Why A Canadian Company Is Told To Hold Off Drilling Near Idaho City

Aug 31, 2012

A judge has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to take another look at plans to expand exploratory drilling in the mountains near Idaho City.  U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued a ruling Thursday that essentially vacates the environmental assessment produced by the agency on the CuMo Mine project.

Lodge concluded the agency acted arbitrarily in determining that expanded drilling would not significantly impact groundwater sources.

The decision deals a timing setback to Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd.  That’s a Canadian company that wants to drill exploratory holes for molybdenum, copper and tungsten.  The Forest Service approved the company's expanded drilling project last year.

But the Idaho Conservation League filed a lawsuit challenging that decision.

Lodge also ordered the Forest Service to do additional research on the impacts drilling could have on groundwater; develop a strategy for monitoring water quality before, during and after drilling; and craft a plan to treat any waters contaminated during drilling.

"The very nature of drilling holes 1,500 to 3,000 feet into the ground seems likely to impact the underlying surface including the groundwater," Lodge wrote in his 45-page opinion. "The appropriate course would be for the Forest Service to have conducted some baseline study and analysis of the groundwater in the area in order to reach the finding of no significant impact."

While it's unclear how the Forest Service will respond, environmentalists say the decision deals a temporary setback to the Canadian company's immediate exploration plan.

“The big winner here is the Boise River and everyone downstream who appreciates clean water,” said John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League.

“The Court found that the mining company couldn’t just cross its fingers and hope that nothing bad happens,” said Pam Conley of the Golden Eagle Audubon Society.

“Water is vital to Idahoans, to water users, irrigators, fish and wildlife, and recreationists,” said Kevin Lewis with Idaho Rivers United.  “The Court found that drilling cannot proceed until they have disclosed the impacts.”

In his ruling, Lodge leaves it up to agency officials to determine if an amended environmental assessment is needed or a more exhaustive environmental impact statement is appropriate.

Mosquito Gold responded to an interview request with a written statement:

“In response to the Court’s decision, Mosquito Gold will cooperate with the Forest Service to ensure that the missing information is provided in a timely manner…Mosquito Gold believes that its exploratory drilling within the granitic rock of the Idaho Batholith will continue to show no significant impact on either groundwater or the movement of groundwater in the project area…The CuMo project plans no further drilling while it assesses the substantial drill-core data it has gathered this summer and completes a thorough technical review of the court’s order.”

The Vancouver-based company wants to build more than ten miles of temporary roads, create 137 drill pads and drill 259 holes in the exploratory phase of the project 35 miles north of Boise. Company officials believe the area holds the world's largest deposits of molybdenum used in the manufacturing of steel products. On its website, the CuMo project is described as the company's flagship project.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio