CHEYENNE,Wyo. — The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released its final environmental analysis to allow uranium mining in a remote area of southwest Wyoming, leaving the project one more regulatory step before mining can begin.
If all goes well before the BLM issues its final approval, Littleton, Colo.-based UR-Energy could start building the Lost Creek mine by early October, according to company and BLM officials.
The BLM will take more public comment on the project until Sept. 17. Its final approval could come about two weeks after that.
“For us, that is the last permit that we need to begin construction, and we really have all of our operational permits in place as well,” Wayne W. Heili, president and CEO of UR-Energy, said.
The project already has received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state.
It would employ about 100 full-time workers.
Some conservation groups are concerned the mine and its hundreds of wells will disturb vital wildlife habitat in the corner of the Red Desert where the mine will be located.
UR-Energy plans to use a process called in-situ mining in which a chemical solution is injected into underground uranium formations to yield a uranium-bearing solution that is pumped to the surface through hundreds of wells.
UR-Energy then would dry the solution into solid yellowcake.
The BLM recommends that the project be allowed as long as the mined uranium solution is dried on site.
“From our analysis we’ve determined that this is the best alternative as far as fewest number of impacts to the environment and to other resources such as wildlife and air quality and transportation and things of that nature,” BLM spokeswoman Serena Baker said.
Early concepts of the project, which dates back to 2007, had the solution being dried elsewhere.
But Heili said the company determined as the project progressed that drying the uranium solution on site was best.
“It’s more economic for us to dry on site and it has a lower environmental impact as the BLM noted in their study,” Heili said.
The uranium mine would be located about 15 miles southwest of Bairoil in northeastern Sweetwater County. The site would consist of three contiguous mine units of 40-60 acres each. Each mine unit would have 600-700 wells.
Total land disturbed after three to four years would be 320-340 acres, company officials have said.