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Strathmore third firm to apply to dig uranium

Dec 6, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Strathmore applied for a permit to mine uranium in the Gas Hills Mining District on Oct. 31 with hopes of developing open pit mines on its 35,000-acre claim.

The Strathmore project is the third new uranium mine in the pipeline for Fremont County. Furthest along is Cameco's Gas Hills project, for which the Bureau of Land Management already has written a draft environmental impact study. The BLM also is preparing an EIS for Titan Uranium's proposed Sheep Mountain uranium mine.

Strathmore operates uranium mines elsewhere in Wyoming and in other states. Its stake in the Gas Hills starts about 45 miles east of Riverton on Gas Hills Road.

Strathmore CEO David Miller said the company hopes to mine 1 million to 2 million pounds of uranium a year from the Gas Hills, depending on uranium prices. The company thinks 100 million pounds of uranium is still in the ground in the Gas Hills.

Strathmore's new permit covers areas previously mined under six permits held by five different companies.

"It permits pretty much all of the areas that have known mineralization that we'd like to develop in the next 10 years or so," Miller said.

He projects Strathmore's and Cameco's mines will employ 150 to 200 people if prices are low; if prices are high he said the mines may provide more than 500 jobs.

"There's enough uranium out there now and enough yet to be discovered to last into perpetuity," he said. "I could see another 50 years of mine life."

The permit application will trigger an environmental impact study by the BLM, Miller said.

A mill facility will process the ore from the mine to extract uranium. A separate permit for the mill will be required from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Miller thinks his company will submit an application for the mill sometime next year.

"The laws are straightforward, but the laws are strict," he said. "Wyoming is probably the best state for mining regulations."

Miller said he could not forecast when the mine will start operations because the permitting process is complicated.

"I bet both of those permits will add a year of permitting to the process," he said. "Hopefully we can have it ready for the next uptick in uranium prices."

The price of a pound of uranium peaked at $138 in 2007 but is now set at about $40.

Miller said the mine's environmental impact will be a net positive. Strathmore plans to backfill old mines with new dirt unearthed at the site. At the end of the new mines' lives, he said, Strathmore will have to fill the mines and reclaim that area for wildlife.

"A poor economy is bad for the environment," he said. "This will help keep the economy strong."

Strathmore continues to develop the Gas Hills project. The company is drilling to confirm past data about uranium deposits in its stake. It is also exploring previously undiscovered extensions of those deposits, Miller said.

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