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Interior Secretary Extends Temporary Withdrawal of 1 Million Acres Near Grand Canyon National Park From Uranium Mining


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has extended a moratorium on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park so federal land managers can finish a study of potential impacts from the mining and impacts from denying new mining claims.

The move to temporarily withdraw the acreage from hard-rock mining claims extends a decision the secretary made back in July 2009 to place a moratorium on new mining claims on the landscape until threats to the canyon could be analyzed. About the same time U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, which would have made the moratorium permanent.

The Interior secretary's previous moratorium runs out July 20. The latest extension comes as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to study whether to permanently remove the lands from mining for a 20-year period. Existing claims are not affected by today's announcement.

The preferred alternative that will be included in the final Environmental Impact Statement is the "full proposed withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres of BLM and Forest Service lands located near the national park from mining claim location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, subject to valid exiting rights," according to an Interior Department release.

The EIS is expected to be completed in this fall.

According to an Interior Department release, the lands in question contain an array of natural, cultural, and water resources.

These lands are within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed next to Grand Canyon National Park and contain significant environmental and cultural resources as well as known uranium deposits. The Grand Canyon National Park is an iconic American landscape and World Heritage Site and draws 4.4 million visitors each year, is home to numerous rare, endemic and specially protected plant and animal species and contains vast archeological resources and sites of spiritual and cultural importance to American Indians. The Colorado River and its tributaries that flow through the watersheds of Grand Canyon National Park supply water to agricultural, industrial, and municipal users, including the cities of Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.


"In this moment, we face a choice that could profoundly affect the Grand Canyon in ways we do not yet understand," Secretary Salazar said during an appearance in the park today. "Some of the lands near the Grand Canyon contain uranium resources that have helped meet our energy needs.  Over the past 20 years, eight uranium mines have operated in the area and one study has shown that a possible additional eight to eleven mines might be developed in the area.
"The question for us, though, is not whether to stop cautious and moderate uranium development, but whether to allow further expansion of uranium mining in the area."

Secretary Salazar fully expects to be criticized for the withdrawal.

"I know some critics will falsely claim that with a full 1-million acre withdrawal from new hard-rock mining claims, we would somehow be denying all access to uranium resources.  That, of course, is not true," he said. "Uranium, like oil and gas, solar, wind, geothermal, and other sources, remains a vital component of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.  We will continue to develop uranium in northern Arizona, Wyoming and other places across the country.
"It is worth stating again that we believe there are likely a number of valid existing rights in the proposed withdrawal area even if the preferred alternative is ultimately selected as the final decision.  We expect continued development of those claims and the establishment of new mines over the next twenty years.
"In fact, cautious development with strong oversight could help us answer critical questions about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area. This science, derived from experience, would help others decide what actions are necessary to protect the Grand Canyon."

Applauding the secretary's announcement was Jim Stipe, chairman of Arizona Trout Unlimited.

"The secretary's announcement today to protect the Grand Canyon's water and wildlife habitat from impacts caused by uranium mining is welcome news to hunters and anglers here in Arizona, and across the country," Mr. Stipe said in a release. "The economic engine of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation will continue thanks to Secretary Salazar's common-sense policy to permit new uranium mining elsewhere. Hunting on the Kaibab and fishing at Lee's Ferry and around the Grand Canyon will continue to be a rewarding experience. Now, we'll only have our own skills to blame for not catching a big one."

Also endorsing the secretary's action was David Nimkim, Southwest Region director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“This announcement is wonderful news for the millions of people who live near and visit the Grand Canyon each year, as well as the tens of millions more across our nation who believe the integrity and natural state of this awe-inspiring location should not be compromised," said Mr. Nimkin. "By protecting one million acres of federal lands around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining for the next 20 years, Secretary Salazar is making sure future generations will be able to enjoy a Grand Canyon unmarred from this development and has thus earned their thanks for the protection of its majesty and the preservation of the fragile ecology of the Colorado River."


While I certainlly support all effforts to protect all land within the borders of this and all other parks, federal, state and local, I find little reason to protect or restrict other land just because it's near a park or in sight of a park. If such protection is needed, the land should be incorporated in the parks' boundaries. Otherwise, we're simply meddling.

I think it's one thing for my neighbor to do stuff on his own land if it doesn't affect me. Where I live, neighbors get in serious disputes involving views. If someone is going to do work in their back yard that can lead to contaminating a neighbor's property with toxic waste products, you better believe it's something that where legal action can take place to prevent or at least mitigate the impacts.

That being said, there's still the orphan uranium mine in Grand Canyon NP. It could conceivably be reopened. There are also some mining claims within Death Valley NP that could conceivably be operated again in the future.

Besides - this is federal land we're talking about here, and not private property. The Secretary of the Interior oversees both the BLM and NPS, and has to balance the concerns of both agencies.

As might be expected, this has set off a furor in southern Utah and along the Arizona strip.  According to Salt Lake newspapers, the militia is ready to march.

It's really kinda funny, though, that when a local business proposed a "coal gasification plant" in the backyards of some of those anti-environment folks, they suddenly rose up in anger against it.  They hate the government, hate paying taxes, but LOVE accepting all the pork any Utah congress critter can round up.

They have got my vote for protecting the land. I used to take trips to the Grand Canyon every summer with parents when growing up and I just took my daughter there for the first time last year. The more of it they can preserve the happier I am.



Secretary of the Interior Salazar's decision -- to extend the 2 year moratorium on mining claims and choosing the withdrawal of one million acres of land from mineral entry for 20 years as the preferred alternative for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)-- was a political one. It is not supported in any way by the draft EIS that was prepared to help inform that decision. The draft EIS, inadequate and largely biased against uranium exploration and mining, does not make the case that uranium mining outside the Grand Canyon National Park will threaten the Park, its natural resources, tourism, or the water quality of its springs or the Colorado River itself.

The draft EIS is a document that is so poorly researched and written that the BLM will be in violation of the NEPA statues should they publish a Final EIS without first writing and publishing for comment a supplemental draft EIS that more adequately addresses the numerous comments submitted by myself and others of the current draft. It is really that bad.

It is extremely frustrating that this entire withdrawal issue is based on the outright lies, half-truths, and other misrepresentations by the opponents of uranium mining in Northern Arizona. For example, the opponents of uranium mining would have people believe that uranium mining will take place in the Grand Canyon National Park, on the shores on the Colorado River, or on the rim of the Canyon itself. All of these claims are lies. The boundaries of the Park were set to take into account the multiple use designation that included uranium mining on Federal lands surrounding the Park.

The idea that uranium mining could in anyway contaminate the Colorado River is another falsehood. There are about 30 breccia pipes within the Grand Canyon that contain ore grade uranium mineralization that is currently (and naturally) eroding into the Colorado River. The Colorado River itself carries a natural uranium load of about 120,000 pounds of dissolved uranium in the water that flows through the Canyon each year. In addition to this, the natural silt load of the Colorado River transports an additional 50,000 pounds of uranium annually. However, this transport of uranium is minor compared to the 818,000 pounds/year of uranium transported by the silt load in the Colorado River prior to the construction of the two major dams on this river. (The dams now trap the old silt-bound uranium load as lake bottom sediments above each dam.).This was almost equivalent to washing the entire uranium content of a single high grade uranium breccia pipe ore body contained in a mine like the Arizona One down the Colorado River every year!

To even suggest that modern uranium mining would in anyway meaningfully add to the natural dissolved or silt transported uranium loading of the Colorado River and thus "contaminate" the river is a fabrication meant to scare the uninformed. By the standards of the opponents of uranium mining, the Colorado River is already horribly contaminated with natural uranium sources and should be banned as a source of water for all time. However, this is false. Rivers move silt and always have dissolved metals in them, including uranium. It is what rivers do!

The related claim promoted by supporters of the withdrawal that uranium mining would "contaminate" the ground water and springs surrounding the Grand Canyon is based on the idea that the ground water is in a pristine state and that mining uranium in a breccia pipe will pollute the ground water near the pipe and that this water will then move through miles of geologic structures undiluted and undiminished to springs and wells near and in the Grand Canyon and then be consumed by people and wildlife. This is simply not true. If it was, the thousands of uranium mineralized breccia pipes that exist around and within the Grand Canyon would have already polluted the existing ground water with uranium and other metals so as to forever make the water unusable.

The bottoms of these breccia pipes sit in the regional aquifer of the Redwall Limestone (“R-aquifer”) and are mineralized with uranium to various degrees. For millions of years these thousands of breccia pipes have been "leaking" uranium and other metals into the ground water.

Why then, is the ground water in the R-aquifer not already hugely contaminated by millions of years of natural uranium leakage? The reasons are several -fold but quite simple: the area in the breccia pipe where the highest grades of uranium are located is separated vertically from the R-Aquifer by hundreds of feet of highly impermeable rock layers. The rock in the deeper sections of a breccia pipe (above the present day water table) are impermeable to rapid water transport, but instead very slowly transport water on a time scale of thousands of years. The lightly mineralized lower sections of a breccia pipe that are seated in the saturated R-Aquifer emit a "natural" plume of uranium and other metals into the R-aquifer that gets thoroughly mixed and diluted, however, into the huge water reservoir that is the slowly moving ground water beneath the Colorado Plateau. The uranium and other metals coming from these breccia pipes is simply diluted into harmless amounts the same way that uranium is diluted in the Colorado River. In other words, the sheer volume of water involved ‘waters down’ the very small amount of uranium naturally escaping breccia pipes.

In addition, the rocks in the R-aquifer contain minerals that take uranium out of its dissolved state in the water and lock it up within these minerals. The rock units of the R-Aquifer act like a sponge and suck the uranium out of the water. These are among the reasons that thousands of breccia pipes "naturally" leaking uranium and other metals don't contaminate the ground water around the Grand Canyon to levels that are harmful to people and other life forms living in the area, and those living downstream of the Grand Canyon.

Another misrepresentation is that the land being withdrawn represents only 12% of the breccia pipe uranium resource in northern Arizona. This is untrue. Currently, research by industry indicates that the 1 million acres proposed for withdrawal would reduce the northern Arizona uranium resource still available for mining by 76%. This is because the lands proposed for withdrawal host the highest amount of uranium per breccia pipe compared to the breccia pipes found in lands outside this area. This is, in fact, the reason why most of the mining claims covering breccia pipe uranium prospects are in this 1 million acre parcel and not elsewhere: the lands proposed for withdrawal are the sweet spot for high quality uranium breccia pipes. Understand, nearly all of the thousands of breccia pipes in the USGS's most favored area for uranium endowment have uranium in them to some degree, but breccia pipes that have a mineable 2 million pounds or more of uranium are rare, and nearly all of these are located within the proposed withdrawal area!

After a withdrawal, the remaining lands open to uranium exploration and mining would be those lands least likely to contain economic amounts of uranium in a breccia pipe.

The fact that the Draft EIS does not address such issues is a disgrace. The Draft EIS itself is a disgrace and represents not the best science, but an attempt to create the most uncertainty with the least amount of actual analysis possible.

My small exploration firm is an LLC and is American-owned, many other exploration companies with claims in Northern Arizona are American-owned as well. The fact that VANE Minerals and Denison Mines are British- and Canadian-based public companies, respectively, is neither here nor there. Any American can own these companies with a click of a mouse. What is sure, is that a withdrawal will make forfeit without compensation the tens of thousands (my case) or the millions of dollars that exploration companies have spent in good faith exploring northern Arizona to provide uranium for our nation's nuclear reactors.

So my question is this, is a withdrawal policy based on deceit ever good policy?

President Obama promised to use the best science available to make decisions within his administration. This President has shown himself no different than the Bush administration in this regard. Ideology trumps science and political payback and pandering trumps all.

@ y_p_w

The Orphan mine is owned by the Federal Government and would only "go back" into production if the National Park Service put it back into production. The US government, by Act of Congress, took title to the mining claim and incorporated the claim into the Park when they struck a deal with the mine owners to let them mine the subsurface deep underground that had rich ore but was within the Park (the other side of the Claim boundary by a few hundred feet). The Federal Government in their wisdom, did not require the former claim owners to reclaim the mine and in subsequent years turned down an offer by Energy Fuels Nuclear to do the reclaimation for free.

The lack of reclaimation at the Orphan mine is the fault of the Park Service and Federal Agencies, it is not like they did not know what they were buying when they traded the Uranium in the Park for the title to the Orphan mine. This is the plain is all verifiable should you choose to actually want to check the facts.

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