SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO – Following a federal judge’s decision last week to halt the Department of Energy’s Uranium Leasing Program on 31 existing leases in the Uravan Mineral Belt in San Miguel, Montrose and Mesa counties, an Energy Fuels Inc. official said this week that the ruling will have little effect on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, as the company works to expand into becoming one of the largest holders of conventional uranium resources in the U.S.
In what was hailed as a victory for environmentalists, U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez halted the DOE’s 42-square-mile Uranium Leasing Program on Oct. 18, for declining to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement analysis in 2008. The 53-page ruling suspends each of the program’s 31 existing leases, and stops the DOE from issuing new leases to explore, drill, and mine within the area of the program until new environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act are completed.
While the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill is not a part of the Uranium Leasing Program – the mill is slated to be built in the Paradox Valley on private land – it would most likely be used to process any significant amounts of uranium ore mined in that area. By halting exploration and mining on those 31 nearby federal leases, does the court ruling, at least for the time being, change the viability of the proposed uranium mill?
Energy Fuels spokesperson Curtis Moore says no.
“We didn’t have any short or, really, medium-term plans to get production out of those properties anytime soon,” Moore said on Tuesday. “We were probably planning to do some assessment work or drilling at some point this year to see what minerals were left there. But really, that decision has no impact on the planned operation of the mill.”
Moore went on to say that Energy Fuels now has three primary mines that have the capacity to feed the mill its permitted 500 tons a day. These mines include the Whirlwind, near Gateway, Colo.; the Energy Queen, near La Sal, Utah; and its newest acquisition, the Skidmore Lease, in southeast Utah’s Sage Plain District.
“We have two fully-permitted mines, and we have just recently consolidated several properties over in Utah,” Moore said. “Between those three mines, they are going to provide sufficient ore to feed the mill.”
As it turns out, Energy Fuels announced that it purchased the Skidmore Lease, a 20-year mining lease, just one day before Judge Martinez made his ruling on the Uranium Lease Program. Energy Fuels purchased the lease from the privately-held Nuclear Energy Corporation for $1,500,702; the lease contains 184,000 tons of historic uranium and vanadium resources.
“The Skidmore Lease represents a major acquisition for Energy Fuels,” said Stephen Antony, the company’s president and C.E.O. “The parcel has seen production in the recent past, and there are still considerable uranium and vanadium resources remaining on the property. Combining all of the company’s recent resource acquisitions in the Sage Plain Project Area, the Energy Fuels team is optimistic that we can obtain a permit for a third mine to complete the mill feed requirement for the 500-ton-per-day Piñon Ridge Mill.”
The Skidmore property is accessible through historic developed mine workings on Energy Fuels’ Calliham property acquired earlier this year. Engineering studies and drilling are currently underway to assess, rehabilitate, and develop the resources in this district.
While Energy Fuels continues to expand its resources in the Uravan Mineral Belt, the Canadian company is expanding in other parts of the U.S., as well. On Tuesday, Energy Fuels announced that it has entered into a letter of intent to acquire Titan Uranium Inc., of Vancouver.
While it’s a Canadian company, Titan has focused on exploring and developing uranium properties in the western U.S. Its major asset includes the Sheep Mountain mine in the Crooks Gap Mining District of Fremont County, Wyo. That mine has a reported 13,841,000 tons of average grade uranium. The Sheep Mountain project is currently at an advanced stage of permitting. Production is expected to commence in 2014, with a peak production rate of 1.5 million pounds of uranium per year. Titan also has significant interests in uranium exploration projects in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Saskatchewan.
“Energy Fuels is very pleased to be able to add Titan’s very significant NI 43-101 mineral resource to our pool of assets, and to increase our presence in the conventional uranium mining space,” Antony said. “Following the transaction, the combined company will have 37 million pounds of measured and indicated resources, and 4.3 million pounds of inferred resources, placing the combined company among the largest holders of NI 43-101 compliant uranium resources in the U.S.”