinned the crown pillar from 287 to only 95 feet, in order to extract more ore.

“Eagle’s secretive behavior, in the wake of the collapse, is alarming. Is Eagle Mine stable, as the company insists, or will unmapped faults prove catastrophic, as experts have warned? Nobody wants to see a serious collapse at Eagle Mine. That would devastate the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, directly above the mine,” said Alexandra Maxwell, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve administrator.

“No one in the Upper Peninsula should feel comfortable about the planned activities at Eagle until the financial responsibility assurances required by government regulators are at least an order of magnitude greater than what they are today," said Loman.

“In light of last year’s significant underground collapse, which was hushed-up and passed off as a minor fall of ground incident, an independent professional review of the Eagle Mine’s data and design is needed. Ultimately, the Michigan DEQ must take steps to correct this unfortunate situation and forestall others. Mining of the Eagle East orebody must not be permitted until Eagle Mine’s design and rock data finally pass muster,” said Parker.


Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Incident Report on Eagle Mine 2017
Corrected images from MSHA report (received from Chris Hensler, MSHA) 2017
Jack Parker: Eagle Mine - Bad Design 2017
Lundin Mining’s Wilhelm Greuer addressing "Stability of Backfill in Secondary Stopes” transcript 2016
Crown Pillar Technical Report 2016
Mining Expert Jack Parker Says Eagle Mine "Likely To Collapse" 2010
Jack Parker Report Calls Eagle Project "Unstable" 2010
Final Report on Crown Pillar - Parker and Vitton 2007

FOIAd-MSHAreport-on-EagleMinecollapse - Page 36 2

“Diagram illustrates Eagle Mine underground collapse, page 36 of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's Report on Eagle Mine incident."

Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit our Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.
The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Michigan CAFOs get subsidies despite mounting violations, report claims

Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.comBy Garret Ellison | gellison@mlive.com 
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on May 25, 2017 at 7:30 AM, updated May 25, 2017 at 11:14 AM
ALLEGAN COUNTY, MI -- The Vande Bunte Eggs farm has racked up more than 200 state permit violations in the past three years.
Despite the high number of violations, no enforcement action has been taken against the farm, technically classified as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that houses about 1.6 million chickens under the Konos Inc. corporate name at its Martin headquarters in Allegan County.
The farm has also benefitted from more than $1 million in federal subsidies.
That doesn't sit well with environmental groups who analyzed 272 large CAFOs in Michigan and concluded that accumulating pollution discharge violations haven't made a dent in the flow of federal dollars that subsidize crop insurance, livestock production and water conservation at state mega-farms.
"We think people should be able to run their business, but not pollute the commons and make other people pay to clean up their waste," said Hudson resident Pam Taylor of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, who authored the report.
Taylor combined information from Freedom of Information Act requests, annual reports for individual farms and records accessible through an online portal on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality website to create maps (see below) showing each large CAFO in Michigan, how many animals it houses, how much it has received in subsidies and how many permit violations it has.
The report focused only on industrial-scale farms that met the Environmental Protection Agency definition of a large CAFO, with DEQ permits to discharge wastewater to on-site lagoons that is usually applied to fields as fertilizer.
"This is the first time all of this information has been collated into one location," said Gail Philbin, director of the Michigan Sierra Club chapter, which released Taylor's report, titled "A Watershed Moment."

Read more ...

Drowning in manure

Drowning in manure 

I want to warn you that today, I’m going to be talking about poop. Specifically, more than 3.3 billion gallons of it a year, all of it produced in Michigan by what are euphemistically called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs.
Many of us call them “Factory Farms” instead. They are places where animals are crowded in what are anything but humane conditions to be fattened as quickly as possible for slaughter, or if they are cows, drained of their milk.
But beyond animal cruelty, what I’m concerned about is our drinking water. Three years ago, toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie left the water unsafe to drink for a few days.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Tsuga's View - Part 7

A Long-Term Look At Environmental, Political, and Social Issues, From The Perspective Of Michigan’s Oldest (and Most Optimistic) Tree Species

By Marvin Roberson

We interrupt this regularly scheduled column in order to bring you the following important announcement from our columnist:

OK. I admit it. He’s crazy. REALLY crazy. WAY more crazy than I thought. I still stand by the premise of the Tsuga’s View, but I just thought I should make that clear.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled column:

I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently, television has been a bigger part of my life that I like to admit. However, TV provides a lens into how our society looks at issues of concern to Progressives. I’ll talk about that.

The way we watch TV has changed in the last 50 years. We used to have only 3 major networks (yes, kids, in most homes, 3 channels was all we got). We now have hundreds of options. We used to have TV series play one time a week, and that’s how we watched them. No TiVo, no Netflix, no binge-watching. If we wanted to see M*A*S*H, we waited until Monday at 9pm, and we watched or we missed it.

However, what has not changed is the relationship of major TV shows to our society (by “major”, I mean the very popular shows, seen by many, on major networks, not the niche shows seen by only a few). Television has not driven values in our society so much as it has reflected them. Yes, there are some exceptions, but in general TV has followed social issues, not preceded or driven them. This makes sense - TV executives want to sell their product, and viewers want a product they like, one which reflects their views.

If we accept this premise, then think of what it means in terms of where TV values have gone in just my lifetime.

When I was little, I used to watch reruns of “I Love Lucy”. This was a show about a married couple (Lucy and Ricky Ricardo), who were played by a couple who were married in real life (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz).

When Lucille Ball got pregnant in real life, this was written into the show. However, it was unclear how this happened, since the networks would not allow the characters to share a bed. In the scenes which take place in this married couple’s bedroom, they are shown in separate single beds! Not only that, but they were not allowed to even use the word “pregnant” to describe Lucy’s pregnancy, on the grounds that it was too “provocative”.

Another show was called “Julia”. It was about a single (widowed) African-American mother of one, who was a nurse. It was remarkable for being the first portrayal of an African-American, or a woman, as a professional on major network TV. It was the first inkling many white, suburban people had that African-Americans faced the same issues at home and work as they did.

Another major starring role for an African-American was “Sanford and Son”, about a junkyard owner and his son. There was also an Hispanic fellow who lived in a broken down van in the back of the junkyard.

In “The Beverly Hillbillies”, a recurring character was “Miss Hathaway”, a secretary at a bank (not an executive). A recurring story line was her fate as an “old spinster”, and her desperate efforts to find a husband, an make her life complete.

This was seen even in the rare instances where women were characters with professions. In “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, a character named Sally was a writer on a major TV show. However, even as a professional with equal standing to the men in the office, finding a husband was her major task in life (this show also featured 2 twin beds in the bedroom of the starring couple).

Even “The Monkees”, which was a show in many ways devoted to progressively upending many conventional stereotypes, reflected other attitudes prevalent in society. Rarely did a week go by without a crude, stereotypical portrayal of one group or another. Native Americans saying “Ugh. How”. Asians talking about “flied lice”, and getting big laughs. All of these portrayals would be considered incredibly racist and offensive today.

So consider what TV told me in the 1960s: Couples did not have sex. No one knew where babies came from, and we couldn’t talk about it. It was very unusual for an African-American to have a professional job, picking trash was much more likely. Hispanics were homeless, and lucky to have a van to sleep in.  Women were subservient, not professionals, and desperate for a husband if they didn’t have one.

Now consider what I saw when looking around major networks just this week: A world-famous African-American pathologist attended a same-sex wedding, accompanied by his caucasian girlfriend (“Rosewood”).  Women were Secretary of State and Vice-President (“Madame Secretary” and “Veep”). A single woman of color was the most powerful “political fixer” in Washington, DC (“Scandal”). A transgender actress portrayed a transgender character (“Orange is the New Black”).

What is important about these portrayals is that in the 1960s, they could not have been on TV at all. Later, they could have been on TV, but it would have been a big deal (“Have you seen Will & Grace? 2 of the MAIN CHARACTERS are GAY!!!”).

But now, these characters are on major shows. And what is important is that the shows are not about subjects like the blackness of a world-renown pathologist. They are about a world-renown pathologist who happens to be black.

Our major TV shows today are of course not perfect (look, they’re TV, right?). However, programming delivers a view into values held by current society. And the fact that Progressive progress is simply an integral part of most TV shows is an indication that we’ve come a long way over the past 50 years.

And yes, I’m sure you can write me with TV shows which do not fit my claim (although “Duck Dynasty” did get cancelled). But my claim is not that TV reflects a perfect world. My claim is that Progressive values have so permeated our society that when we see them in major TV shows, it’s unremarkable, even though the same things 50 years ago would have been unthinkable.

Next Time - The difference between judging people based on their actions and judging actions based upon the people who took them. Guess which way I claim the Left and Right come down on this issue, and why the false equivalencies peddled by the Right are doomed to fail.