The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has approved a pair of prospecting permits on land near Mount St. Helens, clearing the way for exploratory drilling to begin as early as next year.
The BLM’s approval, as expected, follows the blessing of the U.S. Forest Service this month. It allows Canada-based company Ascot Resources to drill 63 holes at 23 different sites in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, just north of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument boundary.
Ascot plans to explore for the presence of copper, silver, gold and other minerals. Each hole would be 2 to 3 inches in diameter, to a depth of around 1,000 feet, according to BLM.
The permits do not allow for a full-scale mine, even if Ascot does find minerals. Officials have stressed that such an operation would require a separate public review.
Still, opponents have argued that even exploratory drilling could cause significant harm to a sensitive natural area. Some have noted the potential damage to water resources, particularly near the Green River. And conservation groups have vowed not to keep quiet.
Bob Dingethal, executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, said it’s “highly likely” his organization will appeal the BLM decision. Though he characterized the permit approval as a setback, Dingethal said he believes the challenge will prevail.
As for the possibility of a future mine in the area, Dingethal said, “We can’t take that chance.”
In a statement, BLM Oregon and Washington State Director Jerry Perez said the agency is mindful of those worries.
“We understand the socioeconomic and environmental importance of this area, and we’re committed to ensuring that all laws and regulations are followed,” Perez said.
“The decision to allow for this prospecting work to take place will give everyone a better understanding about the geology in the area and the potential for future mineral development.”
An appeal will likely be filed next month, Dingethal said.