Saturday, July 26, 2014

NYCO Commentary: How Much Wollastonite Is There?

WollastoniteLast week, as a part of a larger effort to document the aftermath of Proposition 5 – the so-called NYCO Amendment – I wrote a column comparing claims made about NYCO in support of the amendment to the factual record.

I listed the following five claims we’ve heard repeatedly (remember, not all claims are NYCO’s responsibility; some claims were made by others):

Claim One: NYCO is a local company headquartered in Willsboro. It has been there for more than fifty years and employs about a hundred people.

Claim Two: The amendment will support and preserve local jobs

Claim Three: The NYCO mines in New York are especially important because they are one of the few existing sources for wollastonite (in fact the New York mines are the only active wollastonite mines in the United States). NYCO produces a significant portion of the world’s wollastonite from its New York mines

Claim Four: NYCO needs the Lot 8 expansion because existing mines are running low

Claim Five: NYCO is a good corporate citizen and is environmentally responsible

Last week I covered claims one and two. Now let’s cover claims three and four.

At the heart of these two claims are a set of simple questions about wollastonite: is NYCO running out of wollastonite in its existing mines? Is there or isn’t there a healthy supply in the Adirondacks as a whole? How does that supply compare to supplies elsewhere? Is NYCO’s message about its wollastonite supply consistent?

As soon as one delves into these question it becomes obvious that it is necessary to examine wollastonite from a global perspective. After all, NYCO is a subsidiary of Greek multinational mining giant S&B Industrial Minerals which looks at these business questions and related decisions from a global perspective. Whatever the answers to the above questions, there are consequences for NYCO’s  current request to expand operations at its existing mines, for the recently-filed lawsuit to prevent NYCO from beginning exploratory drilling on Lot 8, for the Adirondacks as a whole and ultimately for the wisdom of passing the NYCO Amendment.

Claim three is true from a New York perspective, but it is dubious at best from a global perspective. We heard a lot about the New York mines. Here are some facts about the bigger picture that may surprise you.

Contrary to the popular notion that NYCO is a local wollastonite producer they actually produce a significant amount of their wollastonite overseas.   In 1997 NYCO opened the Pilares mine and processing facility in Mexico. According to NYCO itself, Pilares is the world’s largest wollastonite mine.

NYCO does not publish its wollastonite output. The US Geological Survey publishes yearly information on wollastonite mining but withholds NYCO’s production information “to protect proprietary company data.” However in its Mineral Commodity Summary from January 2011 the USGS estimated US production at 67,000 tons. Almost all of that is due to NYCO.

According to the USGS 2012 Minerals Yearbook for wollastonite, US output in 2012 was in the same range. However this output was dwarfed by China and India, which are the world’s two largest producers. In 2012 China produced 300,000 tons, more than four times US output. India produced 150,000 tons. In terms of totals, 2012 US Production was around 12 percent of world output.

World reserves are not known accurately but measure at least 270 million tons and very likely considerably more. India has at least 200 million tons, followed by China with an estimated 100 million tons.  By contrast, according to an interview with NYCO’s safety and environmental manager Mark Buckley during in the run-up to the recent vote, in 30 years NYCO has produced a total 6 million tons of ore from its Adirondack mines and hopes to find another million tons on Lot 8. By all measures this is a drop in the worldwide bucket. Compare that to NYCO’s Mexico mines and consider again S&B’s possible priorities over the long term: according to multiple sources, total reserves in the area of NYCO’s Pilares mine are estimated to be greater than 100 million tons.

These numbers for wollastonite bear not just on claim three but on claim two as well. The repeated claim has been made that local reserves of wollastonite will save local jobs. But given the comparative amounts of wollastonite being mined elsewhere it is fair to question the extent to which local jobs are truly a local matter.

The larger picture for quantities of wollastonite also bears on claim four and leads to questions about how consistent NYCO has been in making assertions about quantities. In the Times Union interview, given in 2013, Buckley asserted that existing mines were running low. But this is not the first time NYCO claimed the value of the wollastonite mines was nearing an end. NYCO sued the Town of Lewis several times in the 1990’s and 2000’s claiming that tax assessments were too high because the assessed value of their mines was too high as they were running out of wollastonite. As reported in August, 2007 in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican:

The town and NYCO also hired their own geologists to determine how much wollastonite was left to mine. NYCO’s said 2.4 million tons, and the town’s geologist said 3.5 million tons.

The town said the value of the remaining wollastonite was $5.5 million, while NYCO argued it was only $120,000.

Consider NYCO’s claim of $120,000 value versus the actual value mined since 2007. Now, here in 2014, NYCO has applied for a permit with the APA to massively expand their current operations in both existing mines. In a July article in Denton Publications NYCO claimed that there was 500,000 tons of wollastonite remaining in the existing mine footprints that would be depleted within two years (the numbers begin to run together, but remember that in 2012 total US yearly output was estimated at around only 70,000 tons) but that there was another 600,000 tons in the area into which they want to expand (this are already owned by them and not part of Lot 8 from the Amendment).

Add it all up and there are three facts that stand out: first, there have been numerous claims made about the amount of wollastonite remaining in the Adirondack mines and those claims have varied a great deal over the years; second, these claims have not turned out to always match the actual production; third, even accounting for all the variation in various claims, the amount of wollastonite in the Adirondacks is a small fraction of both NYCO’s holdings outside the US and the worldwide output as a whole.

Given these statements it is fair to question NYCO’s current claims, as well as the assumptions that the NYCO Amendment was either a deal maker or a breaker for local jobs.

Photo of wollastonite courtesy Wikimedia user Piotr Sosnowski.


Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.




28 Responses

  1. Wallace Day says:

    You state the issues of estimates of reserves quite well. Clearly the numbers are subjective and are just “estimates”, nothing more. I suspect that this is quite common throughout the entire mining (and gravel pit, etc, etc) industry.

    What you fail to address is the local jobs issue. I don’t feel that the importance of these jobs can be overstated. Just how do you propose finding jobs to replace those if NYCO should fold their tents and leave the area.

    • adkDreamer says:

      The article states clearly that this article will address Claims 3 and 4. Claim 2 (Jobs) was addressed in the previous article.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Wallace:

      I have no specific proposal for replacing local jobs if NYCO closes up shop. That has nothing to do with my article, which is to report on the facts surrounding supplies of wollastonite.

      With respect to your concern what is germane about these facts is not whether NYCO will or will not preserve local jobs. It is whether the preservation of said local jobs actually has anything to do with Lot 8 and the NYCO Amendment. Given the realities of world wollastonite supplies that is a fair question.

  2. Philip Terrie Phil Terrie says:

    Excellent, Pete!

  3. Bill Quinlivan Bill Quinlivan says:

    Nice job, Pete. Here is how I see it. As far as jobs go, we here in the Adirondacks can not rely on a future of status quo of job avails from traditional means. We need to start planning and infrastructure that moves us to more jobs coming from clean service industry sectors and growing ecologically smart tourism. Adirondack Teleworks is an important organization in the former regard, but we seriously need bandwidth that matches that found in metropolitan areas either by fiber optic tecnology or white space technology. If we expect to attract younger, entrepreneurial people to stay or move here they need to be able to move large amounts of data to clients and vendors in order to compete with those in larger markets. We could have a great place to live and work for young people involved in clean service business. Honestly, I don’t know many young people who would place being a miner on the top of their career list. I say let’s ride NYCO for what they are worth in the short-term job avails area, while working smart to set the region up for good job growth, growing younger populations, a nidus of clean service industry and ecologically responsible tourism. Once this is in place, promote it to those who want to work and play right out their back door.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Bill:

      You’re speaking my language with regard to future job sectors in the park. I’m a champion for fiber for all the reasons you mention.

      I would raise a caution about white space technology. It’s adequate today and offers a way to get reasonable network speeds to communities that have no other recourse. But not for long. It will not to be able to keep up with the staggering, bandwidth-devouring technological wave that is revolutionizing the interactive power of our on-line experiences. Only fiber will be able to keep up.

      We need the park’s numerous fiber projects to have strong support and funding. We need a utility modernization strategy of some kind – up to and including an amendment, per a previous article – to facilitate wide implementation of a rich network infrastructure.

      Pete

  4. adkDreamer says:

    Excellent background & back story addressing the world wollastonite output, stock pile inventories, etc.

    Really helps me to understand and evaluate the ‘big picture’ at the 30,000 foot level – and then down to ground level (the localized New York view).

    Information presented as it should be – unbiased and factual. Thank you.

  5. Mark Gibson says:

    Some of this story is interesting…

    Wollastonite is fairly unique as a surface mineral here and exists as bands of skarn in the Willsboro-Lewis are. There is also a rich band along the foot of Sugarloaf mountain (lying just east of Mt Poko). The skarn bands arise from the contact of precambrian magma with precambrian limestones. Wollastonite is a particular form of cooked limestone. The tailings are extensively used locally as roadbed and are interesting because they do not produce dust clouds and do not washboard as do dirt and dirt/gravel roads. As near as I can tell it makes a much “greener” secondary road that other roadbed materials. Chunks of wollastonite get included with the tailings for roadbed, it is a striking white, heavily laden with garnet. The crystals have a very high aspect ratio which confers their value in materials/fabrication.

    The evolution of wollastonite as a mineable, useful mineral owes to the work of Koert Burnham, who was intrigued by this local mineral he encountered hunting garnets in the 1930s. He fostered research into applications for its use, and then started the mine in Willsboro, so wollastonite is part of a unique Adirondack contribution to materials history. It replaces asbestos in many of its applications… also a good thing. Though bought up by a giant worldwide corporation just recently- it started as a mom and pop shop originated from one local man’s curiousity about a particularly local material. It started here! Though owned as a subsidiary, the corporate structure still dates to the fifties, long antedating the APA and its State Land Master Plan. Burnham also founded the Crater Club – a summer community on Lake Champlain, still extant a mile south of Essex. He was proud of his regional contributions as constructively blending development, employment, and conservation and would probably be surprised at the brouhaha his brainchild has caused these days.

    NYCO’s continued mining may well depend not only total amounts of the mineral here, but its accessibility and costs of extraction, refining, and shipping pertinent to this site as opposed to NYCO’s other (Mexico) site, and world market prices.

    Prior rendings of the Adirondacks for extractive profits are enshrined and even somewhat restored here and there in the Adirondacks with something bordering on affection from some quarters. I suppose that could be true in a hundred more years for what is left of NYCOs remnants.

    • Anthony F. Hall Tony Hall says:

      It was Koert’s father, John Bird Burnham, who created the Crater Club. Both men were notable conservationists and practiced sustainability long before that concept became popular. They created businesses to provide local jobs, not to send profits out of the area or the country; nor would they ever have threatened to close a business if their profits weren’t high enough. So it’s an interesting question whether or not they would approve of today’s NYCO.

  6. adkmike says:

    Good info, thanks. The 2 NYS mines are the only ones in the US. China and India are the big players. Is there any data on US imports or exports of wollastonite?

    For interested people there is more detail here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wollastonite

    As a business gets larger, and founder needs to sell, buyers are often a bigger company outside the region and then it is subject to the decisions of people far away. This past week, one of Saranac Lake’s biotech companies was closed by a decision of current owners, now in Salt Lake City.

    It was small (35 people?) but these losses always leave a hole in our small economy. Ironically, Saranac jumped thru hoops to attract this company from….Lake Placid. And they aren’t even half way thru their lease.

    This issue is where the mine and biotech meet: how can we keep larger private employers here?

    You can keep businesses out, or try to attract them, but you can’t make them stay put. It is often easy for them to leave w/o notice. Yet, while they are here, they offer some of the best (non-government) jobs around in terms of pay and benefits. Not everyone will be a small entrepreneur or a tourism laborer or a teleworker. It is a challenge.

  7. Mark Gibson says:

    A challenge indeed, Mike.

    Just goes to show also, for those who question NYCOs corporate ethics and would rather them elsewhere because of their imagined/presumed shortcomings, that Myriad (that pulled out of Saranac Lake) has had its own issues with ethics. Many feel their patenting of a naturally occurring gene sequence, which has allowed them to corner the market on BRCA1&2 breast cancer screening was out of bounds ethically. Being green/renewable is no guarantee that a corporation is a citizen we that all would necessarily welcome.
    Free lunch may be harder to come by than we like.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Mark:

      My next article will explore NYCO as a corporate citizen.

      Quite frankly I see an expressed bias against them in many peoples’ minds right from the start that is not necessarily fair, as though being a mining company is inherently bad. But I’ll get to that in the next column.

      Pete

  8. Little Buckaroo says:

    Pete – a useful dialogue about the mineral, but you are on the wrong track with your supposed “claims.”

    Making a claim to something suggest that there is some doubt about what is being stated. #1 is not a “claim.” It consists of several established facts.

    #2 is a claim but it is poorly framed. It begs the question. The issue behind the claim is whether or not NYCO needed the amendment to preserve jobs, of which there were or are 105. They did NOT need Lot 8 to preserve the jobs. In other words, they lied. We knew that there were only several years of mining left in the Lewis mine next to Lot 8 but what most people did not know and which NYCO did not bother to mention is that they could expand the Lewis mine by 50%m which they applied for State permits to do in April, well after Prop 5 was passed. Second, the Oak Hill mine, 2 miles from the Lewis mine, received permits in 1998 and they have stripping the overburden off since then getting ready to go to full scale operations there. The quality of the ore is as good or better than at Lewis and the reserves are enough to keep on with active mining for more than 25 years. Third, NYCO had no intention of walking away from its state of the part processing plan in Willsboro an, even though they knew better. d they are still out prospecting for more ore on lands they own.

    These are a few of the details that NYCO left out when making Claim # 2 to get the “sympathy vote”for jobs and the local economy from people who didn’t know or didn’t care about Article 14 and were willing to throw it under the bus. And DEC and APA said nothing to correct the record. It was NEVER a question of “preserving” jobs.

    Claim # 3 is true. The NYCO mine is the only such mine in NY and the US. If wollastonite was a strategic mineral that would be important during World War III. FOrtunately we are not there yet and the world supply, in other countries and continents, is plentiful. As you say, one of the biggest mines opened in Mexico not long ago. So, what is the significance of Claim 3? Not much.

    Claim 4 is a variation on Claim 2 – more of the same baloney. A lie. The mines are NOT running low. Only the Lewis mine was running low but now they are expanding it by 50%.

    Claim 5 is a bad joke. How can a bunch of liars be good corporate citizens? Also, ask the people who live along those roads to and from the mines, who suffer constant noise pollution and dust and dirt in air pollution from trucks rumbling past all day long whether NYCO is a good environmental neighbor. There is good and bad to all of this but it is not a bed of roses.

    This is a family owned international corporation that operates mines on 5 continents. They will do whatever the bottom line them to do. BUT LEAVE THE FOREST PRESERVE ALONE!

    Pete, you did not get into the difference in ecological value for the Forest Preserve between Lot 8, which has been “forever wild” since 1885, and the 1507 acres of cutover forest land with which NYCO expects to give to the State in payment (instead of real money) for Lot 8.
    That’s another point on which the public was “sold a bill of goods.” The NYCO land has no relevance at all, no matter how many acres, to the Jay Mtn. Wilderness Area. It might as well be anywhere in the Adirondacks.

    Plain and simple, NYCO spent $750,000 on TV ads and other “PR” to tell lies before the vote on Prop 5. There was no public purpose to this. NYCO bought the vote strictly to rip off the Forest Preserve Wilderness and line its own pockets. Where does that stop and how can we stop it? How can we keep commercial and industrial companies from spending unlimited dollars to spread un-factual propaganda as a means to rip off the Forest Preserve
    no matter whether the “equal value” payment is in dollars, yuan, yen rupees or cut-over far removed from where it might be needed. Pete, there are aspects to these so-called claims which really need your attention.

    • AnotherBill says:

      A couple of responses:

      – They have another mine in NYS, in Gouvenour NY

      – Most all of the Forest Preserve additions these days, and historically, has been cut over land. See Finch Pryun. Look at what the TNC ripped into just before transferring it to NYS. Go see the Whitney estate lands. Cut over land is what the Forest Preserve is made of. What is wrong with more of it? Grows up nice in a couple of decades.

      – Lies and half-truths in the cause of an election?? Attempts to mis-inform voters?…oh my gosh golly gee whiz, …that never happens here in the USA, nope, never seen it before.

    • Paul says:

      ” NYCO bought the vote strictly to rip off the Forest Preserve Wilderness and line its own pockets.” Agreed (or I would say part of the FP) and it will likely increase the size of the Forest Preserve in the long run.

  9. Bill Ingersoll Bill Ingersoll says:

    This type of analysis strikes me as the type of discussion that should have occurred 12 months ago, prior to the vote and not after it was too late. I will add one more item to the list of contributing factors that allowed the passage of Prop 5: a completely unskeptical press. All of the coverage of the amendment discussion leading up to Election Day focused on the superficial appearance of things; all of the claims that each side made were dutifully recorded, but no one saw the need to scratch beneath the surface and question motivations.

    I had several heated private discussions with one respected regional journalist who was deeply offended by my claim that Prop 5 was “labor neutral”, with no preserved or lost by the passage or defeat of the amendment. It was a black-and-white issue for this person: give NYCO more wollastonite, and they will keep people employed longer, case closed, no need for discussion, thank you and good night. This is not an exact quote, but this was not a topic on which s/he was willing to consider shades of gray… such as fluctuations in the global supply or demand of wollastonite.

    Also, it’s pretty clear that some influential members of the North Country media want desperately to paint Prop 5 as a Kumbaya episode of collaboration between environmental groups, politicians, and a corporation. While Washington might be paralyzed by polarization, here in the Adirondacks we have strange bedfellows finding “common ground”! A skeptical press would have looked at this collaboration and questioned what business environmental groups had to get in bed with politicians and corporations in the first place. A skeptical press would have looked beyond the press releases and tried to understand the motivations of the key players.

    But this kind of skepticism and scrutiny didn’t occur, and the story that prevailed was the Kumbaya version.

  10. Paul says:

    What I think we should focus on is the long term result of this prop for the Forest Preserve. I don’t really think the jobs issue, or the value of the minerals or this other stuff really matters all the much in the long term. If some local jobs are preserved that is just gravy.

    But this is interesting information.

    My guess is that most of the people who voted on this just saw the ballot and heard nothing about local jobs.

  11. Hawthorn says:

    Why beat around the bush? Everyone knows that it was political horse trading that got the amendment support, and not really any merits for the Forest Preserve or jobs. Jobs and adding acreage was the PR spin, but the real reason it got support from some groups was they perceived this as a way to gain political clout with locals that would help in other areas. I bet 90% of the public that voted for the amendment knew almost nothing about it. That’s why the professional PR people are so important. Make a one-sided deal sound like a win-win on the airwaves and on the ballot. A lot of amendments and ballot proposals are worded that way–sound like one thing, while they’re really about something else. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that reality–that’s the way our political system works. But, I would argue one side gained a winning race horse and the other got back almost nothing in return.

  12. Paul says:

    Take a look at some of the people that supported the amendment and why.

    For example the publisher of the Adirondack Explorer:

    http://www.adirondackexplorer.org/editorials/amendments-benefit-public

    The photographer Carl Heilman II:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xTI3-N-apY

    You think these guys are trying to buy political clout with the locals? Seriously?

    • Hawthorn says:

      Yes.

      • Paul says:

        Why? For what purpose?

        • Hawthorn says:

          Knowing both of them pretty well I’m sure they were thinking that compromise in the form of keeping the locals happy is good for the Forest Preserve in the long run. Same with ADK. They believe what they did was right. They truly think that this will help preserve jobs. Right motives, wrong results I suspect. I’ve heard the same arguments over and over cloaked in the guise of preserving Adirondack jobs, culture, and a way of life. Personally, I think if you call yourselves environmentalists your first priority should be preserving and improving the environment. Yes, that involves compromise, but this was a bad one.

          • Paul says:

            Of course we don’t know the result yet at this point. And if you look at both of those links the main focus is on expansion of the Jay Mountain Wilderness a very likely outcome from this amendment. Preserving 200 acres (or in this case probably something like 50 acres) at the expense of perhaps 1500 acres doesn’t seem like something an “environmentalist” would support but some here seem to think that would have been the right move for the FP??

  13. Hawthorn says:

    There is no quid pro quo. NYCO gets to explore and damage the 200 acres and if they find something there they want to exploit at that point the state determines the value of the 200 acres, which might perhaps be compensated for by some other land. Jobs might be preserved, but there are no guarantees that they will be. I suspect there are lots of places in the Adirondacks other mining companies might like to explore for free to see if there is anything of value there. Why not just sell the 200 acres to NYCO and be done with it? Get an independent survey of its value, set a price, and sell a chunk of the Forest Preserve. At least that way the people of NY are guaranteed some return.

    • Hawthorn says:

      And, the state could dedicate the money made on the sale to Adirondack job creation.

    • Paul says:

      There is a risk here that NYCO will not go forward. That was clear from the wording of the amendment. It was also clear from the amendment that exploratory drilling was going to take place. It isn’t going to damage 200 acres but it will have some impact. Again that was clear from the amendment. We will have to see if the Forest Preserve will get a net benefit but it is very likely it will. The majority of NY voters decided that they wanted to take the risk for a chance at getting the possible reward. Hopefully Pete will keep close tabs on how it goes and if the voters were right. If their is any impact on jobs again that is fine. There was nothing in the amendment regarding jobs. Nothing.

  14. Paul says:

    Is there some type of horizontal drilling that they could do to avoid disturbing the the surface for the testing?