Jim Coursolle, President of Heartland Communications, Mangles Science with Misinformation on Mining Bill

Last week Jim Coursolle, President of Heartland Communications, began running editorials on his radio stations in northern Wisconsin attempting to debunk the scientific evidence that a 22-mile open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills would send billions of gallons of sulfuric acid into the Bad River watershed.

Shirl LaBarre registering Recall Jauch campaign at the GAB. Photo by Whitney Steffen

His efforts seem to be strategically aimed at Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), who is currently the target of a recall instigated by Shirl LaBarre and CRG Northland, a political PAC that can now collect anonymous contributions to go toward the “grassroots” efforts to recall Sen. Jauch. LaBarre and others claim that because Jauch didn’t vote as Tea Party Republicans felt he should on AB 426, the ferrous mining bill authored by Gogebic Taconite, they have a duty to recall him.

Coursolle currently resides in Campbellsport, WI, a town of about 8,000 people approximately 45 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Campbellsport is in the 20th district, represented by Glenn Grothman (R-20).

In a response to Coursolle’s editorial that also ran on all Heartland radio web pages, the scientists who testified at the Joint Finance Committee on February 17, 2012 were asked to debunk Coursolle’s fabricated science that clearly would have the Earth spinning around the moon if left unchallenged. Coursolle, unlike Jauch, does not actually live in northern Wisconsin. He and Tommy Thompson were part of Armada Communications, a media conglomerate that was sued by its lender in February 2010, just three months before Courselle bought out Heartland Communications.

To investigate Coursolle’s claims that the pyrite present in the iron formation would have to be heated to a temperature of 446 degrees in order to release sulfuric acid, WCMC asked this scientist try to shed truth on the fabricated misinformation of Heartland Communications and Coursolle.

Here is Hematite’s response:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” I know. These lines from Pope have been quoted to death, but they are the best I can come up with without expending more effort than the subject at hand calls for—the subject at hand being a statement by Jim Coursolle, President of Heartland Communications, which is airing on a northern Wisconsin radio station.

I am not familiar with who Jim Coursolle of Heartland Communications might be, but I know who he is not: someone with enough basic scientific competence to form an intelligent opinion on the proposed Penokee iron mine, the subject of his statement. Let’s go through that statement and see where Jim goes wrong:

Hi, This is Jim Coursolle, President of Heartland Communications…

Hi Jim.

Recently, Senator Bob Jauch held town Meetings where he gave untrue information about mining and something called “pyrite.” I am going to tell you what scientists know to be the truth.

OK, let’s see what you’ve got.

Pyrite, is a mineral that many of you are familiar with… it’s commonly referred to as “fools gold.”

So far, so good.

In the mining process, taconite is separated from mined rock using MAGNETICS…

“Magnetic” is an adjective. ‘Magnetics” is a field of study. Neither are good for separating minerals. What you want for that is a magnet.

..and pyrite is NOT magnetic…

Very good.

… so therefore, if it were even present, it would be separated from the usable taconite mineral BEFORE the usable taconite is ever heated and concentrated into pellets for shipping.The separated non-magnetic pyrite then finds its way to being used as mine backfill. Once again — if it is even present — the pyrite NEVER gets to the taconite concentrate-oven because it is not usable and would have been separated from the actual taconite ore as I just mentioned.

You’re on a roll.

The fear that has been wrongly mentioned by Senator Bob Jauch says that the pyrite will somehow release commercial grade sulfuric acid into the environment.

Whoa, there. I’ve been to a lot of hearings, and I’ve never heard anyone talk about “commercial grade” sulfuric acid. “Commercial grade” is a scientifically meaningless term.

That is not true. 

I’m that glad you can see that …

What I am about to tell you — and I don’t want you to take my word for it — please look this information up on the internet – will explain the truth.

No need for fancy book-learning when you’ve got the internet.

In order for any commercial grade sulfuric acid to ever be released from the pyrite mineral, it would require heating up the pyrite to a temperature of 446 degrees Fahrenheit at 75 pounds per square inch pressure which only then would start the reaction necessary to produce sulfuric acid.

Wait, a minute ago your were talking about “commercial grade” sulfuric acid. Now you are talking about plain old sulfuric acid. Which is it?

… from the release of sulfur from any pyrite. That would be impossible.

If it’s impossible then how do you know that it happens at 446˚F? More to the point, pyrite can oxidize to sulfuric acid and ferric iron at any temperature. This is a well known fact. If you had the faintest idea of what you were talking about you would be embarrassed to suggest otherwise. You seem to be confusing the thermal decomposition of pyrite to sulfur and iron, with the oxidation of pyrite to sulfate/sulfuric acid and iron oxide. It is the latter process that leads to acid mine drainage.

Cores of pyrite rich slate from the Penokee region. This slate originally was solid and black. After several decades of storage in a climate controlled facility the slate has partially disintegrated due to the oxidation of the pyrite and the production of sulfuric acid. The light color is from sulfates produced by reactions between minerals in the slate and sulfuric acid from the pyrite. The sample reeks of sulfur. This well known problem with pyritic specimens in museum collections is sometimes called “pyrite disease.”

Most us know how hot it feels when temperatures during the summer reach 100 degrees, right? I can’t even imagine a temperature at 446 degrees Fahrenheit or more than four times hotter than 100 degrees.

This should have embarrassed you, too. When comparing temperatures you need to start at absolute zero. 446˚ is about 906˚F above absolute zero. 100˚F is 560˚F above absolute zero. Thus 446˚F is about 1.6 times hotter than 100˚F.

Quite frankly, life on earth could not exist at 446 degree Fahrenheit.

Actually, not true.

We’d all burn up and be dead.

Well, I’ll give you that.

So let’s use common sense…

I’m afraid it’s far too late for that, Jim.

First of all, Senator Jauch is misleading you by using fear-mongering tactics describing something that just isn’t even possible. He’s trying to convince you that pyrite will release commercial grade sulfuric acid.

Now we’re back this “commercial grade” again. So let’s repeat. No one ever said anything about commercial grade sulfuric acid. People are worried about sulfate/sulfuric acid in general, which pyrite can and does produce when it oxidizes on the earth’s surface at normal surface pressure and temperature.

… and ruin our Wisconsin environment. But that can only happen if temperatures would reach 446 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nope. What you are doing here is committing a logical fallacy. You are misapplying an attribute of a member of a set (commercial grade sulfuric acid) to the whole set to which it belongs (sulfuric acid). It is the same as arguing that because Jimbo is a teabagger and Shauna is a teabagger, Jimbo must drive a Hummer because Shauna drives a Hummer. See what I mean? No? I thought not.

… and the back-filled pyrite mixed with the other unusable earth cannot reach 446 degrees Fahrenheit just sitting there only exposed to the sun and outdoor elements.

I thought it was buried. Now you have it sitting in the sun and “outdoor elements.”

Again, even if the pyrite or “fools gold” is present, it would be separated from the usable taconite minerals and would NEVER reach the concentrate-oven; it would only be used as back-fill immediately or stored for later use as back-fill.to and the back-filled pyrite mixed with the other unusable earth.

Let me explain this one more time: Pyrite can oxidize at any pressure and at any temperature. The information you are giving on the decomposition of pyrite at elevated temperature and pressure deals with a commercial process, where speed and efficiency are important.

In general, the rate of chemical reactions increase with pressure and temperature. At five atmospheres and 446˚F, pyrite will oxidize much more quickly than at room temperature and pressure. It also will begin to decompose. This does not mean that pyrite will not oxidize at room temperature and pressure. It does. That is why acid mine drainage is a problem. Even well informed proponents of the iron mine acknowledge that pyrite is a problem, which was the entire justification for separate laws to govern oxide mining in the first place. If what you are claiming here were true, there would be no such thing as acid mine drainage and no need for separate sulfide and oxide mining legislation.

Again, even if the pyrite or “fools gold” is present, it would be separated from the usable taconite minerals and would NEVER reach the concentrate-oven; it would only be used as back-fill immediately or stored for later use as back-fill.

Which is exactly why it is a problem.

As I said before, Senator Bob Jauch, who is not a mining expert by any means is totally wrong with his facts.

Irony really is dead, isn’t it?

But Sen Jauch needed some bogus information to justify his politically-motivated job destruction plan …

But you just killed it some more… “

… which he is using to humiliate Governor Walker’s attempt to bring more jobs to Wisconsin.

…and some more…

Senator Jauch has failed to separate his politics with the major need for employment opportunity for the people that voted for him. People that have supported Jauch in the past, have now turned against him … the local unions and many others want the employment opportunity the G-Tac Mine would provide …

… and now you are performing unnatural acts with the cold, stiff corpse of irony.

There is still a chance to save those jobs. We need a senator …

We? Is Campbellsport in Jauch’s district now?

… who tells the truth. We need to Recall Senator Bob Jauch NOW. You can help. Jauch is spelled J – A – U – C – H. “Recall Bob Jauch” is all one word. On that website you will find a petition, please sign that petition and get your friends who need employment opportunity to sign it as well. Circulate that petition and then mail it in to the address on the website. Thousands have already signed the petition and the effort to get the necessary signatures is going quite well, but we need your help NOW. Please go to the website and sign the petition. Get others to sign too.

I came here to correct your science, so all I will add here is that your grasp of politics is nearly as good as your grasp of science.

Oh, and one more thing…from 1884 to 1966 — that’s 82 years. During that time, over 300 million tons of ore — about 64 million tons from the Wisconsin side and 245 million tons from the Michigan side — were taken from the Gogebic Range according to the Soo Line Historical Magazine. This was the ore needed to make steel that won World Wars One and Two for our country. If you know anyone living in the Gogebic Range area, call them and see if mining destroyed their water-quality… ask them how the fish are biting. The proposed G-Tac or Gogebic Taconite Mine will operate with better and state-of-the-art technology and more State of Wisconsin oversight. Please remember, that if there is a problem that cannot be solved, the G-Tac mining permit simply will not be issued. Please don’t confuse supported and real facts with false information spread around for politically-motivated reasons.… there are 2800 jobs at stake folks.

Three hundred million tons. My, that’s a lot. Nearly as much as Australia produces every year or China produces every four months. There are a few facts that you should consider, Jim, and that might change your mind if you had some motive other than propping up Scott Walker, which transparently concerns you far more than creating jobs in a part of the state where you don’t live.

First, the magnetite ore that would have been mined in the Penokees is barely worth mining at the best of times. Most of the previous iron mining in Wisconsin went after high grade hematite ore, which could be mined much more cheaply and with much less environmental risk than the banded iron in the Penokees.

Second, the world is awash in cheap iron. Over the next few years Brazil and Australia plan to expand their annual iron production by over 700 million tons. This will drive down the price of iron to the point where it is unlikely that Wisconsin, with it’s miniscule and low quality iron deposits, ever could compete at a profit.

You may want to further ask yourself why, if the Penokee deposit is so promising, did iron companies long ago drop any plans to mine it? Why was G-Tac, a coal mining company with no experience with iron mining, trying to open the mine?

I’ll let you in on a secret, or part of one anyway: Your rebuttal of the problems with pyrite in the Penokees that I and others have pointed out is scientific rubbish. I doubt that Tim Myers, G-Tac’s mining engineer, would disagree with me on that. But there IS an argument that you have not made – a sound reason for claiming that the problem with acid mine drainage might not be as bad I have argued it might be.

I will not tell you what it is. I have referred to it several times in various places and if you take the time to actually learn some science you might be able to discover it yourself. I’m sure that Tim Myers knows it too. Yet at no time has anyone used this argument to defend the mine. In fact, G-Tac has made no effort at all to answer the scientific critics of the mine, or to otherwise engage in a scientific dialog. I was expecting such a response, but it never came.

It seems likely that G-Tac decided long ago to abandon the Penokee mine on strictly economic grounds, probably around the time that Brazil and Australia announced their increase in iron production. Bill Williams and G-Tac let scientific criticism of the bill go unchallenged because they actually wanted the mining bill to die in the legislature. This gave them a face-saving way out, and handed Walker an issue that he could use to deflect attention from his own dismal job creation record and possible criminal acts.

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