Antofagasta’s Twin Metals appeals dismissed lawsuit over Minnesota copper-nickel project

The underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mining project is located in northeast Minnesota. (Image courtesy of Twin Metals.)

Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of Antofagasta plc, filed a notice of appeal on Friday in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit following dismissal of its lawsuit by a US District Court Judge in September.

This is the latest in series of court actions that dealt Twin Metals’ namesake copper nickel project significant blows.

In 2019, Chilean miner Antofagasta, through Twin Metals, carried out a feasibility study for the project, an underground copper-nickel mine and processing facility along the shores of Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River, which lie in the Rainy River watershed. Twin Metals said it has spent more than 13 years in northeast Minnesota conducting extensive environmental, engineering, exploration, hydrogeological and community engagement work.

In 2021, the US Forest Service proposed a 20-year ban on mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region, a step that would block effectively block the project. The company called the moves by US President Joe Biden’s administration, which also rejected the Chile-based company’s lease applications, politically motivated.

Twin Metals sued the US government in 2022 in a bid to revive the proposed mine, which, if built, would be a major US source of copper and nickel, two metals crucial for the green energy transition. The only existing nickel mine in the US, the Eagle mine in Michigan, is set to close by 2025.

Early this year, the US Interior Department officially blocked mining in part of northeast Minnesota for 20 years in a step officials said is needed to protect the state’s vast network of interconnected waterways.

The Interior Secretary signed an order withdrawing 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest from leasing to mining or geothermal companies through 2043 after a coalition of businesses, environmental advocates and outdoor recreation groups in the state went to court challenging a Trump administration’s decision that opened the door to a copper, nickel and platinum project.

In its latest appeal, Twin Metals said it is defending its long-held mineral leases in northeast Minnesota from what it called “unlawful federal agency action”.

This week, Twin Metals had announced the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources authorized its exploration plan.

“Twin Metals is committed to securing its federal mineral rights, which are essential to our transition to a clean energy future,” chief project officer Francisco Awad said in a statement. “We can both safely mine for critical minerals and protect our environment. Let’s allow for the environmental review process to demonstrate that.”

“Twin Metals is steadfastly dedicated to the communities of northeast Minnesota, which is why we are filing an appeal to challenge the dismissal of our federal mineral lease lawsuit,” Awad said. “We look forward to continuing to pursue the tremendous opportunities our region holds through our vast untapped mineral resources.”