The Bureau of Land Management has released a decision allowing the expansion of Daneros Mine near Shash Jaa National Monument and the former Bears Ears National Monument. Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. owns the mine.
According to the BLM website, “total ore production for the life of the mine is projected to increase from 100,000 tons over seven years to 500,000 tons over 20 years with an increase in total surface disturbance from 4.5 acres to 46 acres.”
That increase has activists concerned.
The ore will be processed at White Mesa Mill, three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute community of White Mesa. Ephrain Dutchie, a member of tribal activist group White Mesa Concerned Community, said that the group is concerned about uranium ore being transported near their community.
“The mill is between our house and the school ... the mill is right in the middle so our native children will be on that same road as all that hazardous material. Of course, [the mill is] going to be burning more of that stuff and getting rid of that waste more as it comes from Daneros mine. It’s a lot tougher on us as the White Mesa people because the mill is right there in our backyard,” Dutchie said.
The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental advocacy organization, also reacted to the news.
“We’re really disappointed the Bureau [of Land Management] didn’t take the time to do a complete environmental impact statement for an expansion as significant as the Daneros Mine expansion will be and especially with ore being hauled through both the original Bears Ears National Monument and the Shash Jaa unit established by President Trump; we really feel that an environmental impact statement is merited,” said Anne Mariah Tapp, legal and policy advisor to the Grand Canyon Trust. “We’re really disturbed by the pattern of industry running the show on our public lands as evidenced by the New York Times document reveal that shows lobbying by Energy Fuels directed at reducing the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument … Those are patterns we really don’t want to see and we’re also seeing that at the Grand Canyon. Both Grand Canyon and Bears Ears are really experiencing pressure from the uranium industry.”
Tapp referred to documents obtained by The Washington Post, which showed that Energy Fuels advocated to the Trump administration that Bears Ears National Monument be reduced in size. The company has since said it supported Bears Ears National Monument.
However, the company says that with the price of uranium low, they have no immediate plans to develop Daneros mine — but it is important to have those permits in place so when the price of uranium goes up, miners can get right to work.
“San Juan County, Utah is one of the poorest counties in all of Utah. Many of our employees are indigenous, Navajos. So we’re an important employer of Navajos in one of the poorest counties in the state of Utah,” said Mark Chalmers, the CEO of Energy Fuels. “We’re proud of what we do, we do it responsibly [and] we do it in full compliance with both state and federal requirements … we’ve been challenged legally multiple times and the courts have upheld our rights because we’re responsible and because we do things right.”
“Mining has been a very important industry in the western United States for over a hundred years,” Chalmers added in an email to The Times-Independent. “It isn’t as influential as it was back then but it is still important!”
Mike Neumann, a senior project manager for Energy Fuels, said that the BLM performed the required analyses before approving the mine expansion.
“BLM performed an analysis of all potential environmental impacts with a particular focus on visibility concerns, given the relative proximity of the mine to Natural Bridges National Monument (eight miles northeast of the mine). Dispersion modeling of dust emissions from mining and ore-hauling activities demonstrated that there will be no adverse impacts to air quality related values,” said Neumann in an email.
The BLM’s decision notice and Finding of No Significant Impact can be viewed online at eplanning.blm.gov.
Forest Service OKs further development of La Sal Complex ore deposits
The La Sal area may see more mining operation after a federal decision to allow Energy Fuels to expand operations in the La Sal Complex. The U.S. Forest Service released the Environmental Assessment on Feb. 23.
With the price of uranium low, it’s the vanadium that is the main draw for Energy Fuels in La Sal.
“We’re evaluating the economics of the vanadium and uranium in [the] La Sal Complex as we speak,” Energy Fuels CEO Mark Chalmers said. “We haven’t made a decision about when or if we’re going to go back and mine these deposits. But the very sharp increases in vanadium prices is improving the economics substantially.”
“Prior to approval of the [plan of operations amendment], activities at the mines were permitted under five separate approvals: two by the BLM and three by the USFS which made for duplicative and sometimes confusing regulation,” Neumann said. “Combining the mines and operations under a single plan of operations simplifies administration for the USFS and BLM while also facilitating efficient environmental compliance and reporting for Energy Fuels … Although the mines in the La Sal complex are currently on standby, Energy Fuels is in the process of upgrading existing facilities with a view toward resuming mining in the near future.
“Uranium prices remain too low to justify mining but vanadium process are at a 10-year high and the La Sal mines have historically produced more vanadium than uranium. Demand for vanadium is increasing worldwide for use in steel manufacturing and in renewable energy applications, such as advanced technology storage batteries.”
The Monticello-based organization Uranium Watch has expressed concerns about the mines, positing that more rigorous zoning standards should prohibit mines close to schools and residential areas.
“Uranium Watch’s first concern is the operation and expansion of the Beaver Shaft next to the center of La Sal,” said Sarah Fields, program director for Uranium Watch, in an email to The Times-Independent. “The Beaver Shaft is on private property; a nearby Beaver Shaft waste rock pile is on BLM property. The Beaver Shaft emits radon one-quarter of a mile from the La Sal Elementary School. Radon is a radioactive gas that rapidly breaks down to highly radioactive particulates. As the Beaver Shaft expands west, across the base of the La Sal Mountains, it threatens to pollute local groundwater, where the community is dependent on wells. It is hard to understand how San Juan County could permit uranium mines to operate so close to a school, community center, post office and human habitation. Apparently, zoning to protect children and communities from radioactive and hazardous industrial pollution is an unknown concept for San Juan County.”