Lithium in Paradox: aridity could nip a new #Utah mining rush in the bud — Jonatan P. Thompson @Land_Desk

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

Myriad proposals to tap lithium deposits in southeastern Utah are progressing from the conceptual to the exploratory phases. But they are running up against a familiar obstacle in these arid parts: concern about how the projects might affect diminishing water supplies in the Colorado River Basin. 

Lithium is the primary ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from cell phones to electric vehicles to grid-scale energy storage. Demand for the stuff has shot up tremendously over the last decade, which has also elevated prices. That, in turn, has sparked interest in developing a domestic lithium industry, with projects sprouting in Nevada, at the Salton Sea and Great Salt Lake, in southern New Mexico, and in the Paradox Formation in the Four Corners Country.

The Paradox Basin and Anson/A1/Blackstone’s main target areas: A. Green River Project; B. Paradox Project; C. Wayne County water rights (and possible future processing plant?).

The Paradox Formation (or Basin), stretching from the northwestern edge of the San Juan Basin up to the town of Green River, Utah, contains oodles of lithium (along with potash and bromide and so on). That’s because some 300 million years ago a sea covered the area, then evaporated, then flooded the area, then evaporated, repeating this cycle about 29 times over the course of 15 million years. The process left behind thick deposits of salts and other materials. Over the ensuing millennia, rock piled up atop the salt, squeezing it into fault lines, where the salt was pushed up into domes that shaped the overlying landscape. Those salt deposits contain lithium.

Geologic cross-section of a portion of the Paradox Basin showing a salt dome.

Companies have poked around in the Paradox Formation in search of potash for years. Now they’re going after lithium in a big way, with several firms staking claims in the Lisbon Valley and beyond. 

Anson Resources’ Paradox and Green River Projects are probably the furthest along (if investor presentations are to be believed).  The Australian company and its subsidiaries — A1 Lithium, Blackstone Minerals, and Blackstone Resources — have been staking claims fervently among the sandstone formations northwest of Moab between the Green and Colorado Rivers over the last several years, amassing more than 1,000 federal mining claims. They also acquired private land surrounding the Department of Energy’s uranium tailings disposal site on the southern edge of the town of Green River as well as securing leases on Utah state land.

Conventional lithium operations pump mineral-filled water to the surface, put it in shallow ponds, and allow the water to evaporate, concentrating the lithium and associated materials. Potash is extracted like this, as well — a complex of potash evaporation ponds near Moab have gone viral as instagram targets due to their vivid colors. This method not only requires a lot of land for the ponds, but also is water-intensive, with as much as 200,000 gallons of water evaporating for each ton of material produced. Plus, the process can produce a lot of waste and takes a long time. 

Anson plans a different approach. They say they will partner with China-based Sunresin and use that firm’s patented direct lithium extraction, or DLE, method. Anson would drill a well (or redrill an old oil and gas well), pump the brine to the surface, and use resin beads to extract the lithium from the water, without evaporation ponds. After the lithium is extracted, the water is injected back underground. That, in theory, makes it a non-consumptive use of the water, meaning it shouldn’t have as much of an effect on water supplies. 

But direct lithium extraction is a largely unproven technology, and it’s not clear that it will work in the Paradox Basin. The technique may require fresh water to be injected into the lithium deposits before pumping it to the surface, since the minerals may not be adequately saturated. In the 1950s and 1960s, a couple of facilities in Moab pumped up brine for use in the Atlas uranium mill; they had to pump fresh water into the subterranean salt beds, first, in order to dissolve the salts. Plus, any time you drill deep into the earth and remove or inject water, you’re potentially screwing with the hydrology — and even the geology. 

Paradox Valley via

This has been shown in the oil and gas fields, where “produced water,” or wastewater left over from the drilling and extraction process, is often reinjected deep underground. The process has induced seismic activity, or triggered earthquakes, in the Permian Basin and elsewhere. During the coalbed methane drilling boom in the San Juan Basin in the 1990s, all sorts of weirdness occurred, from methane flowing from water taps to a freshwater spring suddenly becoming hotter — all likely the result of pumping billions of gallons of water from the coal beds to “liberate” the methane, and then shooting it back into the ground. And in the Paradox Basin, a project that captures salt before it can enter the Dolores River and then injects it 16,000 feet underground (to keep Colorado River salinity levels in check) also triggered tremors in western Colorado. 

In other words, while direct lithium extraction could be a “game changer” for the industry, making it feasible to commercially extract lithium from geothermal brines under the Salton Sea, for example, many unknowns remain about the technology in general and this proposal specifically.  

What we do know is that Anson is looking to secure a bunch of water for its operations. Their water right applications seek:

Dead Horse State Park panorama via the State of Utah.
  • 19 cfs (13,755 acre-feet or 4.5 billion gallons per year) from wells located on Utah state land north of Dead Horse Point state park. The brine presumably would then be piped to a processing plant near the Colorado River, the lithium would be extracted, and the wastewater injected back underground. Intrepid Potash, the National Park Service, and a coalition of environmental groups protested the application, in part for its lack of detail and because, well, there really isn’t any extra water available.

Green River Basin
  • Another 19 cfs from several 8,000- to 9,000-foot deep wells on the south end of Green River adjacent to the uranium tailings depository. After extracting the lithium from a plant on this property, they would inject the wastewater into 5,000- to 7,000-foot deep wells. The Bureau of Reclamation protested this application because of its close proximity to the Green River and the potential to affect surface water supplies and quality. They also worry about direct lithium extraction, writing: “Data shows the success of DLE is hard to predict, consumes both freshwater and brine water, contaminates aquifers, reduces the groundwater table, hurts wildlife, worsens soil conditions …” Ooof.

Hollow Mountain Store, Hanksville, Utah. By Bandgirl807 (talk) – I created this work entirely by myself., CC BY 3.0,
  • And they leased 2,500 acre-feet (814 million gallons) per year from the Wayne County Water Conservancy District. This water may be used for processing, but it’s not clear where, yet. Anson has indicated it could have processing facilities in Green River and on the Colorado River below Moab, neither of which is near Wayne County (home of Hanksville). Perhaps they also plan on having a processing plant there.

The water rights applications are still pending.

For more information, check out John Weisheit’s post for, the website of the Canyonlands Watershed Council.

Research by Kyle Roerink of the Great Basin Water Network informed this report.

An antiquated law rules mining in the West — @HighCountryNews

Click the link to read the article on the HIgh Country News website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

In October 2022, Canada-based Atomic Minerals Corporation announced it had “acquired by staking” more than 6,500 acres of public land on Harts Point in southeastern Utah, a sandstone mesa just outside Bears Ears National Monument that’s bordered on one side by Indian Creek, a popular rock-climbing area. The company’s word choice was a bit off: It didn’t actually acquire the land, it merely secured the right to exploit it: to mine it by locating — or staking — 324 lode claims. 

Atomic Minerals didn’t need to get a permit from regulators or inform the public in order to do this. Nor did it have to consult with the tribal nations that had unsuccessfully urged the Obama administration to include Harts Point in Bears Ears. Nope; the uranium mining company’s American subsidiary merely needed to file the locations with the Bureau of Land Management and pay $225 per claim in processing, filing and maintenance fees. The BLM then gave the company the preliminary go-ahead to do exploratory drilling on the land, once again without public notice or rigorous review.

If the corporation decides to go forward with mining, the proposal will become subject to environmental analysis. But once it obtains the relevant permits, Atomic Minerals is free to ravage Harts Point and yank uranium and other minerals belonging to all Americans out of the ground, without paying a cent in royalties.

If this sounds like a scenario right out of the 19th century, that’s because it is. Hardrock mineral exploration on public lands is governed by the General Mining Law of 1872, which makes “all valuable mineral deposits” in public lands “free and open to exploration.” The law hasn’t fundamentally changed in 151 years, making it one of the most persistent of what the late scholar Charles Wilkinson dubbed the “Lords of Yesterday,” the old and obsolete laws governing natural resource use and extraction.

Over the past couple of years, companies have staked a slew of new claims on public lands. The current land rush mirrors that of the late 1800s, when corporations used the law to profit from places like the Red Mountain region of Colorado, where the mining legacy lives on in the form of tainted water and torn-up landscapes. Only this time, they’re going after more than gold and silver; they also want the so-called “green metals” — the lithium, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements used in electric vehicles and other clean energy applications. At the same time, a recent push to start building advanced nuclear reactors appears to be rousing the domestic uranium mining industry from its decades-long slumber. 

That, in turn, has sparked a new push from lawmakers, environmentalists and the Biden administration to finally bring federal mining law into the 21st century. But can this Lord of Yesterday really be deposed? Or will corporate greed, profit and political inertia once again use their influence and money to prop up this rusty old framework?   

Map: The Barry Lawrence Ruderman Map Collection/Stanford University Libraries

Prospectors flocked to the Red Mountain Mining District in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the 1880s and 1890s, staking claims on the iron-rich red-orange slopes that give the place its name.

The only thing a claimant needed was evidence that some minerals were present and the willingness to do $100 worth of work annually. Today, claimants merely have to pay an annual maintenance fee of $165 per claim in order to keep it active.

Most of these were 10-acre lode claims that follow a mineral vein. A few larger placer claims can also be seen on this map; they were usually staked along riverbeds for extracting minerals from gravel or sand. Scattered amid the chaos are also smaller mill sites, which are claims on non-mineral lands used to build mills or dispose of tailings.

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

The typical claimant back then was an individual, like Olaf Arvid Nelson, who staked the Gold King claim over the hill from here in 1887. (It was the site of a notorious disaster in 2015.) Claimants then usually leased or sold their claims to corporations or investors with resources to develop the mine.

Then, as now, corporations could pull unlimited quantities of minerals from their claims without paying a cent of royalties to the minerals’ actual owner — the American public. This amounts to a subsidy of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, mostly to multinational corporations. No one knows exactly how much, because no one keeps track of mineral production from federal lands.

The 1872 General Mining Law allows claimants to patent, or acquire, clear title to their claims, for a paltry fee just five years after staking it. This provision encouraged the privatization of thousands of acres of public lands, resulting in a chaotic land-ownership pattern — and headaches for local officials — in former mining zones like Red Mountain.

Then, in 1994, Congress put a moratorium on all new land patents. But it did so without changing the law itself, meaning that lawmakers must renew the moratorium on a yearly basis. Meanwhile, companies continue to stake and mine un-patented claims under the 151-year-old law.

The General Mining Law of 1872 contains no environmental provisions and no reclamation requirements, so corporations can simply walk away from their mines once they’re no longer profitable. Hundreds of thousands of legacy mining sites now dot the Western U.S.; many of them have never been cleaned up and continue to spew acid mine drainage into streams. Most of the claims on this map were part of the Idarado Mine Colorado Superfund cleanup in the 1990s.

Mining law by the numbers

11.36 million
Acres of public land staked with active mining claims at the end of the 2022 fiscal year. This is a 932,000-acre increase from the previous year. 

Number of active mining claims covering nearly 6 million acres of federal land in Nevada at the end of FY 2021.

Number of active mining claims on federal land in Nevada as of June 12, 2023, an increase of nearly 40,000 in just 18 months.

Minimum number of active mining claims staked within Bears Ears National Monument since 2016. These claims were located either in the months just before the national monument was established, or after it had been shrunk by then-President Donald Trump but before President Joe Biden restored the boundaries. National monument status bars new mining claims, but does not affect existing ones like these.

$34.4 billion
Value of non-fuel mineral production in 2019 on all lands in 12 Western states.

Amount of that mineral production extracted from federal lands. The number is unknown because federal agencies do not track production. Earthworks, a mining watchdog group, has estimated that $2 billion to $3 billion worth of minerals is extracted from public lands annually.

12.5% to 18.75%
Royalty rate on oil, natural gas and coal extracted from public lands.

$14.8 billion
Royalties paid on oil and gas production from federal lands in 2022.

Royalties paid on hardrock minerals extracted from mining claims on public land, including copper, gold, silver, lithium, uranium and various “green metals,” between 1872 and 2023.

SOURCES: Bureau of Land Management, Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service, Earthworks, Center for American Progress

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became the Battlefront of American Public Lands. 

Abnormal snow conditions in the San Juan Mountains near Red Mountain Pass, January 2018. Photo: John Hammond/CSU

Is ‘responsible’ mining possible?:  A conversation with the director of IRMA — The Land Desk @Land_Desk

Mining Monitor

I’ve got to admit that when someone suggested I talk to the director of a global initiative that has developed standards for “responsible” mining, I was a bit skeptical. Conceptually I get it, but whenever I try to imagine an environmentally “responsible” mine, visions of the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah come to mind — the largest human-made excavation on earth where more than 1,000 tons of explosives are used daily to blast loose about 150,000 tons of copper-bearing ore. How can that kind of destruction ever be labeled environmentally or socially “responsible?”

The Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

So I hopped onto a Zoom call a few months ago and put the question to Aimee Boulanger, executive director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, or IRMA, which, according to its mission statement, offers “true independent third-party verification and certification against a comprehensive standard for all mined materials.” 

It turns out Boulanger was initially even more doubtful than me. “I hated the idea when I first heard it,” Boulanger said, and even refused to take part in it. At the time she was working for Earthworks, a mining and oil and gas watchdog group, one stop in a now three-decade-long career in environmental and health advocacy. She thought the global mining industry was so far gone that a certification system would only serve to greenwash bad behavior. 

But, crucially, it wasn’t the mining industry looking to clean up its image that catalyzed the effort, but rather the companies that buy mined materials wanting to do so responsibly. Tiffany, for example, did not want to support or be associated with blood diamonds. So its CEO at the time went to Earthworks, hoping the NGO would be able to direct him to more responsible suppliers. They didn’t, but the request indicated a need for such a service, something analogous to the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries.

Such a system, if implemented correctly, helps consumers — or downstream purchasers in this case — make informed choices about sourcing materials for their products. Maybe all mining is somewhat destructive, but if you have to buy copper or gold or lithium to make your business run, wouldn’t it be better to buy it from a more responsible operator? An independent audit can also incentivize mining companies to use best practices rather than running roughshod over the land, water, and communities. 

So in 2006, representatives from NGOs, including Earthworks, companies that purchase minerals, affected communities, mining companies, and labor unions came together to form IRMA. By the time Boulanger — having come around to the idea — joined up in 2011, the disparate group was still arguing over the meaning of “responsible mining.” They wouldn’t even bother with designing a logo or building a website until they found consensus on the basic principles. Most members assumed it would be impossible to get environmental groups on the same page as mining companies. 

But with Boulanger’s help they were able to create 10 principle points of engagement, which enabled them to formulate a draft charter laying out what “responsible” means when applied to a mining operation. In 2014, they sent out their standards internationally and field tested them at the Stillwater platinum and palladium mine in Montana. They began actual audits shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit and paused everything. Now they’re back at it.

By this point in the conversation I had become convinced that with enough buy-in, IRMA could push for major improvements in the way mining companies do business, especially in areas where government regulations are weak — like on U.S. public lands. But I was still a bit blurry on one big point, so I asked Boulanger: “What, exactly, does responsible mining look like?”

There isn’t a simple or short answer. IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining is now more than two-dozen chapters and hundreds of pages long. “Here’s this 26 chapters, that span everything from resettling community, to pre-informed consent with Indigenous communities, to water and waste management,” Boulanger said. It covers noise and vibration, mercury and cyanide management, worker safety, and cultural heritage.

To even get on the scoring board, so to speak, the mine must meet 40 critical requirements. Dumping waste into natural bodies of water is a virtual deal-killer. Getting consent from the community is mandatory. Then the mine — not the company — is scored based on how many additional standards it achieves. Anglo American’s Unki platinum mine in Zimbabwe, for example, met the 40 requirements plus 75% of the additional standards and received an IRMA score of 75

Initially the organization worked on a pass-fail system, as do most analogous organizations in other industries. This proved problematic when dealing with existing, legacy mines, which might find it easier to get a passing grade by constructing a new mine rather than upgrade the existing one — which isn’t the goal, obviously. So IRMA shifted to a scoring system, instead, because it leaves room for a mine to improve. 

“If you’re a new mine, you should be able to demonstrate that you’re 100%,” Boulanger said. “But if you’re a legacy mine like Bingham Canyon? It’s better to make Bingham Canyon better than cutting a new hole that is perfect.”

Not all mines are eligible for consideration. IRMA members from the labor sector wanted thermal coal to be included, because the average coal miner has been left behind and underground and in the dark. But the environmental sector pushed back, saying that labeling even the best coal mine “responsible” would further enable coal burning, which is fundamentally irresponsible. Same goes for uranium, Boulanger said. “There are too many ‘risk points’ between cradle and grave,” she added. “Even if you say it (nuclear power) is a low greenhouse gas emissions source, it doesn’t count all of the other stuff.”

Coal and uranium mining companies can use IRMA’s self-assessment tool internally to grade themselves and find areas to improve. But they can’t make their score public or use IRMA’s name to burnish their image. And Earthworks’ continued involvement in the Initiative helps ensure industry can’t hijack the certification process for their own ends.

Since its inception, IRMA’s focus has shifted toward so-called “green metals” — e.g. graphite, lithium, rare earths, nickel, and cobalt — that are used in electric vehicles, batteries, and other clean energy applications. Six carmakers have now joined IRMA as members as they look to source these materials more responsibly. 

A large-scale evaporation pond at the Silver Peak lithium mine on Oct. 6, 2022. The evaporation process can take a year and a half to complete. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Some of the new lithium mining proposals may have a tough time getting on IRMA’s scoreboard, however. Consent from the community, especially the Indigenous community, is paramount. And tribal nations are opposing some of the largest lithium proposals — Thacker Pass in Nevada, for example. “Let’s say you have an average of 68% in all the chapters but did not have Indigenous consent,” Boulanger said. “You’re not going to get the IRMA 50 award.”

“It’s a train wreck right now,” she said. “You’ve got all these industries looking for materials and you’ve got these communities saying, ‘Hell no!’” 

The mining land rush is on: Lithium and uranium claims are staded en masse in southeastern Utah — @Land_Desk

Sign in the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

In the spring of 1951, a 31-year-old Texan geologist by the name of Charlie Steen staked 11 mining claims in the Lisbon Valley in southeastern Utah. He was guided to the spot not by a Geiger counter’s reading—he couldn’t afford one of those—but by intuition and his geological knowledge. He was convinced that the Valley, which follows a salt anticline between Moab and Monticello, contained rich uranium ore some 200 feet below the surface.

Steen finally was able to rustle up the funds to explore the claims in July of the following year. And as he drilled into the earth on his Mi Vida claim, he hit a dark gray rock: It turned out to be pitchblende, or high grade uranium ore.

Steen would ultimately become a millionaire, his find would lure prospectors from all over the nation to the Colorado Plateau, and Moab would be transformed from a sleepy Mormon town with a touch of tourism to a boisterous uranium boom town where, according to one account, millionaires were sleeping in Cadillacs and offering hundreds of dollars for lodging in the county jail.

Credit: The Land Desk

As demand for the minerals used in electric vehicles and other clean energy application soars and federal efforts to bolster domestic supply chains intensify, prospectors are again converging on the Western U.S. in search of the next big find. Some are sampling subterranean brines for lithium, others are reviving old copper mines, and still others—banking on geopolitical tensions driving up the price of uranium—are going after their own Mi Vida-like strike.

Passage from a story in the Moab Times-Independent, July 1956, referring to the way the Steen-inspired prospecting frenzy died off within a few years because making millions off uranium mining proved more difficult than it appeared from afar.

To get a sense of if and how this rush might be playing out in the Four Corners region, the Land Desk delved into a year’s worth of new mining claims staked in southeastern Utah and western Colorado. I limited the geographical scope so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of claims, which turned out to be a wise choice: More than 1,200 mining claims were filed with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah’s San Juan and Grand Counties alone over the past 12 months.

My research led me to two conclusions. One is that in a sort of rerun of the 1950s, the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah will be a focal point for this 21st century land rush. The other is that Bears Ears National Monument were restored just in the nick of time, as many of the new claims push right up against its boundaries.

While a few individual mining claims were staked, most of the filings were in bulk, where a single claimant located as many as 500 claims at one time. I focused on those for this report. Let’s get into the biggest ones filed between Oct. 13, 2021 and Oct. 13, 2022:


Recoupment Exploration Co. LLC—a wholly owned subsidiary of Atomic Minerals Corporation—filed 324 claims totaling 6,500 acres on Harts Point, which borders Indian Creek outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The tribal nations that originally proposed the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument wanted Harts Point to be included. But the Obama administration ultimately left it out, most likely as a concession to uranium and oil and gas interests. Now it forms a sort of peninsula of un-protected land reaching into the national monument where mining claims and oil and gas leasing can continue. In an Atomic Minerals press release, CEO Clive Massey remarked: “The Harts Point area is an excellent exploration target. We staked the ground based on historical drill data indicating Chinle Formation sandstones with significant gamma ray kicks in three holes … ”

White Canyon Uranium LLC filed 33 lode claims of 20.66 acres each on Wingate Mesa in San Juan County, Utah, just southwest of Fry Canyon. These claims lie just outside Bears Ears National Monument. This is another area that was proposed for national monument protection but did not receive it.

While White Canyon Uranium lists a Salt Lake City law firm’s address on its claim filings, it appears to be a branch of Consolidated Uranium (which in August 2021 registered CUR White Canyon Uranium, LLC with the state of Utah). Canada-based Consolidated Uranium, according to its website, recently “completed a transformational strategic acquisition and alliance with Energy Fuels Inc. … and acquired a portfolio of permitted, past-producing conventional uranium and vanadium mines in Utah and Colorado.”

That acquisition included the Daneros Mine, which is in the same area as the new claims. Energy Fuels runs the White Mesa Mill and lobbied both the Obama and Trump administrations to move or shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

Consolidated Uranium Sage Plain LLC filed 84 lode claims at 20.66 acres each in San Juan County. These are mostly on a mesa between Monticello and the Lisbon Valley and seem to be aimed at adding acreage to an existing Sage Plain and Rim Mine projects. Consolidated Uranium, which is allied with Energy Fuels, also owns the Tony M Mine at the foot of the Henry Mountains and the Daneros Mine in the White Canyon area. 

Clean Nuclear Energy Corp stakes 300 lode claims, each 20.66 acres, in San Juan County, for a total of 6,219 acres. The claims are on Wray Mesa, which is on the southern toe of the La Sal Mountains near the community of La Sal. A few months after the claims were filed, Basin Uranium entered into a letter of intent to acquire 100% interest in the Wray Mesa project. In its news release, Basin noted: “The Property is contiguous to and adjoins Energy Fuel’s fully-permitted and production-ready La Sal projects which includes a number of past-producing uranium and vanadium mines.” Energy Fuels owns the White Mesa Mill. The Vancouver-based company announced in September they received permits to begin exploratory drilling at the project.

Kimmerle Mining LLC out of Moab, which gained notoriety for staking uranium mining claims within Bears Ears National Monument after Trump shrunk the boundaries, filed 47 claims in San Juan and Grand Counties. The claims are scattered about, and some seem to be following or anticipating some of the big bulk claims noted here. At least one is on the northeast slope of the La Sal Mountains, others are west of the town of La Sal, and still others are in the Lisbon Valley. Kimmerle has claims all over the area and has leased some out and worked others in the past.


Boxscore Brands of Las Vegas, Nevada, file 102 placer claims, at 20 acres each (2,040 acres total) in the Lisbon Valley in San Juan County, Utah. Boxscore Brands is “An American Lithium and New Energy Company” that is looking to extract lithium—used in EV and grid-scale batteries—from ancient subterranean brine deposits. They say their method is “environmentally friendly.” They are probably referring to a form of direct lithium extraction, which pulls geothermal brine from deep underground, filters out the lithium, then re-injects the water. The method requires no strip-mining or evaporation ponds.

The claims were staked for its Lisbon Valley Project, which is in the pre-exploration stages. The company’s website notes: “This asset provides access to the targeted brine deposits. Historical data show a substantial commercially viable concentration of lithium brine.” Read the technical report for the project.

The oil and gas industry is also active in the Lisbon Valley and a copper mine is being revived there, too.

Blackstone Resources Corp. of Midvale, Utah, filed 294 lode claims, at 20.66 acres each, between Moab and Green River south of Dead Horse Point in Grand County. We weren’t able to find much reliable information on Blackstone, in part because it’s a very common name for companies. But it shares a Las Vegas address with A1 Lithium, which is the same as Anson Resources, which recently embarked on a lithium exploration project in the same area. These claims appear to add to existing claims owned by A1/Anson that are part of its Paradox Basin Lithium Project. Anson’s plan can be found here. The odd thing is that these lithium projects typically file placer claims, not lode claims.


American Potash LLC (based in Vancouver BC) filed128 placer claims in Grand County, Utah, between Moab and Green River. These claims are an extension of the company’s Green River Project.

Potash evaporation ponds in the red rock outside Moab, Utah. Source: Google Earth.

Geobrines International filed 18 claims in Grand County, Utah, near the town of Thompson Springs (which is right off of I-70). Geobrines is a Colorado-based company that says it specializes in providing geothermally sourced brines for use for minerals extraction and geothermal energy applications. Plus, they do something with carbon capture and sequestration. I’m guessing they’re looking to do some lithium extraction on these claims.


By my estimates, this adds up to more than 20,000 acres of public land that has been “claimed” by corporations for potential mining. But it’s not a reason to panic. At least not yet. It’s so easy and cheap ($165 maintenance fee) to stake a mining claim, thanks to the 1872 Mining Law that still applies, that companies or individuals can literally do so just for the heck of it. And they can’t do much without getting permits first.

That said, this apparent land rush on lithium- and uranium-bearing lands is an indicator in where the industry may be headed (more mining) and which regions it may be targeting (the West). It’s a wake-up call, in other words.

But it’s also incomplete. I found very few new claims in western Colorado, even in the Uravan Mineral Belt. That’s not due to a lack of interest. To the contrary, much of the prime mining land there has already been claimed and even patented, so it can’t be claimed again (only bought or sold, which is something that wouldn’t appear in BLM records). Also, uranium-bearing lands have been withdrawn from the public domain and put under the Department of Energy’s leasing program—those lands can’t be “claimed” under the 1872 Mining Law.

The most emphatic conclusion here is that the 1872 Mining Law should be scrapped and replaced with modern regulations. It’s unconscionable that an individual or corporation can simply claim public land without any advance notice, opportunity for public comment, or tribal consultation and that it can be done for a measly $165. It’s illogical and unfair that companies can rip open the land, extract and profit off Americans’ minerals, and not pay a cent in royalties. Even the inadequate 122-year-old Mineral Leasing Act, which governs oil and gas and coal development on public lands, is an improvement.

A modern mining upsurge is already underway. Isn’t it time to bring mining regulations into the 21st century?

The front sign of the White Mesa Mill located south of Blanding, Utah. It is a uranium ore processing facility operated by Energy Fuels Resources. Photograph taken on 2019-01-22T19:36:57Z. Steven Baltakatei Sandoval – Own work

U.S. mining sites dump 50 million gallons of fouled #wastewater daily — PBS

Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

Click the link to read the article on the PBS website (Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

Perpetual pollution

Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

  • In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.
  • At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.
  • In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.
    This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.
  • #GlenwoodSprings is spending $1.2M in tax money on a public affairs campaign to fight a mine above town — The #Colorado Sun

    Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    The city is assembling a war chest to ward off an “existential crisis” stemming from a politically connected company, Rocky Mountain Resources, that wants to expand a limestone mine just above Glenwood Springs’ famous hot springs

    “I don’t think citizens have a problem with us spending their money on health and safety issues for things that are a threat to our town. And this proposal, this is 100% a threat to our town. It’s a threat to everything we are,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said about the city’s new publicly funded advertising and media campaign to block a politically connected mine owner from exponentially expanding an open-pit limestone quarry just above the city’s hot springs.

    The historic resort city has directed $250,000 toward the fight to stop the expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry and put another $1 million in a reserve war chest. And Glenwood Springs leaders have gathered unprecedented support for its first public affairs campaign targeting a business, with council members, trustees and commissioners from every municipality in Pitkin and Garfield counties unanimously backing the fight to block the mine expansion.

    The resolutions the city has gathered in recent months come from the Pitkin County commissioners as well as trustees and council members from Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen and Snowmass Village. Every community vote was unanimous…

    Garfield County’s commissioners have not formally issued a resolution opposing the mine, but the board is defending lawsuits filed in both state and federal court by the mine’s owner, Rocky Mountain Resources, which argues the county’s enforcement of the mine’s county permit conflicts with state and federal permitting. The resolutions passed by Glenwood Springs’ neighbors demand that RMR comply with those local regulations.

    “It’s really cool and it’s really wonderful that these other municipalities are coming to help us,” said Steve Beckley, the owner of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which is adjacent to the proposed expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry. “When a mine owner sues a county and says you don’t have jurisdiction over us even though we are in your backyard, I hope that everybody in this state stands up and takes notice. This could be a precedent that impacts everywhere in Colorado.”

    RMR, which has owned the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry since 2016, wants to expand its federal permit with the Bureau of Land Management from 15.7 acres to 447 acres, with mining of chemical-grade limestone and dolomite on 320 acres within that boundary.

    The proposal calls for RMR to increase its now-seasonal operations, which are prohibited from Dec. 15 to Apr. 15 and produce up to 60,000 tons of limestone products a year, to a 20-year, year-round operation that would produce 5 million tons of limestone products a year. The proposal seeks BLM permission to use as many as 30 semi-trucks, each making 15 to 20 daily round-trips from the mill down the unpaved Transfer Trail road to a riverside railyard.

    The BLM is pursuing an intensive Environmental Impact Statement review of the Mid-Continent expansion plan, but the likely years-long process is just beginning and public comment is months away.

    But the communities around the mine are preparing residents for that comment period, hoping the public campaign can sway the BLM to reject the proposal.

    In addition to concerns over visibility, truck traffic and potential disruption of the flow of geothermal water that feeds the town’s hot springs, opponents of the mine fret that RMR’s owner, Chad Brownstein, has deep political connections that could greenlight the expansion despite opposition.

    Interior Secretary David Bernhardt once lobbied on behalf of oil and gas clients for Brownstein’s father’s influential Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

    The ultimate decision for the mine expansion will fall to Bernhardt, who is under investigation for influencing policy that benefited California’s Westlands Water District, which was his largest client as a lobbyist.

    “Are we worried about the failure of the BLM to listen to the concerns of the community and follow the law? Yes we are and we should be. Some of the lawyers and lobbyists at the Brownstein firm working on this plan are former BLM officials. The revolving door is spinning wildly on this one,” said Matt Ward, an environmental lawyer whose Washington, D.C.-based Sustainable Strategies DC is helping Glenwood Springs plan its campaign…

    The proposed expansion of the Mid-Contintent Limestone Quarry above Glenwood Springs by the politically connected Rocky Mountain Resources has spurred the city to create a taxpayer funded campaign against the plan. The mine’s existing footprint of roughly 16 acres is in yellow and the proposed expansion is in red. Photo credit: City of Glenwood Springs via The Colorado Sun

    In April, Garfield County’s commissioners held a public hearing and found RMR was not in compliance with the county’s special-use permit last amended in 2010, citing five issues:

    * The mine’s federal, state and county permits authorized chemical-grade limestone dust, but RMR was supplying road base and construction materials.

    * The quarry operated between Dec. 15 and April 15, when operations are not permitted.

    * The mine’s operators expanded to almost 21 acres but the county permit allows operations on only about 16 acres.

    * The mine’s exploratory drilling, allowed under a BLM permit, was not authorized by the county permit.

    * Mine traffic on Transfer Trail was violating conditions of the county permit.

    The commissioners gave RMR until June 1 to correct the permit violations. (The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has approved the operation’s boundary of 38 acres and in 2017 reported the mine was in compliance with its rules.)

    In May, less than two weeks before the county’s deadline, Rocky Mountain Resources sued Garfield County commissioners, arguing the county does not have the authority to enforce the permit.

    The lawsuits urged both courts to stop the county’s permit enforcement, saying the county’s Notice of Violation conflicted with not just federal and state permits, but the General Mining Act of 1872. The fight hinges on that 147-year-old legislation. RMR says it is mining “locatable minerals,” which federal law dating to 1872 encourages with lesser regulation, smaller taxes and easier access to public lands. But RMR’s Mid-Continent mine has historically produced minerals the legislation describes as “common,” like basic limestone and aggregate, which requires stricter regulation and bigger severance tax payments to the federal government and local communities.

    Grand Junction U.S. District Court Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in late September suspended the federal lawsuit while the state court mulled the case…

    The lawsuit is now winding through state court.

    The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety last month contacted RMR asking about the Garfield County Special Use Permit and what the company was doing to resolve “potential noncompliance issues.”

    Last week the company’s attorneys replied to the division, noting the lawsuits and saying the county “has not acknowledged preemption of state and federal law.” RMR’s attorney David McConaughy, with Garfield & Hecht, said Garfield County won’t act on its list of violations until the federal case is resolved and since the federal case has been stayed, the county’s Notice of Violation “will not be enforced and will have no impact on RMR’s operations for at least several months.”

    McConaughy also said RMR is applying for a new special-use permit from Garfield County…

    RMR also is asking the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division for air quality permits allowing its Mid-Continent mine to expand its current air quality permit limit on limestone production to 800,000 tons a year from 400,000 tons.

    The required Air Pollutant Emissions Notice applications detail air quality mitigation plans for blasting, crushing, screening and moving as much as 3.9 million tons of limestone products for 10 hours a day, 250 days a year. The air quality permit request documents mitigation efforts for 64 daily round-trips by 34-ton trucks on unpaved roads for 10 hours a day, 365 days a year. The request included a check for $573.39 for processing the notice applications.

    50 truck trips an hour

    The potential for as many as 600 truck trips up and down the unpaved Transfer Trail between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the year — that’s 50 trips an hour, according to the BLM application — ranks among the most troubling issues for residents of Glenwood Springs.

    Equally troublesome is RMR’s more recent request for the BLM to allow drilling of five wells — between 125- and 250-feet deep — to study water quality and hydrology around the mine as part of a baseline to anchor the BLM’s environmental review of the proposed expansion. RMR is asking the BLM to exclude the monitoring wells from more intensive environmental review.

    That proposal drew 250 comments that the BLM is reviewing, agency spokesman David Boyd said.

    Glenwood Springs residents fear the wells could disrupt the delicate geothermal network that feeds the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and the newer Iron Mountain Hot Springs, two of the city’s top tourist attractions…

    Garfield County’s three commissioners want the BLM to include the drilling of the water-monitoring wells in a comprehensive environmental review to safeguard the hot springs, which they described in a letter to the BLM sent last month as “the lifeblood and economic engine” of the community…

    More than 200 Roaring Fork Valley businesses have signed a petition protesting the planned expansion, Peterson said…

    Mining for highly valuable, or “locatable” minerals is regulated less tightly and allows for smaller severance taxes paid to local communities. That part of the 1872 mining law was designed to encourage mining for valuable minerals on public land. RMR is arguing its mining of chemical-grade limestone for high-end concrete and dolomite falls under the 1872 legislation’s “locatable minerals” protections.

    But opponents of the plan say the mine is producing common minerals, which require stricter regulation and heftier payments. Residents and city leaders have collected sales receipts showing the company is selling aggregate, or road base, for local projects, like Glenwood Springs’ new bridge spanning the Colorado River.

    Mining industry water #pollution: “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer” — Amanda Goodin

    From The Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated, The Associated Press has found.

    That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

    The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

    Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines.

    The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon (76-million-liter) daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks.

    The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

    At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump…


    In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can’t drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.

    The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents’ yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek…

    Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.

    Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.


    Problems at some sites are intractable.

    Among them:

    — In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.

    — At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.

    — In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.

    This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.

    State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups…


    To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.

    Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another…

    Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.

    The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.

    Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems…

    In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don’t end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.

    “When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn’t mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer.”

    Congressional mining reform legislation update

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    From the Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury News:

    Among proposals to reform the 1872 Mining Law are plans to implement royalties on mining profits for the first time and reclamation fees for cleaning up abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had testified to a Senate committee in July 2009 that he wanted reform that protects mining, protects the environment and provides for the cleanup of such mines. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is shepherding the broadest plan, which calls for an adjusted 2 percent to 5 percent royalty after transportation and processing costs are taken out. It also gives the Interior Department more discretion on environmental matters and calls for the money raised under the bill to be used for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. The proposal has the support of a number of conservation groups, including the Washington D.C.-based Earthworks. Cathy Carlson, an adviser to Earthworks, said Bingaman told conservationists who recently met with him that he hoped to move the bill out of committee in April…

    Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado, and Rob Bishop, of Utah, have introduced a good Samaritan bill that allows mining companies and nonprofit organizations to clean up old mines without liability for old environmental damage. Bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., also focus on abandoned mine provisions. Carlson said Udall’s bill, which reduces cleanup liability under the Clean Water Act, has “broad support.”[…]

    Lamborn and Bishop’s proposal calls for a 2 percent net proceeds royalty on new mines on public land, an approach that leaders of the National Mining Association believe is a better fit with mining industry interests. Eklund-Brown said she emphasized in NBC interview yet to air that any royalty must be industry-specific and not compared with those paid by industries such as oil and gas.

    More General Mining Act of 1872 coverage here, S.1777 coverage here, S.787 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.

    S. 1777: Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009

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    This video about Good Samaritan cleanups has been making the rounds in the blogosphere. Click through and watch it. It takes about 6 minutes.

    More S. 1777 coverage here.

    S. 796 Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: U.S. Senator Bennet signs on as co-sponsor

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    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    The Colorado Democrat said Thursday that he’s joining Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to reform rules covering the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other minerals. The bill would assess royalties on hard-rock mining on public land for the first time at rates of 2 percent to 5 percent. The proposal also would eliminate the ability to buy public land for mining for as little as $2.50 an acre. It would require reviewing whether some public land should be off-limits to development.

    More S. 796 coverage here.

    ASARCO parent Grupo Mexico ponies up $1.79 billion for mining cleanup

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    From the Environmental News Service:

    ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that mines and processes primarily copper. Parent corporation Grupo Mexico is providing the $1.79 billion to resolve the ASARCO’s environmental liabilities from operations that contaminated land, water and wildlife resources on federal, state, tribal and private land in 19 states. “Through this historic settlement, the American public is compensated for the damage and loss of natural resources resulting from ASARCO’s past mining, smelting and refining operations,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Were it not for this agreement, these injured resources would either remain impaired for future generations or require taxpayer expenditures to achieve environmental restoration.” The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at the more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states, said federal officials…

    The contaminated Superfund sites are in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

    More superfund coverage here.

    Uncompahgre River: ‘Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed’ December 11

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    From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

    The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership will be hosting a daylong workshop titled “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” on Friday, Dec. 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center. Various representatives from state and local organizations will be attending the workshop, which will focus on reclamation activities and abandoned mine lands in the upper Uncompahgre watershed. The workshop’s organizer, Andrew Madison, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer working in Ridgway to develop a mine reclamation strategy for abandoned mine lands in the watershed, said that while there has already been a lot of mine reclamation work completed in the area, the work has just begun…

    The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership is a volunteer group seeking to involve citizens and organizations in the Uncompahgre watershed. Its mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Uncompahgre River through coordinated community and agency efforts. “I am really looking forward to the workshop,” Madison said. “I have had a great response so far and I am looking forward to getting people to talk to each other on these issues.” For more information about “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” contact Madison at 413/297-7232 or at

    More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.

    S.1777 and S.796: What do the bills mean for acid mine drainage cleanup efforts?

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    From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

    …toxic waterways around the state and country — are at the center of a legislative tug of war. So-called Good Samaritan laws seek to lift liability so clean-up work can begin. Those laws, however, are opposed by environmentalists who argue they might erode the strong federal Clean Water Act. The better approach, they say, is to make mining companies pay to properly clean up the messes they have made and are making by revamping the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, which has let the extraction industry off the hook for more than a century…

    Proponents of Udall’s Good Samaritan legislation, however, argue that the legislation is not meant to substitute for the new 1872 Mining Law reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by fellow Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a bill that would at last set up severance taxes to pay for cleanups. Good Sam legislation, they argue, is a necessary corollary to Bingaman’s legislation. “You need all the pieces,” said Peter Butler of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Even if you did set up a fund with severance taxes, you’ve got to have someone who is going to use that money, and they’re not willing to use it if they’re going to be liable.”[…]

    DRMS Abandoned Mine Program Manager Loretta Pineda said fear of legal liability is real and a major stopping point in clean up projects. Pineda said the state is stymied by fear of incurring the Clean Water Act financial burdens that currently faces any third party that would take it upon itself to drain an abandoned mine. “There are several projects we’d like to work on, but we’re unable to do so because of liability,” said Pineda flatly.

    In the Animas River Watershed, the Animas River Stakeholders Group has determined that of the 1,500 historic mine sites contributing cadmium, copper, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lead and iron to the watershed, about 34 waste sites contribute roughly 90 percent of the waste-site pollution, and about 33 draining mines contribute 90 percent of the draining-mine pollution. Bill Simon, a member of the group, explained that the group can address the waste sites without incurring liability, because no water is involved. But work on most of the 33 draining mines — apart from 5 addressed by a mining company and several that are on federal land — await some kind of liability waiver, said Simon. Even if the group had funding, neither the Animas River Stakeholders Group nor any other agency is willing to risk being sued for a problem not of their making, according to Simon.

    More S.1777 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.

    Colorado will score $42 million from ASARCO reorganization plan

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    From the Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):

    A Texas judge on Tuesday finalized the reorganization plan for ASARCO Inc., a copper mining and smelting company that owned mines around Silver Lake, which sits west of Silverton at 12,000 feet. In all, Colorado will get $42 million from the $1.7 billion reorganization plan. The state will use $16 million for ASARCO’s smelter in north Denver. The rest will go to mine cleanup around Colorado, including the Summitville site in Rio Grande County, according to a news release from Attorney General John Suthers.

    “ASARCO’s reorganization is exceptional in that Colorado and the federal government will recover every dollar they claimed for environmental remediation – plus interest,” Suthers said. “These funds will go a long way to improving and remediating sites ASARCO operated at throughout the state.”[…]

    The settlement was a happy surprise for Bill Simon of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works on mine cleanup around Silverton. “It seems like $4 million would be more than we expected,” Simon said. “That sounds very good.” ASARCO owned property and mines around Silver Lake, including the lake itself, Simon said. The area saw heavy mining in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and now waste and tailings from the mines are stacked next to the lake and cover the lake bed. At least one mine is draining acid into the lake, Simon said. However, cleanup of the lake hasn’t been the top priority for the Animas River Stakeholders. “That area is so remote and so difficult to remediate, we would probably like to use those funds in a more appropriate area and get more bang for our buck,” Simon said.

    More coverage from The Denver Post (Tim Hoover). From the article:

    The Globe plant has been the site for smelting or refining a number of heavy metals since 1886, and neighborhoods around it have undergone intensive environmental cleanup efforts for decades. Rep. Joel Judd, D-Denver, whose district includes the neighborhoods around the plant, said he hoped the bankruptcy plan would move the Globe site closer to being reused. “That thing’s been sort of a blight on a hill looking down on Globeville for a century,” Judd said. “It has the potential to be a residential site.”

    Randall Weiner, an attorney who has represented Globe ville residents in a lawsuit against Asarco, said the bankruptcy plan appeared to also be good for his clients. “I suspect that moneys will be released, and they (residents in the lawsuit) will all receive the moneys that Asarco promised them 10 years ago,” Weiner said.

    More Colorado Water coverage here.

    S.796, Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: Senator Udall signs on as a sponsor

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    From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has taken a careful look at mining reform proposals and has announced that he is co-sponsoring the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, a Senate bill sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman…

    The bill has the backing of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado and the Obama administration. However, observers expect Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to block the reform measure, as he has in the past, to cater to gold mining interests in his home state.

    More S.796 coverage here.

    Peru Creek Basin: Efforts at restoration paint a costly and complicated picture

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    Many Colorado water watchers were hoping that the restoration work up in the Peru Creek Basin would be a successful demonstration project for good samaritan efforts at mine cleanup. What has been shown is that restoration projects related to past mining activity are complicated and costly. Current estimates for cleaning up the runoff and drainage in the basin is at $20 million. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

    That amount includes construction and annual operations and maintenance for as long as 20 years, but it’s still much higher than expected. When Trout Unlimited entered the picture, there was speculation that a treatment plant could be built for under $1 million. “All the work that’s been done up there paints a much more dire picture of what we need to do,” [Trout Unlimited’s Liz Russell] said. He said the stakeholders working on the cleanup had also hoped that Congress would have passed some Good Samaritan legislation by now. Such a liability limiting law would have eased the cleanup process by enabling a nonprofit to work on remediation without fear of being pinned with responsibility for the cleanup work forever.

    One option that’s not on the table anymore is a Superfund designation for the Pennsylvania Mine. EPA officials previously suggested a Superfund listing would loosen up federal funding for a cleanup. But county officials were not keen on the idea of Superfund status for the mine, preferring to explore alternate options instead.

    This summer, some of the research at mine is focused on treating other sources of pollution in the area besides the mine itself. State and federal experts are teaming up to find sites for repositories, where some of the mine waste could be stored in a place where running water can’t get to it. That could help reduce metals-loading into Peru Creek.

    The Snake River is showing signs of making a comeback. From the sidebar to the article linked above:

    Latest survey shows promising signs of recovery
    Trout populations in the Snake River appear to be making a comeback after a surge of pollution two years ago all but wiped out most of the fish. Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists recently surveyed a stretch of the river running through Keystone Resort and found evidence that some rainbow trout survived over the winter.

    More Peru Creek Basin coverage here.

    Silverton: Acid mine drainage workshop

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    Here’s a recap of yesterday’s acid mine drainage workshop held up in Silverton, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

    An all-day workshop Saturday, one of the Moving Mountain Education Seminar series sponsored by the Mountain Studies Institute here, brought together 20 people interested in talking about and seeing the consequences of acid-rock drainage – the leaching of minerals into waterways. The workshop was led by David Borrok, a professor in the geological sciences department at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Rob Runkel, Richard Wanty and Andy Manning, all with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver…

    Workshop participants, who spent the day in Prospect Gulch a few miles north of town, got an eyeful and an earful of information. Runoff from numerous Prospect Gulch tributary watersheds feed Cement Creek, whose yellowish-colored channel is evidence of the presence of iron. In fact, the caravan stopped twice to view ferricretes – iron oxide formations with their telltale reddish hue that are created when iron reacts with water and air. An ancient ferricrete was visible in a creekside cliff. The other – a terraced formation adjacent to the stream – is still forming. Iron also is responsible for the color of terrain on nearby Red Mountain Pass – the reaction of pyrites (fool’s gold) with air…

    The presence of ferricretes is evidence that some streams in the region were metal-rich and acidic before mining came into its own in the region in the late 1870s, Runkel said. “Minerals are stable in the ground but react with oxygen and water when brought to the surface,” Runkel said. “No one knows the quantity of metals in the water before mining started.” He cautioned that accurate hydrological studies are required to establish standards for cleaning up contaminated mines and waterways.

    Later in the day Runkel demonstrated how the dilution of a tracer solution shows the level of metal loading from different sources. Runkel poured half a bucketful of rhodamine, an organic dye, into a rivulet on the upper reaches of Prospect Gulch. A sonde with a sensor that emits light at the same wavelength as the fluorescent dye traces the flow of the additive as it moves downstream. Similar studies have been conducted on Cement Creek and other streams above Silverton as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative, he said. At the Galena Queen mine, workshop participants tested the acidity and electrical conductivity of water in the shaft. They also compared the qualities of the mine water to surface water. At a well on a bench immediately above Cement Creek, Manning explained how to age-date water. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen (one of the components of water) has a half-life of 13 years, meaning that in 13 years half of any tritium decays to become helium-3. Consequently, the ratio of tritium to helium in water indicates its age. Rain will have a high ratio of tritium to helium-3 while the reverse is true for slow-moving subterranean water. “Age-dating will tell how an aquifer works and how much water it can supply,” Manning said.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    S.796, Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009

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    From MineWeb (Dorothy Kosich):

    As environmental special interests congratulated themselves for U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s declaration Tuesday that mining law reform is a top priority for the Obama Administration, lost among the rhetoric and news coverage was Salazar’s equally important declaration. “In my view, our own security depends on maintaining a viable domestic mining industry,” Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday. “Minerals are also needed to support development of renewable energy,” he added. Nevertheless, Salazar remained firm in his belief the U.S. mining industry must come to grips with meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law, patent reform, and addressing the environmental consequences of modern mining practices “in meaningful and substantive ways.” “In addition, the American taxpayer should receive a fair return for the extraction of these valuable resources and should expect the federal government to develop a reliable process providing for the cleanup and restoration of lands where the responsible party is unable or unavailable to do so, including a Good Samaritan provision,” he advised. Salazar speaks from first-hand experience as much of his Colorado regulatory career was devoted to overseeing and/or participation in the cleanup of the Summitville Mine Superfund site in his state.

    Here’s the full text of Secretary Salazar’s statement yesterday:


    Thank you, Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, and Members of the Committee. I am here today to discuss with you reform of the General Mining Law of 1872, a complex matter and one that engenders passionate views. Along with most of you, I have spent much time working on various aspects of such reform. I am committed to working with you to develop legislation that will accomplish the following: provide industry with the regulatory certainty needed to make the investments that produce mineral resources vital to our economy; provide a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands; protect the environment; and result in the cleanup of abandoned mines.

    Balance – Energy Development

    Before I turn to Mining Law reform, I want to thank the Committee for its work in reporting bipartisan energy legislation. I look forward to working with the Members of the Committee in the days ahead to address the challenges of energy and climate change.

    The last time I appeared before the Committee, I spoke about President Obama’s agenda for energy development on the public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf. While we have a lot of work ahead of us on that front, we have made great strides at the Department under our existing authorities as key steps on a comprehensive energy plan for the Nation. We are balancing the responsible development of conventional energy sources, while protecting our treasured landscapes, wildlife, and cultural resources, with the accelerated development of clean energy from renewable domestic sources.

    With regard to conventional resources, since January the Department has offered more than 2.3 million acres on our public lands for oil and gas development in 17 lease sales, with over 780,000 of those acres going under lease and attracting more than $60 million in bonus bids and fees. We have plans for another 20 sales in the next six months, onshore.

    Concerning the Outer Continental Shelf, during the third week in March, I traveled to New Orleans with the Minerals Management Service to attend the Central Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale 208, which attracted over $700 million in high bids, with 70 companies submitting 476 bids on 348 tracts comprising over 1.9 million acres offshore the States of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

    On the matter relating to oil shale, we will announce a second round of research, development, and demonstration leases in Colorado and Utah in the near future.

    We continue working on a plan for the Outer Continental Shelf. I extended the public comment period on the Draft Proposed 5-year Plan produced by the previous Administration until September 21, 2009. At that time I also requested from Departmental scientists a report that detailed conventional and renewable offshore energy resources and identified where information gaps exist. I held regional meetings with interested stakeholders to review the findings of that report and gather input on where and how we should proceed with offshore energy development. I also crafted an agreement with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Wellinghoff clarifying jurisdictional responsibilities for our respective agencies for leasing and licensing renewable energy projects on the OCS, which will help facilitate the development of wind, solar, wave, tidal and ocean current energy sources. Several weeks ago I announced the issuance of five exploratory leases for renewable energy production offshore of New Jersey and Delaware.

    We are also moving rapidly to implement the President’s renewable energy strategy onshore. During the last week in June the Senate Majority Leader Reid and I announced a plan to expedite development of solar energy projects on BLM lands in six western states. The two dozen Solar Energy Study Areas will be evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production, providing a more efficient process for permitting and siting, and could ultimately generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.

    Balance – Mining Reform

    Balance is also an important concept as we discuss reform of the Mining Law of 1872. While the responsible development of our mineral resources is critical to both our economy and our environment, this statute has not been updated in 137 years. In those years, much has changed. As I previously noted, it is time to ensure a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands and to address the cleanup of abandoned mines. We must find an approach to modernize this law and ensure that development occurs in a manner consistent with the needs of mining and the protection of the public, our public lands, and water resources. It is time to make reform of the Mining Law part of our agenda of responsible resource development.

    Much has been said about the role the General Mining Law of 1872 played in settling the western United States, how it provided an opportunity for any citizen of the country to explore public domain lands for valuable minerals, to stake a claim if the mineral could be extracted at a profit, and to patent the claim. Numerous commodities are mined, under the authority of the General Mining Law, to provide the raw materials essential for the manufacturing and building industries. According to the BLM, the 5-year average for new mining claims staked annually under the law is approximately 76,000, with a current total number of claims at nearly 400,000. These claims generated almost $60 million in federal revenue– mostly from the fees collected by BLM — in fiscal year 2008.

    Our domestic gold mining industry alone directly or indirectly creates more than 66,000 jobs and nearly $2 billion in earnings annually. The United States is the second largest producer of gold and copper in the world, and the leading producer of beryllium, gypsum, and molybdenum. In my view, our own security depends on maintaining a viable domestic mining industry. Metals and minerals are also needed to support development of renewable energy.

    As the United States Senate undertakes reform of the 1872 Mining Law, patent reform, and the environmental consequences of modern mining practices must be addressed in meaningful and substantive ways. In addition, the American taxpayer should receive a fair return for the extraction of these valuable resources and should expect the federal government to develop a reliable process providing for the cleanup and restoration of lands where the responsible party is unable or unavailable to do so, including a Good Samaritan provision.


    Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to present you the Administration’s thoughts on this important topic. We look forward to working with the Committee and all interested parties as this process moves forward.

    More from the MineWeb article:

    Cathy Carlson, policy advisor for Earthworks, urged the committee to include the following principles in its update of the mining law including:

    •1. Eliminate patenting of federal lands
    •2. Establish a royalty for mineral production and a fee for use of federal lands for mineral activities
    •3. Enable land managers to say “no” to a mining project on federal lands when conflicts exist with other resource uses
    •4. Adopt comprehensive reclamation requirements, with particular emphasis on protection of water resources
    •5. Ensure that a financial assurance is in place and adequate to cover the cost of mine reclamation
    •6. Create an abandoned mine program with adequate funding to address a backlog of public safety and pollution from old mines

    In her testimony, Carlson claimed that S.796 “falls short in its consideration in the water related impacts of mining. …Congress should go further and deny mining operations that will become permanent sources of pollution on federal lands in the West.”

    More coverage from the Denver Daily News:

    A group of 20 state Democrats have written to U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, supporting two pieces of mining reform legislation. It is the first time since 1993 that federal mining reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. “I urge you to join as a cosponsor to signal your strong interest in reforming this outdated law and creating a new legal framework that will protect Colorado communities and taxpayers while allowing for responsible mining and the accelerated cleanup of abandoned mines,” wrote the lawmakers to Udall and the rest of the Colorado Congressional delegation. Environmental groups say mining has left a “lasting legacy of pollution” throughout the state. Citing the Environmental Protection Agency, they believe 40 percent of all Western watersheds have been impacted from mining pollution. “We’re going back to the future on 1872 mining reform,” said Garrington. “This legislation is long overdue.”

    More coverage from Mother Jones (Josh Harkinson):

    Who says the arcane job of rewriting the laws that govern hard-rock mining isn’t of interest to Joe Sixpack? Certainly not Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who in testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, deftly linked the reform of the nation’s mining laws to the production of better beer. “Relative to the water that was used for Coors beer,” the former Colorado Senator said, “we know that Clear Creek comes off the headwaters. . .where we have thousands of abandoned mines.”

    More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

    General Mining Act of 1872

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    From Indian Country Today (Tanya Lee): “A new chapter in the saga of exploitation and destruction, wealth and economic opportunity that describes mining in the Americas is now being written in Congress by a representative from the State of West Virginia, a state that has seen more than its share of devastating mining impacts.

    “Spanish missionaries, conquistadors and colonists enslaved Native peoples to extract valuable hardrock minerals from their own lands for the benefit of foreign governments.

    “While the details have changed, the post-colonial extraction of minerals from Indian country continues to have severely negative impacts on Native American communities.”

    General Mining Act of 1872: Modernization needed

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    On February 16th Gunnison County commissioner Jim Starr traveled testified before a congressional committee on the proposed changes to the General Mining Act of 1872. Here’s a report from Seth Mensing writing for the Crested Butte News. From the article:

    During the hearing, Starr told the subcommittee that although “hardrock minerals are valuable natural resources that should be extracted and put to beneficial use,” the law that permits their removal from federal land is “antiquated” and needs revision.

    He also said the mechanism that allows for mineral extraction “is not the appropriate mechanism and any new mechanism needs to have sufficient protections from exploration and operations in ‘special areas.’”

    Starr said this week, “I focused a fair amount on keeping the water quality and quantity as high as we can, especially given the prospect of global warming,” said Starr.

    “We have long recognized that significant natural resources, such as our natural parks, must not be open for location and entry. Before it is too late, it is imperative that we now also recognize the local and national importance of protecting our municipal watersheds,” he told the subcommittee.

    More Coyote Gulch coverage here.