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Buried treasures

Extractive industries could hold key to Michigan’s high-tech future

Shown is an aerial view of the Tilden Mine pit and facility in National Mine. (Photo courtesy of Cleveland Cliffs, Inc.)

NEGAUNEE — State policy leaders and industry and academic experts dug deep into the importance and potential of Michigan’s abundant underground resources in building the state’s economic future during an inaugural conference on Tuesday, according to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources press release.

Hundreds of companies around the state, mostly locally based small businesses, extract oil, natural gas and minerals — metallic minerals like gold, nickel and iron ore, and nonmetallic minerals like gypsum, limestone, salt, sand, gravel and clay — from the earth.

The Governor’s Summit on Extractive Industries in East Lansing served as an opportunity to increase awareness of these industries in Michigan, encourage investment and growth in the extractive sector, protect the state’s natural resources through sound policy and build collaborative partnerships among industries, communities and government, officials stay.

Michigan’s rich geology affords the state a wealth of minerals, the release states, with each of the state’s 83 counties typically producing some kind of mineral. Industry leaders welcomed the conference as a new type of dialogue about next steps toward becoming more successful.

“Governor Snyder called for expanding Michigan’s natural resource-based economy, and the extractive industries are a key part of that,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “This summit begins an important conversation about how we can better promote responsible use of Michigan’s minerals for the long-term benefit of communities around the state.”

Since 1976, Creagh noted the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has used revenues from oil and gas development on public lands for the expansion of outdoor recreation in every part of Michigan. Those same revenues currently provide support for Michigan’s state parks system. More recent developments, like the Eagle Mine in Marquette, have delivered significant local and statewide benefits through the state’s Rural Development Fund, which directs taxes on mineral development to the support of long-term rural economic development, Creagh said.

Doug Needham, president of the Michigan Aggregates Association, said all high-tech industries including advanced battery technology, wind and solar power, autonomous cars and advance manufacturing depend on key components that come from mining and quarrying.

“Michigan has an exciting opportunity because of the diversity and abundance of raw building blocks we can produce close to all these industries,” Needham said.

State House Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, who attended the conference, said it was much needed and long overdue.

“Bringing industry leaders together to share their innovations, challenges and success stories and learn more about how they work with our state agencies was important to hear as a legislator,” Cambensy said.

The summit included: Michigan legislative leaders discussing how to ensure operators have clarity and certainty in the state’s permitting and regulatory processes; Michigan university leaders describing how Michigan colleges and universities are working to support extractive technology and prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce; state regulators offering an overview of Michigan’s stewardship program, as well as the ways they work with environmental laws to protect Michigan’s air, land and water when mineral resources are developed.

Cambensy said the summit focused on increased community education and outreach.

“As we use hundreds of products every day from the oil, gas, mining and aggregate sector, we have traditionally focused little on explaining how Michigan’s laws — some of which contain the highest standards for safety, consumer and environmental protection in our nation — safeguard the public,” Cambensy said. “There was a realization that if we aren’t communicating how we are protecting consumers and our environment, it may be easy to assume that we aren’t.”

Industry experts also examined the extractive industries’ contribution to the state’s economy, according to the release. Beyond providing direct and indirect employment, experts noted that the raw materials developed here are keys to Michigan’s past, present and future.

“We want to help communities and potential workers see the opportunities and benefits these industries bring,” said Erin McDonough, president of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association. “This starts by addressing public perceptions, and that’s what this summit is all about.”

Creagh described Tuesday’s summit as the successful first step in a sustained, long-term effort to help companies and industries in Michigan toward smart, strategic growth.

“In the same way we looked to the oil and gas sector to help support outdoor recreation through the Natural Resources Trust Fund, we now have an opportunity to grow our industries and wisely invest the proceeds from our nonrenewable commodities to help secure a better future for Michigan’s rural communities,” Creagh said.

Cambensy said the summit was a vital beginning to a necessary statewide conversation.

“In a state that prides itself on industry and manufacturing, the Governor’s Summit was a great start to where we need to be focusing our efforts,” Cambensy said.

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