by Gargi Chakrabarty
The Rocky Mountain News
January 23, 2008
Colorado's mining rush is in full swing.
But this time, it's not gold. It's rich deposits of uranium, molybdenum and other hardrock minerals that are luring miners to try their luck in the state's semi- arid public lands as world demand skyrockets.
For instance, after decades on hiatus, thousands of prospectors are back on the Western Slope staking claims, eager to tap the area's uranium reserves. The price of uranium, used as raw material inside nuclear reactors, has doubled in recent years as developing nations embrace nuclear energy to power their economies.
Uranium claims on Colorado's federal lands, mostly in Montrose and Mesa counties, hit a whopping 10,730 in 2007 from as few as 120 in 2003 and 2,725 in 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Overall, new mineral claims on Colorado's public lands have jumped 239 percent since 2003.
"The filing of claims shows there is tremendous interest, but of course that doesn't translate into production," said Stuart Sanderson of the Colorado Mining Association.
Claims are the first step; developing those into mines requires a long permit process.
Today, the value of Colorado's minerals industry (excluding coal) in about $1.6 billion, Sanderson estimates.
But many groups worry that the rush could cause past mistakes to be repeated in Colorado, which is struggling to clean up 23,000 abandoned mines and Superfund mine sites.
There's an urgent need, they say, to modernize the 1872 Mining Law, enacted before Colorado achieved statehood, which still governs how minerals are mined on federal lands in the West.
Under the law, uranium, molybdenum and other hardrock miners don't pay any royalties to the government, said Pete Kolbenschlag with the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. Also, the law doesn't allow local governments to have input in mining activities.