by Anthony Brino
The County news story
PATTEN, Maine — Wolfden Resources Corp., a Canadian mining company that purchased 6,871 acres north of Patten, plans to begin exploratory drilling to see if the area has enough valuable metals for extraction.
On Nov. 16, Thunder Bay, Ontario-based Wolfden Resources completed the $8.5 million purchase of 6,871 acres of timberlands in northern Penobscot County from Exeter, New Hampshire-based Sylvan Timberlands, LLC, the company announced in a press release. The approximately 10.7-square mile parcel is located north of the town of Patten.The land acquisition, known as the Pickett Mountain property, includes the rights to underground mineral deposits that Wolfden Resources says could be economically mined and lead to Maine’s first large-scale mine since the 1970s.
Wolfden Resources has scheduled a public information session to discuss its plans and answer questions from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Katahdin Elementary School in Stacyville.
With significant but uncertain quantities of copper, zinc, silver and lead, the property is home to “one of the highest-grade undeveloped volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits in North America,” the company said in the release.
Massive sulfide deposits are volcanic rock formations that form the basis of most metal mines and often contain copper, zinc and other valuable minerals, along with acidic and naturally-occurring contaminants that pose environmental risks.
Wolfden’s interest in potentially setting up a mining operation in northern Maine comes months after the state Legislature enacted what some feel are the most stringent mining regulations in the country.
The company said that the interest in the Pickett Mountain property was driven in part by the recent global price increases in copper and zinc and “the opening up of the mine permitting regime” in Maine.
“Wolfden sees significant exploration opportunity in this jurisdiction that it believes is vastly under-explored,” the company said in the release.
The company added that it plans to begin exploratory drilling “in the near future” to develop a “mineral resource estimate” in 2018.
Pickett Mountain is located in Maine’s “volcanic belt” and could be one of several sites throughout interior and northern Maine with large sources of valuable metals, including Bald Mountain in Aroostook County — the property owned by J.D. Irving that kicked off Maine’s five year debate over how to regulate metal mining.
Wolfden Resources did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. But during a presentation he gave on Nov. 17 at the fall meeting of the Geological Society of Maine at the Augusta Civic Center, Wolfden CEO Donald Hoy said the company sees promise in northern Maine.
“The potential to enlarge the known Pickett Mountain [volcanic massive sulfide] deposit is thought to be very good, as is the potential to discover additional satellite deposits on the property and outlying regions,” Hoy said during the presentation, a copy of which of posted on the company’s website.
According to Wolfden, Pickett Mountain’s metal deposits were first noticed in 1979 by another company, which used soil and ground surveys as well as drilling to gauge the presence of metals.
Hoy said the firm plans to complete a “first-phase” drilling program in December to determine “the grade, nature and extent of the deposit” at Pickett Mountain. The company also plans to use electromagnetic surveys and high-resolution airborne geophysical surveys, the latter of which may be to “look for prospective targets elsewhere within the volcanic belt hosting the Pickett Mountain deposit.”
Wolfden “continues to evaluate and assess other prospective base-metal opportunities in Maine,” Hoy said in his presentation, noting that more land acquisitions “are likely.”
Nick Bennett, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and one of the key environmental advocates behind the updated mining regulations, said he was a little surprised to see any companies expressing interest in mining so soon after the law passed.
“It’s very early,” Bennett said. “I’m skeptical that this particular deposit will turn out to be an economical deposit, but that’s what I would say about any deposit.”
While many properties around the world are explored for metals, “only 1 percent of exploration projects turn into mining projects,” Bennett said.
“I don’t know how hazardous this ore body is. But we will watch this every step of the way,” Bennett said.
“Our mining law and rules call for the highest level of environmental protection and if this company wants to move forward, we will make very sure that those standards are enforced.”
Shelly Mountain, a member of the Association for the Protection of Aroostook Waters, said Monday that the local group has a lot of questions for Wolfden Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection. For starters, she said, the association would like Wolfden to show examples of the type of mining that would take place and the environmental safety measures that would be in place.
APAW split with NRCM over the mining law. NRCM supported the final version of the law after lobbying for a range of protections, such as requiring “dry waste management” that stored mine waste rock in lined structures to prevent water buildup and runoff.
APAW opposed the law on the grounds that any type of large scale metal mining would be too risky in Maine’s water-rich landscape.
Mountain said members of APAW also will be following Wolfden’s proceedings closely, including during the exploratory phases. She said that the group wants to make sure there is no water contamination from the exploratory drilling, “especially if Wolfden discovers the potential is not worth the expense and abandons the site before any financial assurances have been secured.”