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Mining company seeks to drill on land north of Pecos

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A Colorado mining company wants to conduct exploratory drilling for minerals in the Santa Fe National Forest north of Pecos, not far from Terrero, and in the general area of campgrounds and other recreational sites along the Pecos River.

Comexico LLC, a subsidiary of Australia-based New World Cobalt, has submitted a plan of operations to the National Forest and applied for an exploratory permit with the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, according to a National Forest news release on Thursday.

Comexico’s application identifies 83 potential drilling sites, but the company says no more than 30 drill pads would be constructed.

The company says that it expects drilling operations to be confined to 2.2 acres about 10 miles north of Pecos near Terrero, not far from where a $28 million clean up of old mining operations took place in the 1990s.

In April, New World Cobalt signed agreements that gave it rights to 20 federal mining claims and secured interest in 4,300 acres for metal sulfide ore mining.

The project – known as the Tererro VMS Project, for “volcanogenic massive sulfide” ore – provides an outstanding opportunity to develop a new VMS camp centered on the Jones Hill Deposit,” according to an April 9 news release put out by New World Cobalt. “NWC’s strategy will be to advance development of the Jones Hill Deposit while commencing exploration aimed at expanding the resource base – the first exploration to be conducted in the district since 1993.”

The company’s documents also call the project the Terrero Cu-Au-Zn Project, using the element abbreviations for copper, gold and zinc.

The mining of gold, silver, zinc and lead began in the area in the 1880s and continued into the late 1930s. Mining operations resumed in the 1950s and continued into the 1990s, according to stories from the Journal’s archives.

In 1991, a heavy snowmelt and a thunderstorm sent a pulse of the mine’s toxic metals into the Pecos River, killing nearly 10,000 rainbow trout at the state’s Lisboa Springs Hatchery a few miles downstream. Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. of Denver, which owned the mineral rights at the time, and the state of New Mexico paid for the $28 million cleanup, with New Mexico taxpayers footing about 20% of the cost.

The environmental group WildEarth Guardians says that it will oppose the new project.

“Proposals like this highlight the critical need to modernize the 1872 Mining Law and we support (U.S.) Senator (Tom) Udall’s efforts to do so,” John Horning, the group’s executive director, wrote in an emailed statement to the Journal.

“In the meantime, we will fight this proposal to extract minerals because we believe it’s incompatible with the Pecos Wild & Scenic River, as well as the clean water and healthy wildlife that most New Mexicans want protected on the Santa Fe National Forest.”

The National Forest said in its news release that the 1872 act prevents it from prohibiting the exploration and development of mineral resources on U.S. Forest Service lands. However, it has provided the company with biology protection measures, including protections for the Mexican spotted owl, Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the Holy Ghost ipomopsis, a species of flowering plant that grows only in Holy Ghost Canyon.

Hugh Ley, who operates the popular Terrero Trading Post, said a notice announcing Comexico’s intentions had been posted at his store and a few other locations in the area.

From what he can tell, all Comexico is proposing now is to conduct core sampling. But area residents are concerned.

“Everybody is like, now what do we do? Where do we go from here?”, he said of the reaction to the notice.

According to the exploration permit application, Comexico would start operations in October and potentially engage in drilling activities through February 2020. Reclamation from the work would be completed within a year of the project’s implementation, avoiding nesting season.

“All potentially hazardous chemicals will be stored within a secondary containment vessel to ensure there is no leak onto or into the ground, nearby streams, or existing boreholes,” the application says. “No chemicals will be disposed of onsite. All trash and waste will be removed from the site and disposed of properly.”