Mount St. Helens Controversy

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Mount St. Helens, one of Washington’s most famous mountains, is currently at the heart of a legal controversy between an environment protection group and a mineral drilling company.

The drilling company is called Ascot Resources and hails from Vancouver, British

Columbia. They own mineral rights in Skamania County’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest and they plan to drill probing holes in search of copper, gold and other minerals.

This site they plan to drill is about 12 miles south of the crater and partially within the blast zone of the famous volcanic explosion of 1980.

The plan to drill in a National Forest was received angrily by environmentalists. One group, called Gifford Pinchot Task Force,  sued Ascot in Tacoma’s federal court. Their goal is to pursue an environmental review by the U.S. Forest Service.

The group claims that allowing Ascot to drill in the forest will pollute water and destroy natural animal habitats as well as create problems with the tourism industry by interfering with the usual backpacking, hiking and fishing in that region.

They are aiming to open a public forum to get comments from citizens. Jessica Waltz, conservation director for the Giffort Pinchot Task Force, said “It’s
an important public issue, and I think the public deserves the opportunity to comment on it.”

Bob Evans, head of Ascot, responded to these claims in an email. He wrote, “Ascot’s operation is a small exploratory drill program with very limited impact. Ascot, in consultation with the USFS, has followed best practices to leave virtually no imprint on the environment.” Evans called the lawsuit frivolous.

Ascot began drilling in this area in 2010 with small exploratory holes. According to Evans, the company was encouraged by what they found and is attempting to continue their exploration.

This year they plan to drill 30 holes from 12 drilling pads for about 44,000 feet. Some of these holes will be in the same place as a hole dug last year in order to double check the accuracy of their reports.

According to Ron Freeman, a service worker at the forest, an environmental check was done internally. This check did not find Ascot’s intentions environmentally unsafe.

The environmentalists who oppose the project are of the opinion that drilling now will be a gateway for future mines. Waltz says that a copper mine in the National Park, so close to an area of considerable seismic activity, would pose a serious threat to wildlife and the natural environment.

Freeman said that Ascot’s intentions were simply to get a better idea of what minerals were there, and to decide if mining would be an economically smart idea.

Drilling around this mountain is not a new issue. Exploratory searches for copper, silver, gold and other minerals have been going on for more than 100 years, being passed from one company to another. While the government acquired ownership rights to the land in 1986, 50 percent of the mineral rights remained in the hands of private owners.

The lawsuit is still developing as the Gifford Pinchot Task Force aims to stop Ascot before drilling begins in August.