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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Uranium Mining Revival in New Mexico through Solution Mining

"We've got to get quickly on a track to energy independence from foreign oil, and that means, among other things, going back to nuclear power," U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently told Fox News. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) invited Louisiana Enrichment Services (LES) to build a gas-centrifuge uranium enrichment facility near Hobbs, New Mexico. The facility is currently undergoing the permitting process. Southwest Research and Information Center's Annette Aguayo told us the group planned to begin working on stopping that project. Some environmentalists remain behind the times.

Other environmentalists, who led before, are leading again. James Lovelock, the spiritual guru of the world's environmental movement, sometimes called the "Father of the Green Revolution," because of his research and widely embraced warnings on DDT and CFCs, wrote in Reader's Digest, (March, 2005), "The figures show that many people's fears of nuclear energy are unreasonable." Dr. Lovelock also said "the Greens are plain wrong to oppose it." In May, 2004, Lovelock wrote, "Nuclear power is the only green solution."

New Mexico is primed for a uranium revival, not with conventional mining, but with ISL operations. The in situ leaching method, also known as solution mining, is environmentally friendly. Because it is low cost and does not contaminate the environment in ways that uranium mining did in the 1950s, many uranium companies plan to use this safer method for mining uranium in New Mexico.

In a conversation, late last year, with Grants Chamber of Commerce and Mining Museum employee Barbara Hahn, a deep resentment resounded in her voice when talking about the collapse of the uranium mining business in the 1980s. Grants (NM) was a boom town, during the 1970s uranium boom, when spot uranium prices climbed, and stayed above $40/pound. "Grants replaced the lost mining jobs by opening prisons," she told us. "Now, others bring us their prisoners." Ms. Hahn believed only 35 percent of the uranium had been extracted from the Grants Mineral Belt. "Most of it is still there," she added. According to a McLemore and Chenoweth geological report, a resource of 558 million pounds (279,000 short tons) might still be extracted. The question in the 1980s as it is today revolves around the spot price of uranium.

The higher the spot price of uranium, the more economic it can be to mine. As the price of uranium rises, then the quantity of an economic resource increases. At $30/pound, the U.S. Energy Information Administrated reported the state of New Mexico held 84 million pounds of uranium oxide, grading 0.28/ton, as of Dec 31, 2003. However, at $50/pound uranium, that quantity would jump to 341 million pounds. The spread on the gross value of the uranium assets between those price levels is nearly $15 billion! As the spot price escalates, the economic reserves grow.

Said William Sheriff, Director of Corporate Development for Energy Metals (TSX: EMC), "Our long-term, big, big projects are going to be in New Mexico. Long term, we think New Mexico is going to be quite valuable to us." He explained his company's plans are to first develop production centers in Texas and Wyoming, before developing ISL operations in The Enchanted State. Sheriff added, "Nothing in New Mexico in terms of the first five years, but that's not to say we're going to sit idly by. We're going to be aggressively pursuing these. The only thing we're going to be pursuing is ISL production." Based upon the company's extensive acquisitions in Wyoming, New Mexico and elsewhere, Sheriff threw down the gauntlet at Cameco and Cogema, whose ISL operations in Wyoming contribute the largest share of U.S. uranium production, "We intend to become the largest ISL producer in the United States."

David Miller, President and Chief Operation Officer of Strathmore Minerals, (TSX: STM; Other OTC: STHJF), believes, "The ISL production method will continue to grow in the United States, but we will also see a return to conventional mining and milling in the western states." In addition to their Wyoming uranium properties, Strathmore hopes to move forward their Church Rock uranium property on the heels of Uranium Resources' (OTC BB: URRE) permitting on Section 17, held by their HRI subsidiary. Basically, all three companies are friendly neighbors in the area. There is evidence they frequently talk among themselves, comparing notes. The three uranium juniors appear to be the current major players in New Mexico for ISL uranium mining.

Ron Driscoll, one of the co-founders of Quincy Energy, which has been acquired by Energy Metals, said, "It will get interesting when the oil companies get involved again." It is probably early for the oil giants to rush back into uranium. In the last uranium boom, many of the major oil companies were leaders in the uranium exploration and mining. Kerr-McGee Nuclear was the number one private sector uranium producer in the world. Other major oil companies involved in uranium mining and exploration included Mobil, Phillips, Conoco, Exxon, Chevron, Amoco and others. Another of the recently arrived uranium juniors, Max Resources (TSX: MXR) also plans to drill at the other end of New Mexico, in Socorro County (about 100 miles south of Albuquerque). MXR's property was once drilled by OxyMin, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, during the 1980s, before the price of uranium fell off a cliff.

Perhaps, one major company will emerge in New Mexico, consolidating the others, or some of the others. "There's a huge number of small uranium plays in the North American market that need critical mass," Neal Froneman, CEO of Uranium One (TSE: SXR) recently told a South African newspaper. "Consolidation will drive our business in the US and Canada, where we think it's tactically smart to be." Uranium One was itself a consolidation between Toronto-based Southern Cross and South African-based Aflease. Froneman concluded, ""It makes sense to have a major presence in North America in order to supply the (U.S.) utilities that will need to be built."

"The geology for this area, with regards to ISL uranium operations, could help make New Mexico an important supplier to U.S. utilities, possibly before the end of this decade," Strathmore's David Miller agreed. "I would not be surprised at all if there were more uranium to be found in New Mexico than is currently estimated. That's why companies have exploration programs." From a state, which has produced over 300 million pounds of uranium, and which may have between 300 million and 600 million additional pounds of uranium, New Mexico will be a prime target for uranium companies as long as the price of uranium continues to rise. Will uranium crash and burn, as it did in the 1980s? After accurately predicting the spot price of uranium would double in a StockInterview feature in June 2004, Miller recently told StockInterview, "I wouldn't be surprised to see the price double again."

Source: http://ezinearticles.com/?Uranium-Mining-Revival-in-New-Mexico-through-Solution-Mining&id=179129

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