Friday, January 08, 2016

malheur county targetted for gold and uranium mines


oregonlive |  Sprawling Malheur County could soon be in the spotlight as a mining hub -- or a battleground of uranium and gold mining interests vs. environmentalists trying to protect its lonesome sagebrush landscape.
Australian-owned Oregon Energy LLC hopes to mine 18 million pounds of yellowcake uranium from the southeastern Oregon high desert 10 miles west of McDermitt near the Oregon-Nevada boundary. The go-ahead to mine the so-called Aurora uranium deposit could bring up to 250 construction jobs to the county, followed by 150 mining jobs.
Meanwhile, Calico Resources USA Corp., a subsidiary of a Vancouver, B.C., company, may seek permits this month to chemically extract microscopic gold from a high desert butte south of Vale called Grassy Mountain, a project likely to create another 100 jobs.
The proposals will be the first real test of the 1991 chemical processing mining law passed by the Legislature in response to a debate over mining's future in Oregon, said environmentalist Larry Tuttle. The law ushered in tough new bonding requirements to weed out marginal operators and guarantee environmental cleanup.
Approval of the Grassy Mountain project could trigger a deluge of new chemical mining in Malheur County. Up to a dozen gold deposits similar to Grassy Mountain dot the high desert between the Snake River town of Huntington and Jordan Valley.
The county, sparsely populated with only 31,313 people, could use new jobs, said County Commissioner Dan Joyce. Its unemployment rate in November was 10.3 percent, compared with 9.1 percent for Oregon and 8.6 percent for the nation.
Mining companies have passed up the county in the past because of Oregon's environmentally conscious reputation, Joyce said. But this time, the sluggish local and state economies, higher mineral prices and technological advances in mining and cleanup could open a door to mining, he said.
"I'm thinking people are a lot hungrier now than they were," Joyce said.
Uranium mine plan
Oregon Energy's proposal calls for extracting ore from a mile-long, 600-foot wide, 250-foot deep open pit 10 miles west of McDermitt and 3 miles north of the Oregon-Nevada border. The mine, adjoining the former Bretz Mercury Mine, a contaminated open-pit site from the 1960s, would cost $200 million to develop and uranium extraction could continue for up to 20 years, said Oregon Energy President Lachlan Reynolds.
Plans call for the ore to be crushed and mixed with an acid solution in enclosed vats to leach out the uranium, he said. The acid would bond with the uranium and when dry become a sand-like powder called uranium oxide concentrate, or yellowcake. Yellowcake would bring $52 per pound and could fuel nuclear reactors or be processed into weapons.
Tuttle, spokesman for the Portland-based Center for Environmental Equity, foresees environmental problems.