The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has issued a use permit to Orvana Resources U.S. Corp. – a subsidiary of Highland Copper – to conduct exploratory drilling on a 1-mile-square piece of property situated along the westernmost edge of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Gogebic County.
The exploratory drilling began Sunday and is scheduled to continue into early March, depending on weather conditions.
“This drilling project will affect a very small portion of DNR-managed land,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “The vast majority of the park, including the Presque Isle River, will remain unaffected by this exploration activity.”
If the exploration results indicate the potential for copper in suitable quality and minable quantities, Highland Copper would conduct a feasibility study, designed to mine the deposit entirely by underground methods, allowing the company to gain access to the copper ore body from land it owns outside the park.
Any potential mining of the minerals would require a separate regulatory process through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Highland Copper would have to amend its existing permit and prove to the DEQ that, if the area were mined, no material damage would occur to state-managed park surface features.
“Highland Copper has worked closely and cooperatively with the DNR, making every change to the company’s drilling plan the DNR has requested,” Pepin said. “Several provisions have been put in place to minimize the impact to the land surface during the drilling project and to provide proper protections to natural resources to the greatest extent possible.”
Michigan law allows the owner of land to separate mineral rights from surface rights. When mineral rights are severed from surface rights, the mineral estate is the dominant estate and the owner of the minerals has a right to “reasonable” use of the surface to access their minerals.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was established in 1945.
In 1948, the DNR purchased roughly 2,700 acres of land as part of the state park from the Keweenaw Land Association. Only the surface land was able to be purchased at that time. The mineral rights are severed and are leased from the Keweenaw Land Association by Orvana Resources U.S. Corp.
Highland Copper plans to drill 21 temporary exploratory holes (Section 5, T49N R45W, Wakefield Township, Gogebic County). Twelve holes will be drilled on park property west of Gogebic County Road 519 this winter. The remaining nine holes will be drilled on county land within the road right of way.
Each drilling site will have a drill pad of roughly 25 feet by 60 feet. Drilling will be completed using a tracked drilling rig along existing roads, where feasible, to limit disturbance to natural resources. The drill holes will be about 5 inches in diameter. Depths will range from roughly 150 feet to 1,000 feet below the surface.
Actions to be taken by Highland Copper to reduce the impact of its exploratory operations include:
- Operating only on frozen ground to prevent or reduce surface disturbance.
- Using existing roads, including two-tracks, for access and test-hole location when feasible. Any new routes will avoid steep slopes or tree removal and minimize erosion.
- Using specialized tracked equipment to reduce surface disturbance and minimize the number of trips within the park.
- Avoiding cutting trees where possible; where trees are damaged, the state will be reimbursed for those trees at current market value.
- Instituting additional planning and control measures at any drainage or stream crossings. No wetland filling or stream crossing installations are planned.
- Working with an on-site DNR Parks and Recreation Division employee to inform any decisions made regarding alternate access routes, surface disturbance or tree removal.
Highland Copper Company Inc. is a Canadian exploration company focused on exploring and developing copper-silver projects in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including the Copperwood Project in the Gogebic County, the White Pine North project, located about 22 miles to the east in Ontonagon County, and the Keweenaw Project in Keweenaw County.