Last 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