As you will soon discover, while reading this interview, permitting uranium mining requires more than a simple application to mine. And, as we discovered, the process can take between three and six years (sometimes even longer), costing several million dollars and requiring numerous scientific studies on a company’s property.
StockInterview: After studying several company news releases, it appears one of the first environmental studies required is the archaeological survey. Why is that done before mining uranium?
Richard Blubaugh: The archaeological surveys are required to evaluate cultural, archaeological and paleontological resources. It’s necessary to do to in order to identify and protect those resources for the whole state—academia as well. You can’t really go out and disturb these areas without knowing what’s there, what might be valuable and what might not. The first thing is to identify a reputable and competent archaeologist or a group of archaeological professionals that have some standing with the regulatory community.
StockInterview: What does the consulting group do then?
Richard Blubaugh: They start with literature review, which would go through the records and see if any previous studies have been done in this area. Those studies are archived generally with the state archaeologists or historical preservation society. Then they determine best where to start and, in this case, we are asking them to start where our drill sites are located because we want to clear those sites so that we can go ahead and start our drilling activities. Then they will review the rest of the property. It could take anywhere from months to years depending upon what’s found in any given area.
StockInterview: What happens if you find something of historical interest?
Richard Blubaugh: If you find something, this doesn’t mean you are out of luck or your project is stopped. It just means that it’s going to take a little more time and effort to deal. It usually is a negotiated process under the Federal actions, a Section 106 consultation. If it’s determined to be eligible, then it requires more research and negotiation, which is often avoidance. You fence it off or somehow mark it and stay away from it. But if you have to disturb an area where there’s a cultural asset, then that requires mitigation through digging, identifying, recording, photographing and reporting on everything that’s found. Then, that stuff is often removed and archived in a museum.
StockInterview: What do the archaeological consultants look for when going over your ground?
Richard Blubaugh: Items such as dinosaur bones or old stone tools and baskets, and historical resources, which are within the last few hundred years, since the white man has been on the continent. You could have buildings, an old school building or some other structure that had some significance, which maybe is a hundred or more years old.
StockInterview: How does your initial review for PowerTech in South Dakota look with regards to this part of the environmental studies?
Richard Blubaugh: We are fortunate at our Dewey Burdock project in South Dakota. Previous parties involved with the site, TVA and Silver King mines, had already done a lot of archaeological work on the site. Because the data is more than 20 years old, we have to go out and confirm they didn’t miss anything on the earlier surveys. I talked to the state archaeology office last week. Indications are that there isn’t anything that’s eligible at the project site. But there are a number of artifacts, mostly in the nature of stone flakes, points, arrowheads and that kind of thing.
StockInterview: What are some of the other environmental studies which need to be done?
Richard Blubaugh: There are a dozen or more specialized disciplines that have to be studied, such as meteorology, archaeology, paleontology, seismology, vegetation, wildlife and soils. You look at all aspects of the environment that could possibly be impacted by your operations or that could impact your operations.
StockInterview: Why are you doing a meteorology study when mining for uranium?
Richard Blubaugh: So that you know which way the wind blows. It takes often a whole year’s worth of data to determine with accuracy which is the predominant wind direction. The data exists at weather stations around the country, at Federal installations, at cities, and so forth but the focus and, I guess the key phrase is, site specificity. Along with meteorology is air quality. We also take samples of the air and send the filters in for analysis so we know what kind of contaminants exist in the air before we start operations. It’s information that you need to determine who is most likely to be contaminated if, for example, you had some type of accident. The data we collect gets inputted into computer programs for the NRC.
StockInterview: What other type of data are you required to assess?
Richard Blubaugh: You have to determine whether there are other economic resources in the area and whether you are going to be impacting their potential recovery as well, such oil and gas, or sand and gravel. If you have wetlands or surface water then you are going to have to also examine those critters. Typically you look at fish but you can also look at reptiles, frogs and so on.
StockInterview: And of course the water testing?
Richard Blubaugh: We have two pump tests included in our exploration plan. The pump tests are going to be up front. That’s going to be the first thing we do relative to groundwater, particularly for the Dewey project. We will probably be starting baseline groundwater monitoring at the Centennial project by June. I expect it will be pretty close to that for Dewey Burdock as well. In surface water hydrology and water quality, we also have to test so if we had any running streams in the project or near the project area, you have to do your sub-baseline on those surface waters as well, determine the water quality and the water quantity also.
StockInterview: What do the water studies determine?
Richard Blubaugh: Environmentally it tells you, kind of like the meteorology, which way the water flows, what kind of water it is, quality-wise, and what’s in the water. It also provides certain data for production, such permeability, transitivity, porosity and those kinds of things. Transitivity has to do with how fast the water moves in the ground and the speed of water in the ground, i.e. so many feet per year.
StockInterview: What do you learn by doing some of these other studies, and why are they required?
Richard Blubaugh: We have to identify each soil type and map it. We have to be able to represent which soils need to be enhanced or not during reclamation. Actually, it’s quite an extensive project for soils and certainly the radiometrics are part of it. With vegetation you look at productivity - how much biomass you get off of a given area and also plant cover; what percentage of the underground is covered by plant materials and growing plants. You determine the different species. The wildlife is very similar to that. You have to get into each species. Each one has different habitats and on somebody’s list somewhere.