Uranium speculation is knocking on Bears Ears’ doorstep
Two companies owning 324 mining claims announce plans to drill 25 exploration wells at Harts Point.
Two Canadian uranium mining companies on Tuesday announced plans to drill 25 reconnaissance wells on the edge of Bears Ears National Monument, raising the possibility of large-scale industrial development in some of the country’s most sensitive areas without a major environmental assessment.
Atomic Minerals Corp. holds 324 mining claims covering 6,480 acres of public land at Harts Point in San Juan County, northwest of Monticello, according to a company press release announcing a binding agreement with a second company, Kraken Energy, to develop the claims. Both companies are headquartered in Vancouver, BC and their shares are traded on Canadian stock exchanges.
Atomic claims that this land could be home to some of the richest uranium deposits in the country and says it already has Bureau of Land Management permits for the wells, which can be drilled once a $58,000 deposit is posted.
The announcement stunned Utah wilderness advocates, who say the project highlights so much that is wrong with the nation’s outdated mining laws.
“You have an operator who can get out literally a stone’s throw from Bears Ears and drill 25 wells with very little notice and very minimal scrutiny,” said Landon Newell, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “That’s crazy.”
Last October, Atomic Minerals announced that its US subsidiary, Recoupment Exploration Co. LLC, had staked the 324 20-acre uranium claims at Harts Point. The claims were staked under the Mining Act of 1872, enacted at a time when the government was prioritizing mineral development over other uses of public lands.
“Federal land managers have on record stated that the Mines Act of 1872 leaves them no choice but to allow mining, whether the land is better used for recreation, conservation, renewable energy, or even fossil fuel extraction,” EarthWorks explains , a nonprofit organization, in a policy statement dedicated to reforming the law. “Lose regulations allow mining companies to come in, dig up fortunes and get out of the mess. Too often taxpayers – not polluters – pay for clean-up.”
Newell alleges the Canadian uranium companies are relying on outdated and irrelevant reports to support speculation that there are uranium deposits worth mining at Harts Point.
“They’re trying to make themselves important to get investors interested,” Newell said. “They are acting like they’ve found the mother cargo while threatening one of the most scenic landscapes in all of Utah, and doing so without public participation or agency scrutiny.”
The BLM was unable to provide any timely comment on this story. An Atomic Minerals employee did not respond to a voicemail.
Yesterday’s uranium boom left a legacy of well-documented toxic exposures among tribal communities in the Four Corners region that are still being felt today. It would be ironic if the federal government now allowed industry to develop new uranium deposits on public lands that the Navajo, Ute, and Hopi tribes hold sacred without tribal consultation.
Harts Point sits on land originally proposed by these tribes for inclusion in Bears Ears National Monument.
The companies’ announcements, aimed at potential investors, fail to mention the claims’ proximity to the 1.3 million-acre national monument designated by President Barack Obama in 2016 to protect the region’s myriad archaeological sites. The controversial designation came at the request of Native American tribes with cultural and ancestral ties to the San Juan County landscape.
However, the companies highlighted Harts Point’s proximity to the country’s only operating uranium mill, located 40 road miles away at White Mesa.
Why does Atomic Minerals say uranium could be found here?
According to company chairman Garrett Ainsworth, data from three oil and gas wells drilled decades ago show “off-gauge radioactivity,” suggesting the deposits coincide with the once-prolific Lisbon Valley mining district, about 19 miles to the west , could be comparable.
The Lisbon District, which operated up to 17 mines between 1948 and 1988, produced 80 million pounds of ore grading 0.34% uranium oxide, according to company press releases.
Newell dismissed the company’s conclusions as speculation.
They looked at old drill hole data and core samples and they said there was this world-class amount of uranium there,” Newell said. “This is pure speculation because the wells are 50 years old. They are dry holes and have always been public knowledge. So anyone could have seen them.
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Drilling will target the Chinle Formation, which lies between 1,200 and 1,400 feet below surface and is believed by Company officials to host rich ore. During the uranium boom of the 1950’s, four mines tapped this formation 7 miles west of Harts Point in what was then the Upper Indian District.
“Once drilling permits have been received and targets selected at Harts Point, our team is eager to begin work on this property in the most prominent uranium mining jurisdiction in the United States,” said Matthew Schwab, CEO of Kraken, in the press release of octopuses.
Under the agreement between the two companies, Kraken is to spend $1.5 million developing the game over 18 months to acquire a 65% interest in the claims, and an additional $2 million over 30 months to secure a 75% stake. The resulting mines would be operated as a joint venture between Kraken and Atomic Minerals.