1921 Molybdenum Corp. of America (later abbreviated to Molycorp) begins underground mining in the Red River Canyon east of Questa, milling 50 tons of ore per day. Miners and their families live on site in a self-contained company town.
high-grade veins of ore run out, Molycorp spends $40 million on an
open pit and new mill to process lower-grade material. The pit
yields up to 10,000 tons of ore and 30,000 tons of overburden waste
rock per day. Slurry pipes leak into the Red River, killing
1966 On the
Fourth of July weekend, a burst pipeline floods a campground - and
angry campers' tents - with several inches of tailings
one of its tailings ponds "Turquoise Lake," Molycorp stocks it with
2,000 pounds of trout and plans its formal dedication as a lake
open to the public. Hundreds of dead fish are scooped out of the
pond on the morning of the July 4 dedication, after which the lake
is permanently closed.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish reports 50 tailings pipeline
breaks in the previous five years.
Molycorp lays off 251 employees, a third of its
Molycorp lays off 100 more workers.
State of New Mexico fines Molycorp for unreported tailings spills,
which again flood a campground and pour into the Red River, killing
nearly 300 trout.
Oil of California (Unocal), the ninth largest oil company in the
world, buys Molycorp. The following month, 60 workers are
permanently laid off. By December, 340 workers strike, pointing out
that full-time employees still qualify for food stamps. Three
months later, workers settle with Molycorp.
company donates well and water rights to Questa for a new water
Winds kick up thick clouds of metal-laden dust from dried tailings
ponds, causing widespread respiratory problems. A dust storm
engulfs nearby Questa High School, shutting down a state
championship baseball game. Students march on the mine in
Molycorp proposes a controversial new tailings disposal site on
BLM-owned Guadalupe Mountain just west of Questa. Mine employment
peaks for the next three years at over 600.
the open pit no longer profitable, mining returns underground with
a new "block caving" technique. It produces up to 18,000 tons of
ore per day.
ton of tailings spills into a Questa acequia. Two days later 1.7
tons spills into the Red River.
over $40,000 for a new village administration
Molycorp lays off 150 miners, 20
percent of the workforce.
price of molybdenum plummets from $30 to $4 a pound, forcing a
shutdown that puts 475 employees out of work. A dispute rages over
the proposed Guadalupe Mountain tailings site as Molycorp threatens
not to reopen the mine until the new tailings site is
mine reopens with a 28 percent wage cut for the 230 rehired
workers, while Unocal reports second-quarter earnings at $120
million. To move students farther from tailings dust, Questa builds
a new high school on property purchased from Molycorp at
below-market value. The Guadalupe Mountain tailings site is
conditionally approved by BLM.
Molycorp is fined $125,000 after a series of pipeline spills pour
thousands of gallons of tailings down acequias
and inundate at least eight acres of farmland. A subsequent spill,
one of the largest in Molycorp's history, pours water down a mile
and a half of acequia while 14 farmers are out irrigating. The
White House tells BLM that its environmental impact statement on
the Guadalupe Mountain tailings proposal is inadequate, while
locals successfully appeal the proposal to the Interior
Unocal puts the mine up for sale. No
Molybdenum drops to $2.15 a pound, forcing another shutdown that
puts 200 employees out of work.
a park and ballfield to the village of Questa.
New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission reports the mine "has
rendered (the Red River) dead for at least eight miles."
Bravos and New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water (NMCCAW)
file a lawsuit against the mine claiming violation of the Clean
Water Act. Molybdenum rebounds to $16 a pound.
New Mexico Environment Department releases a report documenting
pollution of the Red River from Molycorp's waste rock. BLM retires
Molycorp's mining claims on Guadalupe Mountain, putting the
tailings dispute to rest.
Molycorp posts warnings about beryllium contamination on mine
restrooms and drinking fountains, and begins trucking in drinking
water. The mine temporarily lays off 68 workers due to equipment
failure. Amigos Bravos and NMCCAW lose their Clean Water Act
lawsuit against the mine.
releases report documenting pollution of the Red River from
Molycorp's waste rock. Molybdenum hits a low of $2 a
Molycorp starts the year by laying off 155 employees, 60 percent of
its workforce. Pressure mounts as the mine loses its appeal of a
groundwater discharge permit requirement for 328 million tons of
mining over 100 million tons of ore with an estimated 70 million
tons still in the ground, the mine limps along with molybdenum at
$2.55 a pound and a skeleton crew of 150. Molycorp's negotiations
with the state over mine cleanup break down, and New Mexico Gov.
Gary Johnson approves EPA's draft listing as a Superfund site.