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10.08.2010

22 Hunting Copper: Digging Deep

Tom Evans' office is a classic. Stack of papers on desk, table, floor and cabinets. Two shelves of assorted rock and core samples. The signs of a brilliant scientific mind? Absolutely.

I came across Tom's name on the Internet as I posed questions about minerals and mineral rights in northern Wisconsin. Tom is assistant director of the WGNHS. The university still (after almost 150 years) owns the mineral rights to a sizable quantity of the original land that Ezra purchased in the 1860s and 1870s.

Were they worth anything? The profitable Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, WI stimulates the imagination. Tom patiently explained mineral rights, mining law, and Wisconsin geology to me. I kept asking questions – actually rewording the same question. Finally I figured out the right wording: If you were advising Cornell University on their mining rights in Wisconsin's northeastern lands, what would you tell them to do?

There is a ribbon of sulfate (metallic) minerals in northern Wisconsin that has a nickname: Highway 8 Lineament. For Tom, there is little doubt that here lie substantial quantities of valuable  minerals: gold, silver, copper – maybe similar to the Flambeau find. The current value is in the billions – and billions.

Now Cornell's possible interest in this knowledge is tempered by four facts: (1) it is incredibly difficult to mine these minerals, (2) local officials, state government and the public resist the idea of mining, (3) Cornell's mineral rights are sometimes shared with other owners – where Cornell owns 50% mineral rights any lease or contract would have to be agreed upon by a fellow owner(s), and (4) Cornell's 500,000 original acres and the remaining "severed mineral rights" ownership are not contiguous (see map on blog posting 15) but in 40 and 160 acre increments.
Core Samples

But it is still fun to think about. The Flambeau Mine reaped 881,000 tons of copper (as well as significant amounts of gold and silver). The Crandon deposit, sold to Native American tribes for $16 million,  most likely has a billion or more in mineral reserves.

Here come the what if's. What if Cornell's mineral rights are worth a few billion? What if technology improves for locating and identifying minerals. What if technology advances for extracting these minerals?

The mind spins.
The mine awaits.

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