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Geovic president promises safe uranium mining Print

By Steve Porter
Northern Colorado Business Report
September 26, 2008

KEOTA - The new president of Geovic Energy said his company intends to safeguard groundwater supplies and the environment if it chooses to go forward with uranium mining near this ghost town in northeast Weld County.

"We aren't going to do anything out there unless we're 110 percent sure we won't screw up the environmental situation," said Conrad Houser, who began his duties as president of Geovic Energy - a subsidiary of Grand Junction-based Geovic Mining Corp. - on Sept. 1.

Geovic has been leasing mineral rights in the area, which partially lies within the Pawnee National Grassland, for more than a year with about 15,000 acres leased so far. Houser said most of the leases were completed by spring of this year but there may be a few more leases yet to be signed, as he put it, "to get a more contiguous drilling area."

The leased area is nearly three times the 5,700 acres being leased near Nunn in western Weld County by Powertech, another company planning to do in-situ uranium mining.

In-situ mining is the most common - and industry officials say safest - method of uranium mining in the U.S. The process involves removing the mineral by injecting water into underground rock formations and extracting it through drill holes rather than by mining it from a conventional open mine.

Houser said any potential uranium mining in the Keota vicinity won't happen soon. "We've got a long way to go before we produce any uranium up there," he said.

Agressive leasing

Geovic Mining Corp., originally organized as Resource Equity Ltd. in Alberta, Canada in 1984, is primarily focused on cobalt, nickel and manganese mining in Cameroon, Africa. But in recent years the company has begun exploring for uranium in Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona.

In its April 3 statement to investors, Geovic noted that it had spent approximately $2.8 million in leasing costs in 2007 to acquire approximately 15,500 acres in Weld County and Goshen County, Wyoming.

"Through the leases it now holds, Geovic Energy has control over much of the known mineralized area in eastern Weld County, Colorado and Goshen County, Wyoming," the report said.

The company is exploring historical uranium deposits established by Union Oil of California, which did some preliminary uranium exploration in the late 1970s before deciding against proceeding in the wake of the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Houser said Geovic is still very much in a preliminary phase when it comes to mining the Keota area. "Right now it's in an information-gathering phase and we'll make some decisions later on this to proceed or not proceed," he said.

Houser said those decisions will be based in part on some on-site test drilling. "At some point we need to set up some baseline monitoring and drill some test holes," he said, acknowledging that could happen later this year or in 2009.

Vancouver-based Powertech has been drilling test holes and getting baseline monitoring information on its site west of Nunn for more than a year. The company has said it may seek permission from the state to begin mining in 2010.

"I think everybody's watching (Powertech)," Houser said. "But even though we'd be more rural, it doesn't mean we'll take our responsibilities any less seriously."

Despite being in a remote location population-wise, Geovic's presence is being closely watched by local residents - some of whom are fearful that a uranium operation could be the death knell for their small communities.

Water-supply fears

In July, the New Raymer town council passed a resolution opposing any uranium mining in its backyard. New Raymer, with a population of 91, lies less than 20 miles from the area being leased.

"We're concerned about our water supply," said Cary Lambert, the town's mayor. "We have one water supply coming from a thousand-foot-deep acquifer and if it gets polluted we'd have to pack up and move away. That's the only water we've got."

Doris Williams, a New Raymer resident, said she, too, fears uranium pollution in the area's water supply. "Why do we want to destroy our domestic water?" she asks. "I think they will destroy the water, and I don't care what anyone says."

Williams said she believes those locals who have leased their mineral rights to Geovic are mainly motivated by an opportunity to pick up a little money and roll the dice for some royalties should the operation succeed after years of drought.

"It's been tough because of the drought and people are running scared because it's money," she said. "Droughts come and go, but uranium mining is forever and why we can't get people to understand that I don't know."

Jay Davis, one of the founders of CARD, Coloradans Against Resource Destruction, said the Geovic operation would be no different from the Powertech operation that CARD was founded last year to stop.

"As far as the company, it really doesn't matter," he said. "They're all doing the same thing. We let people know what's happening in their region."

Company claims disputed

Davis said he doesn't buy promises from Powertech or Geovic to run a safe operation that will be properly cleaned up once the uranium deposit is mined out. "That's pretty much a standard comment, that they won't do anything harmful," he said. "But we have too much stuff that frankly shows something different."

Davis points to in-situ uranium operations by other companies in Wyoming and Texas that he claims weren't properly cleaned up, leaving surrounding communities with dangerous pollution.

"For the most part, there's no long-term monitoring after they're finished," he said.

But Houser insists that a Geovic uranium extraction operation would be safe. "We're going to do our homework on it," he said. "When and if we do go in there we'll be very open to working with the local citizens to make it a very 100 percent favorable operation for everybody there."

Houser said Geovic is pursuing uranium in a different world than that of Three Mile Island in 1979.

"It's a resurgence of nuclear power around the world, and it's a step toward U.S. energy independence," he said. "Either way, it's a win-win for the U.S. and we want to make it a win-win for Weld County and the state of Colorado and for our stockholders, too."

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