Increased uranium mining proposal carries environmental concerns

OSHOTO, WYO. — A uranium mining company is looking to shift operations at their mine north of Moorecroft, Wyoming.

Strata Energy, the US subsidiary of Australian Peninsula Energy is looking to ramp up operations at the Lance Projects.Strata hopes to bolster domestic uranium production. The Lance Projects lie in Crook County. Inside the area are the Ross, Barber, and Kendrick projects. At the Ross Project, Strata Energy is in the process of testing a different type of uranium mining.

In Situ uranium mining allows companies to extract the product from the ground without digging an open pit. Strata recently shut down their alkaline leaching mines, and are focusing on their experimental acid leaching operation. They’re currently in the process of demonstrating to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality  that they can effectively conduct operations at the site without effecting the groundwater.

Experts say the method of mining all depends on the geologic makeup of the area.

“The uranium deposits are very geology specific,” said Mark Bowron, a professor at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “An alkaline lixivialnt, or lechant, is used in rocks that contain limestone and carbonates. As a result, its conducive to that environment.”

Across Wyoming, alkaline leaching has always been the norm. But Strata says acid leaching could be more effective at the Ross project.

“Despite improved production rates over the last year, the overall uranium recovery rates at Ross continue to be below targeted levels,” A firm on the behalf of Strata Energy said in a statement to NewsCenter1. “In early 2018, Strata began exploring the idea of testing the use of more acidic, or low-pH, solutions at Ross.”

Acid leaching is widely used across the globe in countries like Australia and Kazakhstan. The World Nuclear Association says 96 percent of uranium in 2015 was mined through acid leaching.

“It’s more cost efficient, gets higher recoveries of the uranium, and its cheaper,” Bowron said.

The uranium mine sits about 20 miles north of Moorecroft, so it isn’t near any towns or heavily populated areas, but some are worried because of its proximity to Devils Tower, it could have an environmental impact.

“It certainly would effect the natural beauty in the area,” said Lilias Jarding with the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. “Mathó Thípila, which is what the Lakota call Devil’s Tower is also a very important cultural site. Having the mine within view of that cultural site is something that Lakota people object to.”

Jarding also said she’s concerned about the shift in operations, and what it could mean for groundwater in the area.

“The process is similar to alkaline in situ leach uranium mining and that’s part of what worries us,” Jarding said. “They both happen in the water supply and leave it polluted.”

But Strata says the uranium well field is surrounded by ground monitoring wells. The firm on behalf of Strata said, “Monitor wells serve as an ‘early warning’ system to allow fine tuning of the injection and extraction flow rates. If monitoring wells detect any of these substances, well field operators can alter the injection and extraction rates of nearby wells to draw the fluids back and ensure the mining solutions remain in the designated mining area.”

Strata is still in the early phases of their acid leach demonstration. As part of the permitting process, they have to demonstrate to the state that it works, and that they can clean up the water to the same condition before they started mining.

An overview of the operation at the Lance Project is posted online, and is available here.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News, Wyoming News