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Exploration in the Buckhorn Area

Exploration in and around Buckhorn Mountain

News: Echo Bay/Kinross Withdraws Buckhorn Exploration Proposal 
More info: Extensive Exploration Work Plans Threatened Chesaw and Jackson/Cedar Creek Roadless Area (2010-2014)

After withdrawing the extensive Buckhorn Exploration Proposal in May 2014, EBE is pursuing specific exploration targets on lands surrounding Buckhorn Mountain. 

Implications of exploring in natural areas include not only the drill site disturbances and related sludge pits, but also the serious impacts associated with potential reopening of old roads that had begun to heal. Building and reopening roads increases sedimentation in waterways and fragments habitat, creating impacts that go far beyond the footprint of the road. Reopening of old roads reverses decades’ worth of natural restoration and significantly contributes to the environmental impact of the exploration. 

Areas of interest to EBE have in the past included the hillside south of Chesaw; in the headwaters of Maris Creek; and a large block along the Gold Creek/Nicholson Creek Road bordering the Cedar/Jackson Creek Roadless Area. When withdrawing the extensive Buckhorn Exploration Proposal, Kinross stated clearly that it will not abandon efforts to explore in the area. They plan to focus on specific exploration targets that would provide greater opportunity to streamline the process, and exploration is taking place on private and DNR lands.

The map below shows the areas Kinross is proposing  for “places of use,” in the change of water right application, with “use” being exploration and mining. Rather than transparently communicating their intentions, the company pulled the almost 10,000 acre Buckhorn Exploration project off the table while simultaneously applying to “change their water right” to include large exploration projects. The areas depicted on this map include some of the areas from the original Buckhorn Exploration proposal as well as new areas near Bodie. 

Change of water right application, with “use” being exploration and mining.

Above: Areas Kinross is proposing  for “places of use,” in the change of water right application, with “use” being exploration and mining.

Exploration Issues

Where Will All the Water Come From?

While homeowners install water savers in their showers and irrigate carefully, multinational mining companies request hundreds of acre-feet of water so they can look for gold. Exploration related figures do not include the millions of additional gallons of water that would be required if gold were found and mining commenced. 

Connected Actions and Cumulative Impacts

The law does not intend for portions of large projects to be allowed to be segmented into smaller parts to avoid review. Projects must be reviewed as a whole in order to account for cumulative effects. On March 15, 2011, the Forest Service responded to the Echo Bay Exploration request for a categorical exclusion that would have segmented the extensive exploration project by creating a “separate” 2011 Drilling Program in an attempt to avoid full environmental review. The Forest Service concluded that the proposed 2011 Drilling Program was, "a connected action to the larger 2012 Exploration Project EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) that is currently being planned...” NEPA makes it clear that connected actions should be discussed in the same EIS. Thus, the Forest Service upheld this connected actions requirement and did not categorically exclude the additional exploration proposed by the company in December 2010. OHA has been pushing for the agencies to acknowledge the connections between smaller exploration proposals that are clearly part of the same larger project, and applauds the 2011 Forest Service decision. 

OHA will continue monitoring smaller exploration projects currently underway in the highlands and will continue to urge agencies to consider connected actions and cumulative impacts.

Crown/Kinross has sought to change a seasonal-use irrigation water right, in which much of the water goes back into Toroda Creek, to a year-round use for exploration drilling in which the water can mix with drilling fluids and contaminants normally tied up in the rock, and can pollute the groundwater. The contaminants could be released into groundwater via the exploration drilling and as the wastewater pit settles into the ground. Some of the water would be used outside of the Toroda Creek basin, further depleting an already over appropriated stream, adversely impacting senior water rights holders and the public interest.  

The impacts of exploration and mining must be considered in a cumulative context. The exploration process involves releasing contaminants that were tied up in rock into surface and groundwater. Unaddressed concerns that were brought up in the Buckhorn Mine environmental review process have ended up causing significant water quality problems on the ground, when the goal should be to understand the impacts before actions are taken. Kinross should control the pollution emanating from the Buckhorn Mine before it proposes to expand its operations. 


Drilling - September 2010

Above: In September 2010, Kinross (as Echo Bay) moved forward with drilling after DNR approved just under the amount that would require environmental review. 

(Overlooking the Bolster Creek tributary of Myers Creek, wastewater from drilling)