Design and Development
If a favorable deposit is found, a project may advance to the development and design stage. This involves rigorous engineering and planning studies to evaluate the environment and natural resources of the area and to determine if the deposit can be profitably mined.
Mining engineers will look at many factors including the depth to the orebody, the geometry and the orientation of the deposit, and the grade of the mineralization to determine whether the deposit is mined as an underground mine or a surface, sometime referred to as an “open-pit” mine.
A feasibility report is generated, taking into account estimated production rate, operating costs, taxes, and the sale price of the mineral, as well as environmental and social factors, so that the mining company can then decide whether the project will be abandoned or the necessary approvals will be requested at this stage. If the project moves forward, the mine plan developed from the feasibility study is used to initiate the permitting process.
The environmental permitting process for a proposed mine begins after the feasibility study during project development. Environmental baseline studies are expanded in the feasibility study phase to support the evaluation of mining alternatives. In the permitting phase, the environmental baseline studies continue to support the permitting process.
Companies seeking to develop a mine in Wisconsin must work closely with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to collect extensive data to document pre-mining conditions. Reports regarding potential impacts on the environment and nearby communities are generated. These reports cover physical conditions including geology, soil, and seismic activity; biological conditions such as surface water, groundwater, wetlands, air quality, vegetation, and wildlife; and social/economic conditions related to health, well-being, housing, infrastructure, and archeological and cultural issues.
Wisconsin has comprehensive regulations governing mineral exploration, development, mining, and reclamation that are based on an environmental review process.
Mining applicants must prove that their proposed operation can be built, operated, and closed in compliance with numerous environmental protection standards that safeguard all aspects of the environment in and around a proposed mine site. As part of this review process, an environmental impact assessment must be completed by the the DNR and federal agencies that evaluates the potential environmental, social, and health impacts of the proposed project. Measures, management plans, and design changes to minimize or manage potential impacts are specified in the impact assessment. These are reviewed by state and federal agencies, as well as the public.
The mining company begins planning for mine closure and reclamation early on; even before a mine is allowed to open, a reclamation plan must be approved for its closure. In these reclamation plans the mining operator describes the processes it will use to restore or redevelop the land that has been mined to a more natural or economically usable state.
They must also provide financial assurance to state and federal agencies to give regulators the necessary funds to reclaim the mine if the operator should be unable to do so.