By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — A uranium company is proposing to re-open the uranium mines in Shirley Basin.
Ur-Energy’s Shirley Basin reserves lie directly between Rock River and Casper. The site is about an hour drive from both municipalities.
During Shirley Basin’s hey-day from the 1960s to the 1990s, the mining site produced 51 million pounds of yellowcake and was closed after uranium prices collapsed.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Rawlins office is taking public comment on the proposal through Monday.
This week, the BLM approved Ur-Energy to expand its mining operations at its Lost Creek mining site in Sweetwater County.
That decision will allow Ur-Energy to double the square-acreage of the Lost Creek site and continue operations until about 2032.
“Projects like Lost Creek … underpin our nation’s strong and diverse energy portfolio, and we see their benefits multiplying as this administration empowers communities to maximize the potential of our natural resources,” BLM assistant secretary for lands and minerals Joseph Balash said in a Tuesday statement.
The time it takes to reactivate the Shirley Basin mine could be heavily impacted by the feedback the BLM receives by Monday.
More significant concerns require more paperwork and research by the BLM to fulfill the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.
Annette Treat, project manager for the BLM, told the Laramie Boomerang that Dennis Carpenter, the BLM’s field manager in Rawlins, will “make the call on the level of NEPA that fits the issues identified from the scoping comments.”
If Carpenter determines the project will have “significant environmental impact,” the BLM will need to create an environmental impact statement, a time-consuming process that involves significantly more public input.
Ur-Energy’s proposal for Shirley Basin is very similar to what the BLM has already approved for the Lost Creek Mine.
“There is a potential that the majority of the analysis (for Shirley Basin) is already completed so the existing (Lost Creek) EIS would be reviewed to determine whether it adequately covers the new proposal,” Treat said in a Wednesday email.
Other state and federal permits would still be needed to restart production.
Like the Lost Creek mine, Ur-Energy’s proposal for Shirley Basin would rely on “in-situ” recovery of uranium ore.
Unlike conventional open pit mining, in-situ recovery involves pumping groundwater, fortified with oxygen and baking soda, into a uranium ore zone and then bringing the solution to the surface through nearby production wells.
This week’s approved expansion of the Lost Creek operations allows for increasing the yellowcake production rate by 200,000 more pounds per year.
After Ur-Energy bought the Shirley Basin uranium holdings from Areva in 2013, the company completed a “preliminary economic assessment” in 2015.
According to that assessment, Ur-Energy believes more than 6 million pounds of uranium could be produced from Shirley Basin.
According to the economic assessment, Ur-Energy plans to have the uranium-laden water from Shirley Basin processed into yellowcake at its Lost Creek site after being trucked 175 miles. The document also suggests Ur-Energy would have more than $1.5 million in annual payroll expenditures at the Shirley Basin well-site for about half a decade.
After heightened radium levels were observed in the Shirley Basin more than a decade ago, the Department of Energy began studying the issue and ultimately determined localized ore mineralization was the culprit, not leaking from a disposal cell. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the data was inconclusive.
Ur-Energy also controls a separate site of uranium reserves, the “Bootheel” property, in Albany County on the east end of Shirley Basin. The Bootheel property is estimated to have more than 4 million pounds worth of uranium oxide.