Hard-Rock Mining Ban Around Grand Canyon National Park Upheld By Federal Judge

An effort to overturn the Obama administration's moratorium on new mining claims on some 1 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park has been rejected by a federal judge.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the ban in January 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon’s watersheds. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and development on old claims that lack “valid existing rights” to mine. At the time, Interior staff noted that the Public Land Order to withdraw these acres for 20 years from new mining claims and sites under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, is authorized by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Last week U.S. District Judge David Campbell denied a uranium industry motion to overturn the ban. The National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and others last year had filed four lawsuits challenging the withdrawal and the underlying federal authority to enact any withdrawals larger than 5,000 acres. The Havasupai tribe and conservation groups intervened to uphold both.

“It’s a great day for the Grand Canyon, and for rivers, wildlife, and communities across the West,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, one the attorneys representing conservation groups and the Havasupai tribe in the case. “The uranium industry was hoping to cripple the Interior Department’s ability to temporarily protect lands from destructive mining. Today’s opinion upholds the Interior Department’s authority to take such protective measures.”

The industry groups had claimed that the presence of an unconstitutional legislative veto in the subsection that contains the Interior Secretary’s authority to withdraw land parcels larger than 5,000 acres means that the Interior Secretary had no authority at all to withdraw such lands. The judge ruled -- as the government, Havasupai tribe and conservation groups had argued -- that the unconstitutional veto provision could be “severed” from the law without affecting the Grand Canyon’s watershed withdrawal or the Interior Department’s general authority to protect such lands.

“Today’s ruling protects not only the Grand Canyon’s watershed, but millions of acres of other public land that have been withdrawn to protect natural values from destructive mining,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By upholding the federal withdrawal authority, today’s ruling is good news for public lands, water and wildlife.”

The court’s decision does not end the four industry lawsuits challenging the Grand Canyon mineral withdrawal decision. Industry can still raise arguments that Interior Secretary Salazar failed to properly consider environmental and economic impacts of the withdrawal. Those issues are likely to be briefed this spring.

Last May, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said they had uncovered an email trail showing that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management relied more on "confusion and obfuscation" than science in justifying the 20-year ban.

Emails from Larry Martin, a hydrogeologist with the National Park Service Water Resources Division, expressed his opinion that the watershed threats cited in the draft EIS were overblown.

"My personal and professional opinion is that the potential impacts stated in the DEIS as (sic) grossly overestimated and even then they are very minor to negligible," Mr. Martin wrote in an email to colleagues on March 7, 2011, when the draft EIS was open for public comments. "The DEIS goes to great lengths in an attempt to establish impacts to water resources from uranium mining. It fails to do so, but instead creates enough confusion and obfuscation of hydrogeologic principles to create the illusion that there could be adverse impacts if uranium mining occurred."

Interior Department officials at the time declined to get into the specifics of the emails, but rather said the withdrawal "is the right decision for this priceless American landscape -- one that was based on the best available science."

Comments

I would point out that Judge Campbell decided to sever the legislative veto from the withdrawal authority section verses upholding the ban. He has yet to hear any of the complaints regarding NEPA or other constitutional challenges to the actual Record of Decision and Land Withdrawal Order.

If you think that unfettered and unrestricted large tract withdrawal authority for the Secretary of the Interior is a good thing, then it was a good day all around.

I don't happen to agree with that idea though. This Interior Department treats EISs as a mere formality and one that can be written to order to fulfill whatever policy requirements that they have.

For example, the uranium endowment for the withdrawal area was cut by 85% based on a public information article written by a USGS scientist. It turns out the article was edited incorrectly and did not in fact represent any established scientific findings. However, the BLM latched on to this "Published Data" and used it to trivialize the amount of uranium in the withdrawal area, even though they new that there was not a single other scientific peer reviewed study that agreed with the premise that 85% of the uranium in the withdrawal area was not minable.

I pointed this error out to the BLM in two emails and was told subsequently by their DOI lawyer (not the BLM official in the email) that the EIS was done and that they did not have to review this new information. I disagree.

A carefull review of my last email to the BLM demonstrates that the EIS contractors and the BLM did not have the knowledge or ability to undertake this part of the EIS. The uranium endowment for the withdrawal area was the major starting point for all other aspects of the EIS analysis, yet the BLM had no idea how to, in truth, figure it out.

The email exchange is below:

Dear Mr. Yount,

I am in receipt of the trailing unsolicited email message that you sent to me on Sunday, March 3, 2013. This response is on behalf of myself and the other BLM staff who also received your email.

As I am sure you are aware, the subject of your email - “Withdrawal Area Uranium Endowment and the RFD” – is also one of the subjects that is at issue in Yount v. Salazar, a lawsuit you initiated challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s January 2012 decision to withdraw certain Public and National Forest System lands in Arizona from location and entry under the Mining Law of 1872 for a period of 20 years subject to valid existing rights. Your lawsuit (which has been consolidated with three other lawsuits challenging the Withdrawal) is currently pending before the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.

Given that this matter is in active litigation, I am unable to respond directly to your concerns at this time but have forwarded your March 3 email to our attorneys in DOI’s Office of the Solicitor and the Justice Department to make sure that they were aware of your views on this matter.

[= large]Sincerely,[/]

[= large]Chris Horyza[/]

Chris Horyza
Planning and Environmental Coordinator
BLM State Office
602-417-9446

Mr. Horyza,

This email is regarding the method that was used to reduce the uranium endowment for the withdrawal area from that determined in SIR 2010-5025 to 15% of that value in the RFD in the EIS for the Northern Arizona Withdrawal. From my reading of the Administrative Record, I believe that you participated in the review of the RFD material. I believe that you should be made aware of the following commentary and anlaysis. It points out that the RFD assumption, that only 15% of the endowment for the withdrawal area was minable, is unsupportable and has no basis in reality.

I have been reading the emails and memos in the Administrative Record and have been very disappointed in the level of attention to detail, what constitutes actual data, and using a logical argument rather than a scientific basis for determining what is data, information, and analysis.

For example, various members of the "team" that formulated and reviewed the RFD came to the conclusion that the "15%" reduction in the endowment was peer review because SIR 2010-5025 was peer reviewed. This is not the case. Such that it was, SIR 2010-5025 was peer reviewed and the endowwment figure provided was 162,964 tons U3O8 or 325,892,000 pounds of uranium. The RFD authors (SWCA) are the ones to reduce this amount by 85%. There were no scientific papers or analysis that supported this proposition.

The basis upon which they did this was not peer reviewed scientifically. There was a group think review for the RFD that was conducted regarding this 15% figure and as to whether it was a logical thing to do and not whether is was scientifically supportable. Cutting the SIR 2010-5025 endowment for the withdrawall area by 85% was never scientifically peer reviewed. In point of fact, the RFD authors specifically cited only one published instance, "Wenrich and Sutphin 1988" , the RFD authors stating in their October 4, 2010 memo:

"We found one useful assumption in available literature. Weinrich and Sutphin 1988 estimate that approximately 8% of breccia pipes are mineralized and that approximately 10% of mineralized breccia pipes might be economically viable. These assumptions were not described in any detail in the literature and no backup data were presented."

Pretty thin ice to hang an EIS on!

The Uranium endowment for the withdrawal area is the starting point for the entire EIS. This much was definately understood by those writing the EIS. Why then, was such an important and pivital assumption not fact checked with the author, Karen Wenrich. I contacted Wenrich and asked what she meant by that statement and she replied that this was an article for the public, not a published scientific paper and that in the editing process she made a mistake and that the above referenced percentages are out of context. These percentages refer to a specific subset of breccia pipes on the Haulapai Indian Reservation and not to breccia pipes in general according to Wenrich.

Why was Wenrich not contacted by Chris Garrett to fact check such an important and pivital analytical assumption, especially when the rest of the available scientific literature makes no reference or similar statement regarding these percentages. A simple real world analysis would have shown that the 15% assumption was flawed.

The 1987 Estimate of Undiscovered Uranium Endowment in Solution-Collapse Breccia Pipes in the Grand Canyon Region of Northern Arizona and Adjacent Utah (Circular 1051), a peer reviewed scientific publication states the matter quite differently.

Circular 1051 states that Low Grade rock (.01 to .09%) U3O8 is generally a very small part of the entire (minable) deposit.

From Circular 1051:

"Study of considerable data from Energy Fuels Nuclear, Inc's., exploration drilling indicates that there probably are no large bodies of mineralized rock having average grades in the 0.01 to 0.09 percent U308 range within the stratigraphic interval under consideration in our assessment."

"The amount of low-grade ( < 0.10 U308) material in ore-grade deposits is small, as is shown by the unpublished 1979 DOE graph of the distribution of uranium inventory by grade for the Hack No. 2 deposit, where, at a 0.01 percent U308 cutoff, the inventory is 20 percent of the total inventory and has an average grade of 0.21 percent U308."

Therefore, the idea that because the cutoff grade for the endowment was .01% that most of the uranium bearing rock was low grade and uneconomic was entirely wrong. What makes the breccia pipe province unique is the very fact that nearly all of the uranium in an ore grade pipe is minable and that pipes that are not minable have insignificant amounts of uranium as far as the uranium endowment is concerned.

TESTING THE RFD 15% ASSUMPTION

If Chris Garrett's hypothesis were true, it would mean that 85% of the 325,928,000 pounds of uranium endowment for the withdrawal area is low grade. This would be 277,038,800 pound of low grade uranium "ore" that was unminable.

How much tonnage of rock in breccia pipes does this represent and is there any drilling or geologic evidence for this amount of breccia pipe hosted low grade material? Using a median value for the low grade material of .05% U3O8 or 1.0 pounds per ton, it is evident that it would take 277,038,800 tons of rock to host this low grade uranium mineralization.

A typical minable ore body in a breccia pipe contains from 100,000 to 500,000 tons of ore. The Circular 1051 endowment analysis considered only the stratagraphic region in the pipe where ore grade material is found to determine the uranium endowment. Using a middle value of 300,000 tons for an ore body, it would take 923 mineralized breccia pipes with very large low grade mineralized bodies to host the unminable low grade ore that the RFD states exists.

This is the real world consequence of the 85% low grade assumption.

The breccia pipe density for the withdrawal area is about 0.28 pipes per square mile and the withdrawal area is 1687 Sq Miles. The number of pipes in the withdrawal area would then be estimated at 472 breccia pipes. If the RFD were correct, this would mean that all of the estimated 472 pipes in the withdrawal area would be low grade mineralized pipes, meaning all of the breccia pipes in the withdrawal area would have a low grade 300,000 ton mineralized breccia body in the ore zone plus another 451 breccia pipes that do not exist in the withdrawal area would have this endowment as well. This is impossible, and is at odds with all geological knowledge of the region, but also at odds with the RFD's assertion that only 8% of pipes are mineralized.


There exists no geological evidence, USGS report, or published drilling results that would support this scenario. (see excerpt from Circular 1051 above )

The RFD contention that 85% of the SIR 2010-5025 endowment figure for the withdrawal area is unminable is false and has no basis in reality.

It seems beyond reason, that such a simple analysis and calculation would show the error of the RFD author's assumptions, but that these supposed experts at SWCA were incapable of doing such or even capable of asking these kinds of questions.Institutionally, this fundemental question must be addressed.

Chris Garrett stated on several occasion in the AR that there was no method to determine the minable and economic portion of the uranium endowment for the withdrawal area. This is simply not true. An understanding of Circular 1051 would indicate that the endowment calculated was, essentially, the economically minable amount of uranium. Chris Garrett and others did not fundementally understand this, as it is evedent they did not understand the scientific basis for the Size, Frequency, Distribution Analysis conducted.

Furthermore, USGS Circular 994: Uranium Resource Assessment by the Geologic Survey: Methodology and Plan to Update the National Resource Base is the guide book on how a Size, Frequency, Distribution is done. From page 2 of Circular 994 it states:

"Endowment is defined as the amount of uranium in recognizable concentrations in rocks that average 0.01 percent U3O8 or more. Although the initial estimate of endowment is termed the conitional endowment by DOE (U.S. Department of Energy, 1980) we modify the equation to calculate unconditional endowment directly.From the unconditional endowment, one may segregate, using different grade cutoffs, the economic portion or potential uranium resource.

Why is it that the professionals at SWCA were unable to find or use this methodology that would be based in science and the original endowment analysis? Why was it that these was no one at the USGS or the BLM that would direct them to this asset? All that was required was to rerun the endowment analysis at a higher grade cutoff value. The program for doing so is still available (online), it will run on a windows 98 platform. The directions for using the program are included.

There are many other WHYs to be asked.

However, it should be aboundantly clear that there was a MAJOR institutional failure at the BLM/DOI with regards to the endowment resource. Additionally, it is not safe to assume that other parts of the EIS do not suffer from this same failure. My belief and analysis, is that they do.

This commentary and analysis is being given a wide distribution to those that participated in reviewing the RFD and Appendix B. It is my hope that there are those who would really look at what I have presented, do their own research, and do the right thing.

I am available to answer any questions you may have.

Gregory Yount
Manager
The NAU Project, LLC

Gregory, thank you for letting us know of your connection to a company that wants to mine uranium on lands around the canyon. Honesty is very refreshing in discussions like these.

I'll go back and read your entire post as soon as I can. In the meantime, for others, here's a link to NAU Project's website home page: http://northern-arizona-uranium-project.com/