For years, and particularly in recent months, concerns and opposition have reared up among Santa Cruz County residents over the Hermosa Project – a prospective mining operation in the Patagonia Mountains managed by Australian company South32.
Meanwhile, another company has moved forward in the federal permitting process for a separate, potentially seven-year drilling endeavor: the Sunnyside Exploration Drilling Project.
In June, the U.S. Forest Service signaled approval for two exploratory drilling projects within Santa Cruz County: the Flux Canyon project, operated by South32, and the Sunnyside proposal, operated by Canada-based company Barksdale Resources.
The Sunnyside project could begin as soon as Sept. 15, according to a legal timeline provided by Barksdale Resources. That project alone could entail seven years of daily, 24-hour drilling on national forest land, according to Barksdale.
The Sunnyside project’s September start date, however, remains up in the air due to an ongoing lawsuit filed by several conservation groups seeking to halt exploratory drilling projects in the area. Both Sunnyside and Flux Canyon drilling projects, plaintiffs argue, would lead to habitat destruction, potential watershed pollution and jeopardize endangered species.
“I am devastated by how (the Sunnyside) project and all of these projects will impact an area that is identified by scientists as one of the top regions in the world most in need of protection for species survival,” said Carolyn Shafer, president of the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit.
South32 has not publicly established a start date for the Flux Canyon project, though plaintiffs say the project could start as early as Sept. 15 if an injunction is not granted.
Between now and Sept. 15, a federal judge is expected to rule on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction – which, if approved, would further delay the start dates for Sunnyside and Flux Canyon projects.
“We really are in the eleventh hour here,” said Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case.
For its part, Arizona Standard – a subsidiary of Barksdale – describes the Sunnyside project’s disturbances as “minimal,” stating on its website that it plans to use water “purchased from municipal water systems.”
“This is definitely not a mining project… We are in the business of exploring, trying to find out what’s there, what the resource is,” Nancy Heiser, Arizona Standard’s director of external relations, said in an interview with the NI Tuesday.
To further understand the Sunnyside project, the NI explored the proposal, Barksdale’s history as a mineral exploration company, the ongoing legal battle and the area that would be impacted by years of drilling.
What is the Sunnyside Exploration Drilling Project?
The Sunnyside project is not a mining operation, but a mineral exploration project – meaning operators plan to drill, extract and analyze materials in search of mineral deposits, according to information from Barksdale.
The project would focus on four minerals: zinc, lead, silver and copper.
According to a proposal submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, the project entails drilling of up to 30 holes, reaching a maximum depth of 6,500 feet into national forest land. After a proposed seven-year drilling period, a one-year reclamation period would follow, along with a subsequent six-year monitoring period, court documents state.
If an “economic resource” is discovered through drilling, the company plans to “complete additional studies,” according to a Q&A section on the website for Arizona Standard, the Barksdale subsidiary.
“Many, many companies around the world do exploration, and with some high percentage of those doing exploration that never find what they’re looking for,” Heiser told the NI.
According to Barksdale, the impacted area for the Sunnyside project will span approximately 10 acres in the Patagonia Mountains. However, a map on Barksdale’s website identifies a project area of more than 5,200 acres.
“When you look at our website, the Sunnyside project encompasses a much broader area of acreage, but in fact, we will only be disturbing a very, very, very small percentage of that,” Heiser said.
Conservation groups argue that even if the project doesn’t give way to an eventual mining operation, exploratory drilling alone poses severe effects on the mountains’ ecosystems and species.
“It’s critical to realize that even without a mine ever being built here, the drilling that would occur would be devastating for Mexican Spotted Owls and other wildlife,” Jordahl, the Center for Biological Diversity advocate, said.
“They need to be protected,” Shafer of PARA said. “Even from exploratory activities.”
Who’s behind the project?
Barksdale Resources is a publicly traded Canadian company with a market capitalization of nearly $55 million, according to Google Finance. On its website, Barksdale describes its activities as “acquiring, exploring, and de-risking high quality precious and base metal projects in the Americas.”
Aside from the Sunnyside project, on its website, Barksdale lists several other potential exploration sites in Southern Arizona.
In April, the company announced its full acquisition of the Four Metals Project, a 760-acre site less than two miles south of the Sunnyside project. In the same press release, Barksdale described 100-percent ownership of another nearby site: the San Antonio Project, also located within the Patagonia Mountains.
“Regarding Barksdale’s other projects, the company performed fully permitted drilling of the San Antonio project earlier this year and have no plans to continue drilling there,” Heiser said. “Additionally, we are not actively pursuing permitting for Four Metals, Goat Canyon, or Canelo currently.”
According to Heiser, residents who wish to learn more about Arizona Standard and Barksdale can stop by the company’s Patagonia office, which is tucked into the shopping center along McKeown Avenue, near the street’s intersection with Taylor Avenue.
Over recent years, Heiser said, the company has distributed informational materials via mail to homeowners in the project area, and notices have been published in the Patagonia Regional Times.
Asked whether the company would consider other outreach efforts – like open houses or public meetings – Heiser said future plans had not been finalized.
“We want to be transparent in what we’re doing in our project,” she said. “And certainly when the final approval is available and we’re ready to start drilling, we will be communicating. The method or methods in which we do that are yet to be determined.”
What’s going on in court?
Technically, the cluster of conservation groups – including the Center for Biological Diversity and PARA – are not suing Barksdale itself, nor are they suing South32. Instead, the lawsuit targets the U.S. Forest Service: the agency that approved drilling for both projects within the Coronado National Forest.
In its initial June 16 decision, the Forest Service had determined that neither the Sunnyside nor Flux projects would pose a significant environmental impact to the area.
Days later, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Arizona District Court, arguing that the Forest Service had failed to correctly assess those impacts. Then, in July, the same conservation groups requested a preliminary injunction to halt the projects’ initiations.
“(The Forest Service) looked at each of these projects by themselves, like they’re happening in a vacuum… The failure in this particular lawsuit is you’ve got three activities, and you didn’t look at, ‘OK, this, plus this, plus this,’” Shafer said.
As of now, the plaintiffs – and other involved parties – are waiting to hear back from U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps on whether a preliminary injunction will be granted, further delaying both projects.
“We hope that it will be stopped, in its tracks, here,” Jordahl said of the drilling projects.
If the injunction is not granted, and drilling is permitted, conservationists would continue to challenge the exploratory projects “every step of the way,” he noted.
Where would the project take place?
According to maps included in the Sunnyside project proposal – submitted to the U.S. Forest Service for approval – the site would be located about 3.6 miles south of the Town of Patagonia and south of Flux Canyon Road.
In court documents, attorneys representing Arizona Standard and Barksdale confirm that some of the drill pad locations would be established within Humboldt Canyon.
Speaking to the NI, both Shafer and Jordahl stressed the area’s ecological significance, citing endangered species – including the yellow-billed Cuckoo and Mexican Spotted Owl.
“They’re one of the most adorable creatures one could ever lay eyes on,” Jordahl said, describing the latter. “Their little baby owlets are covered in what almost looks like peach fuzz when they’re really young, and as they grow it’s incredible to watch them develop.”
But, he added, the owl is also crucial to the ecosystem as a local predator.
“And they deserve to exist here,” he said.
The area, he added, also serves as a corridor for jaguars and ocelots; in the Patagonia Mountains, no border wall impedes the cats’ migratory patterns, setting the area apart from other stretches of Southern Arizona.
Asked how Barksdale would protect local ecosystems throughout the Sunnyside project, Heiser, the spokesperson for Arizona Standard, declined to discuss specific details, citing the ongoing litigation, though she said the company would comply with state and federal regulations.
“Barksdale would follow, to the letter, all the requirements within the plan of operations,” she said.
By Angela Gervasi • Nogales International www.nogalesinternational.com
2023-09-01 22:16:00 , www.nogalesinternational.com – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article