The Forest Service has given its consent for exploratory mining on public land near Mount St. Helens.
The Canadian mining company Ascot USA wants to take 63 rock-core samples in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which involves creating 2-3 inch boreholes down into the earth. The company is testing for valuable mineral deposits – including copper and gold.
According to Forest Service findings, the exploratory drilling would result in no significant environmental impact. The total area of the project is about 900 acres, but the drill sites would disturb less than a quarter acre.
The approval applies only to the exploratory drilling. If the company finds minerals, it will then be required to apply for another permit before any mining can go forward.
Support for a new mining project in surrounding communities has been mixed. But there are concerns about the potential to have toxic mine tailings stored 12 miles from one of the country’s most active volcanoes.
The exploratory permit was already halted back in 2014, when a judge found the federal environmental analysis of the project was incomplete. It was revived soon after.
Environmental groups are not happy about the Forest Service's decision to consent to the project. In a release, they voiced concerns about impacts to recreation, wildlife and water quality.
The Bureau of Land Management will make the final decision on whether the exploratory drilling can go forward. The agency says that decision will likely come within a few months.