State OKs mineral drilling in Porkies

Provided image This map shows land ownership and the location of the exploratory drilling (at Section 5) for the Copperwood project at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a use permit last week for exploratory drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Orvana Resources U.S. Corp., a subsidiary of Highland Copper, began exploratory drilling Feb. 4 on a square mile along the westernmost edge of Porkies in Wakefield Township, Gogebic County. The drilling 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 mineable 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 in which Highland Copper would amend its existing permit and prove no material damage would occur to the park’s 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.”

Pepin explained 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.

Highland Copper plans to drill 21 temporary exploratory holes on the park property. Twelve holes will be drilled on park property west of Gogebic County Road 519 this winter, with the remaining nine holes to be drilled on county land within the road right of way at a later date. 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, about 150 feet to 1,000 feet below the surface.

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park was established in 1945. In 1948, the DNR purchased roughly 2,700 acres of surface land as part of the state park from the Keweenaw Land Association.

The mineral rights are severed and being leased from the Keweenaw Land Association by Orvana.