By MIKE SIMONSON
Exploratory drilling into the largest deposit of iron ore in North America could begin as soon as this Saturday in the Penokee Range.
Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) filed a notice of intent to drill with the Department of Natural Resources in a letter dated Friday. DNR Waste Management Director Ann Coakley says GTAC can start drilling five days after today’s reception of the notice
Eight holes — one in Ashland County and seven in Iron County — will be drilled this month. Coakley says they will keep an eye on the operation with unannounced spot checks.
“When we do go out to do the surveillance, what we’re looking for is to make sure that they’re following their plan and working within their methods of operation.”
The bore holes will be from 350 feet to 1,143 feet deep. The two-inch holes will gather data on the layers of rock, the quality of the iron ore and the chemicals in the ore body.
The rig itself will be about the same as the kind that drills water wells, so GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz says it won’t be noisy. Seitz also doesn’t expect any disruption by protesters.
“This is the information that everybody’s wanted to have [for] a good debate. We think the debate will be a much more high-quality debate when we have the facts on the table, and this is the beginning of gathering those facts that will allow any supporter or opponent to be able to make their case and make it without speculation.”
But Coakley says while the make-up of waste rock would have to be made public, she says the quality of the ore body could remain secret.
Iron County development zone director Kelly Klein says this is a milestone — the first physical operation for an open pit mine that he hopes will bring hundreds of jobs to his area.
“[We can] start looking at the science of a project like this rather than speculate on what might happen or what might not happen. I’m very anxious to see it move forward.”
More bore holes could be requested by GTAC when they’ve looked at their samples. But Seitz says lab work could take more than six months.