Bills to regulate helium industry, abolish Hill Annex State Park

ST. PAUL — Several mining- and energy-related bills passed in the final days of the Minnesota Legislature’s session.

The bills take steps to reform or streamline some permitting requirements for clean energy infrastructure projects and projects that require environmental reviews, including mining projects. They begin the rulemaking process for oversight of any helium and hydrogen extraction projects and allow for the return of mining to a state park after nearly half a century.

Meanwhile, a slate of bills aimed at restricting copper-nickel mining in the state did not pass this session.

The

environment omnibus bill includes language

that would allow projects — including mining — under environmental review to request a coordinated review among state agencies and set deadlines for any action taken by a state agency.

It aims to speed up the review of any project that needs an environmental worksheet or a more stringent environmental impact statement.

The bill would also

establish a critical material recovery task force

to explore ways to recover aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel and other materials from waste before they enter a landfill or an incinerator.

“These new policies will reduce the red tape that can get in the way of economic development and help us recover the critical materials that power our modern economy,” state Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, said in a news release Friday. “This is a major step forward in supporting our business community while maintaining a smart approach to oversight.”

Another permitting bill passed late Sunday as part of the lengthy omnibus bill.

The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act

aims to speed up the permitting process of clean energy projects like transmission lines, power plants and energy storage systems by setting timelines for review and streamlining other processes.

Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy MN, said in a news release that the bill was among legislation that “will enable Minnesota to more seamlessly integrate clean energy into our state, paving the way for a zero-carbon future.”

State lawmakers last year set a deadline of reaching 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

“The passage of permitting reform this session is essential to Minnesota achieving 100% clean energy by 2040 — and it represents significant progress, building upon the successes of last year’s historic session,” Mast said.

Helium and hydrogen extraction

Worker cleans pipe on drill sight

A worker cleans a pipe used in the helium exploration conducted in Lake County on Feb. 5.

Wyatt Buckner / 2024 file / Duluth Media Group

Language in the environment omnibus bill

that passed both chambers last week will set regulations on the state’s nascent helium extraction industry.

The bill would prohibit the commercial production of gases until a permit is approved and allow companies to lease state land and explore it, generating money for Minnesota School Trust Lands. Currently, exploration is only allowed on private land.

topez-project.jpg

Gary Meader / Duluth Media Group

It would also allow state agencies to begin a public rulemaking process to develop final rules for the industry. A production permit can’t be granted until the rulemaking is complete, or if the Legislature approves temporary rules while the final rulemaking process plays out.

The language included in the omnibus bill originated in bills authored by Hauschild and state Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora.

It came after samples from one well showed helium deep beneath Northeastern Minnesota’s forested floor.

British Columbia-based Pulsar Helium obtained samples from the hole near Babbitt and Isabella containing up to 13.8% helium, far above the 0.3% concentration considered of economic interest. The samples were taken at a depth of 1,750 and 2,200 feet at its Topaz drill site.

The discovery has spurred interest and more exploration for helium and even hydrogen gases is expected in the region.

Hill Annex State Park axed

1843317+070515.N.SCT_.HillAnnex1.jpg

Remnants of mining can be seen at Hill Annex Mine State Park at Calumet on the Iron Range, in this undated file photo. The park, established in 1988, is on the site of an iron ore mine that operated from 1913-1978.

Contributed / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The environmental omnibus bill

also abolishes Hill Annex State Park in Calumet

as it could once again become an iron ore mine, as allowed by the

legislation that established the park.

1843325+hill annex.jpg

Gary Meader / Duluth Media Group

The bill requires the site to close while mining and mineral extraction leases are in place. It also calls for an advisory board to determine the future use of the site once mining there ends again.

The Calumet Reclamation Co.,

a scram mining company,

wants to take iron ore waste left behind by previous miners and ship it to North Dakota to process it into pig iron, a key ingredient for steel made by electric arc furnaces.

Cleveland-Cliffs also wants to mine the area and process the ore into pellets at its Hibbing Taconite facility.

Iron mining in the Hill Annex Mine Pit took place from 1913-1978, and it became a state park in 1988, which highlighted the area’s mining history. However, it was among Minnesota’s least-visited state parks, and without constant water pumping, the pit was set to overflow by the end of the decade,

the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

Mining at Hill Annex brought Cretaceous Period fossils to the surface, allowing for the discovery of several dinosaur bones and thousands of shark teeth, snails and clams. There’s also evidence of ancient crocodiles there.

Jimmy Lovrien covers environment-related issues, including mining, energy and climate, for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.




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