10 years after the final uranium speculator left Cañon Metropolis, an Australian firm is on the hunt

About two dozen property house owners in distant northwestern Fremont County neighborhoods are combating an Australian firm that wishes to discover recognized uranium deposits beneath their land. 

The residents worry contamination of their water wells, a priority bolstered by the Fremont Conservation District’s suggestion to disclaim a county conditional use allow due to the potential contamination of Tallahassee Creek, which flows into the Arkansas River about 8 miles northwest of Cañon Metropolis. The ten-year allow was accepted by Fremont County commissioners in October.

Some residents are also anxious concerning the influence drill rigs, water vehicles and different associated site visitors can have on their one-way-in-and-out highway and the plentiful wildlife in areas off Fremont County Highway 2 west of Colorado 9.

And it created a rift in the neighborhood as residents realized that some neighbors, former space landowners and the South T Bar Property House owners Affiliation paved the best way for Australia-based Okapi Sources by promoting it mineral rights and leasing floor rights for entry to drill websites inside its gated neighborhood. The corporate expects to drill about 20 exploratory wells yearly for 5 years, in accordance with its allow software.

The struggle comes as Okapi is making an attempt to place itself as “a brand new chief in North American carbon-free nuclear power.” It has mining pursuits in Canada and Utah in addition to in Colorado. In October, the corporate mentioned it expects to hunt a allow within the first quarter of 2024 for exploration of the Maybell uranium venture, northeast of Maybell in Moffat County. 

A map showing where uranium may be mined
International Uranium, beforehand referred to as Okapi, says it has recognized a goal space the place it hopes to probe for high-grade uranium between Maybell and Lay in Moffat County. The Australian firm says it expects to use for an exploration allow in first quarter of 2024. (International Uranium map)

It is also investing in new uranium enrichment expertise as world curiosity within the mineral will increase, america works to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner power applied sciences and the worth of uranium has risen above $90 a pound.

As a part of its bipartisan infrastructure legislation, the Biden administration created the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit score Program to assist the continued operation of current nuclear energy vegetation. 

The Power Division final 12 months licensed the primary small modular reactor design, though that program was set again later within the 12 months when the corporate, Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Energy canceled its venture due to prices, in accordance with the New York Instances. 

Nonetheless, about 20 corporations are engaged on such superior designs of smaller reactors, and the Power Division this month issued a request for proposals to determine a home provide chain of the high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) wanted to gas them.

Whether or not all of the heightened curiosity and new applied sciences translate into extra uranium exploration and mining in Colorado stays to be seen. However Okapi’s strikes on the South T Bar Ranch properties have individuals on edge and anxious their house owners affiliation isn’t appearing of their curiosity. 

The South T Bar Property House owners Affiliation didn’t reply to a message in search of remark despatched by means of its web site contact web page. 

“It is rather disheartening that this data was not overtly offered by means of our POA Board, to not point out that the POA board proceeded with out the most effective pursuits of our neighborhood in thoughts,” South T Bar property house owners Corey and Katie Magstadt wrote in a Dec. 28 letter to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Security, or DRMS, supporting an enchantment of an exploration allow the state company granted in November. 

That enchantment, filed by South T Bar property proprietor Skip Blades, shall be heard Wednesday in Denver by the company board. Blades’ argument is that due to important previous exploration and mining within the space, Okapi has sufficient information to find out whether or not mining is possible.

Okapi consultant Tim Brown responded in an e mail that he didn’t have time for an interview earlier than the appeals listening to.

“Underneath Colorado legislation there’s some extent the place it’s important to get a mining allow as a result of you recognize that business portions exist,” Blades mentioned. “They simply wish to keep busy prospecting and attracting traders, ready for the worth (of uranium) to go up extra.”

If that sounds acquainted, it’s as a result of it’s. In 2015, the DMRS informed Australia-based Black Vary Minerals it was time to give up exploration drilling within the Tallahassee Creek space and get a mining allow as a result of greater than 1,400 exploratory holes had been drilled. It dropped the venture.

The Tallahassee Space Neighborhood group that fashioned to struggle Black Vary Minerals disbanded after the win, and plenty of of these residents moved away. However the uranium stays engaging to mining corporations, particularly as curiosity grows in rising home manufacturing and the worth rises. 

Mining historical past

Uranium was found within the Tallahassee Creek space in 1954 after the Atomic Power Fee urged prospectors within the Western United States to seek out and mine the mineral that was wanted for nuclear power and Chilly Struggle weapons. Greater than a dozen small, open-pit mines had been developed within the Tallahassee space, however finally deserted. 

Curiosity in uranium remained through the years, however fell each time an accident or incident scared off traders. General, manufacturing in america stalled, together with in Colorado. Nonetheless, recognized uranium deposits all through the West weren’t forgotten.

yellow cake uranium
A photograph of yellow cake uranium, a strong type of uranium oxide produced from uranium ore. Yellow cake should be processed additional earlier than it’s made into nuclear gas. (Courtesy of Power Fuels Inc., through NRC CC License)

Within the Nineteen Seventies, Cyprus Mine Corp. drilled hundreds of exploratory holes and had a allow to mine the Hansen deposit that Okapi is now fascinated about, in accordance with a 2013 article in The Mountain Mail. However the venture died when uranium costs collapsed after the partial meltdown of a Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in March 1979 in Pennsylvania.

Finally, giant ranches within the so-called mountain district of Fremont County had been subdivided into 35- to 40-acre parcels the place individuals constructed properties and cabins above a number of uranium deposits, together with two referred to as Hansen and Picnic Tree.

However within the mid-2000s, uranium prospectors had been again. By late 2006, Australia-based Black Vary Minerals had the rights to discover greater than 9,500 acres within the Taylor Ranch uranium venture, in accordance with firm data. 

When it tried to broaden exploration within the close by Hansen and Picnic Tree deposits, it was halted by the Tallahassee Space Neighborhood group. However Black Vary, which already had 49% of the mineral rights on these deposits, had an possibility to purchase the remaining 51% from South T Bar Minerals LLC.

Western Uranium & Vanadium Corp. acquired Black Vary and the choice on the minerals, however determined previous to a July 28, 2019, deadline to not train the choice, in accordance with a 2020 annual report filed with the Securities and Change Fee.

In April 2022, Okapi struck its personal cope with South T Bar Minerals for that 51% curiosity and closed three months later. Okapi, now a part of Australia-based International Uranium and Enrichment and with a U.S. department referred to as Tallahassee Sources LLC, now desires to do its personal exploration of the Hansen and Picnic Tree deposits.

That proposed exploration of an space that’s already been drilled and its deposits outlined, is the crux of Blades’ enchantment. Precedent was set on that subject by a 2015 state mining board ruling that Black Vary wanted a mining allow to proceed, mentioned Jeff Parsons, Blades’ lawyer.

Parsons beforehand represented the Tallahassee Space Neighborhood group within the case towards Black Vary Minerals by means of the nonprofit Western Mining Motion Challenge. 

“It’s irritating,” Parsons mentioned. “The board has already dominated on this precise subject on this precise venture.”

He mentioned the corporate is arguing that it must do its personal exploration due to Australia’s investor guidelines, however identified that a few of Okapi’s staff had been key gamers in Black Vary Minerals. So, it’s primarily the identical individuals.

Okapi argues that it should conduct its personal exercise to promote inventory, he mentioned. “However inventory alternate guidelines in Australia or Canada or anyplace else mustn’t outline Colorado legislation.”

Residents caught unaware

Marijane and David Sisson are shortly making an attempt to find out about Colorado’s mining legal guidelines. They’re within the technique of shifting from Louisiana to the house they purchased within the South T Bar subdivision in June.

Their house is inside 500 toes of the place a drilling rig would stand if the exploration allow goes ahead.

“We knew that there had been mining up to now — there have been uranium monitoring wells on the market,” Marijane Sisson mentioned. “We had no concept that there was something brewing on the horizon.

“It’s uranium,” she mentioned. “So in fact it sends up purple flags.”

Elk and cattle graze on land owned by Marijane and David Sisson, the one highway into and out of the South T-Bar Ranch property within the foreground. The Sissons, who reside in Louisiana, had been stunned to study exploration for uranium is deliberate for inside 500 toes of the home they’re about to maneuver into. (Photograph offered by Skip Blades).

Blades mentioned many property house owners had been unaware of the proposed exploration — both their property wasn’t shut sufficient for them to be notified or they had been contacted at out-of-state addresses.

The South T Bar Property House owners Affiliation web site had no mining data on it till just lately, he mentioned. 

After studying concerning the subject in October, Marijane shortly fashioned the Save Tallahassee CO group and David helped create a Fb web page to disseminate data. 

About 20 residents and the adjoining J Bar Property House owners Affiliation despatched a letter to DMRS in assist of the enchantment. Many voiced considerations about potential water contamination and the dearth of a well-maintained highway into the subdivisions that might have added truck site visitors if drilling was accepted.

In addition they talked concerning the influence on wildlife and the way mining exercise was incompatible with the quiet, rural life most had sought by shifting to the world.

What’s driving hypothesis

The renewed curiosity in Colorado uranium deposits could also be pushed partially by a Division of Power push to extend home manufacturing. These considerations grew after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a result of about 12% of uranium utilized in U.S. nuclear energy vegetation comes from Russia.

Whereas sanctions towards Russia halted imports of different fuels, uranium was not included.

As a part of its plan to cut back dependence on fossil fuels, the U.S. Division of Power is working to extend using nuclear power.

Okapi made it clear in its June 30, 2023, annual report that it desires to be a participant within the U.S. uranium business.

“Okapi’s progress comes amid a nuclear power renaissance because the uranium market continues to realize momentum because the globe continues to speed up on a path to web zero. The USA continues to characterize the best nuclear development potential. As geopolitical tensions proceed to play out within the uranium market, it’s now extra necessary than ever that the USA seems to be for surety in uranium provide by means of home manufacturing. 

“Okapi remodeled into a major participant within the U.S. uranium market with the acquisition of a 51% curiosity within the Hansen uranium deposit in Colorado in July 2022,” the chairman’s letter says.

A map offered by International Uranium, beforehand referred to as Okapi, reveals the areas within the Tallahassee uranium venture zone the place exploration earlier occurred, and the areas the corporate controls. (International Uranium presentation)

Immediately, about 20% of electrical energy in america comes from 93 nuclear reactors at 54 energy vegetation scattered throughout 28 states, however these are fueled nearly utterly by imported uranium, in accordance with the U.S. Power Data Administration. In 2022, the U.S. imported 27% of the uranium used to generate electrical energy from Canada, 25% from Kazakhstan and 12% from Russia, in accordance with EIA.

There aren’t any energetic uranium mines or mills in Colorado, and the White Mesa Uranium Mill in Blanding, Utah, is the one operational mill in america. The final uranium was produced in Colorado round 2005 in Montrose County, in accordance with the Colorado Geological Survey.

The worth of uranium additionally leapt up from under $50 a pound to greater than $90 a pound in 2023, in accordance with Investing Information. The worth rose to a 16-year excessive of $104 per pound on Monday after one of many world’s largest uranium miners introduced it was unlikely to satisfy its 2024 manufacturing targets.

Nonetheless, many imagine it’s unlikely that uranium mining will occur in Fremont County. Parsons mentioned Colorado uranium is low grade in comparison with the ore mined in Canada and Australia, two nations pleasant with the U.S.

“Each few years the worth of uranium goes up and small corporations are available in,” he mentioned. “The observe file of those corporations is that they make a number of noise after which go away, however it’s important to take them severely.”

The potential threat to groundwater if mining does happen is actual, he mentioned.

Which is why his consumer, Blades, is combating to get the state to require a mining allow as an alternative of an exploration allow. A mining allow entails extra safeguards and importantly, extra public enter, Parsons mentioned.

The state already is plagued by deserted mines and Superfund websites, together with the nonetheless contaminated Cotter Uranium Mill/Lincoln Park Superfund web site south of Cañon Metropolis, and the general public has a proper to demand that new mining is finished correctly, he mentioned. 

Jennifer Thurston, director of the Data Community for Accountable Mining, agreed that the chance of uranium mining in Colorado was slim.

“The uranium deposits in Colorado have a troublesome time stacking as much as western Canada and Wyoming,” she mentioned. “The worth of uranium has to remain sky-high and be sustained over an extended time period” for uranium manufacturing to be economically possible in Colorado.

“This exploration is a disruption to lots of people and to the county for little or no return.”

However when hypothesis over uranium, fed by authorities investments to stimulate mining, happens, she mentioned, “each single deposit goes to get sniffed over. They’re on the market every little thing.

“That is an business with a enterprise mannequin of attracting funding by exploring deposits,” she continued. “The hope is at all times that they’re going to find extra uranium.”