There's gold - and uranium - in these Oregon hills

There's gold - and uranium - in these Oregon hills
In this photo taken Jan. 6, 2012, Andrew Bentz and Andy Gaudielle of Calico Resources USA stand atop an estimated 425,000 ounces of gold in the bowels of Grassy Mountain in southeastern Oregon's high desert south of Vale, Ore. The company hopes to win over environmentalists and get permission to sink mine shafts into the mountain to claim the rich lode, which geologists say could include an additional 500,000 ounces of gold. Gaudielle, project manager for Calico, insists the mountain will appear unchanged when mining ends. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Richard Cockle)

ONTARIO, Ore. (AP) — A section of Eastern Oregon suffering from high unemployment hopes a renewed interest from mining companies in its uranium and gold stores leads to a jobs boom, but environmentalists remain skeptical the mining can be done without polluting the water.

The mining companies pledge that cleaner, more efficient technology should make the ventures palatable to environmental groups that opposed area mines in the 1980s and 1990s.

Earlier approaches used a so-called pit mining approach, which used chemicals to leach heavy metals from open-air digs. Ponds of the diluted chemicals attracted and killed birds.

That would still be the process used by an Australian firm looking at drawing yellowcake uranium from a pit mine three miles north of the Oregon-Nevada border. The company, called Oregon Energy, hopes to mine 18 million pounds of uranium from the Aurora deposit, the Oregonian reported.

The company forecasts extraction from the Aurora would bring 250 construction jobs and 150 mining jobs to Malheur County, where 31,313 people are living with 10.3 percent unemployment, more than 1 percentage point higher than the state average.

Oregon Energy President Lachlan Reynolds said plans call for ore to be crushed and mixed with an acid solution in enclosed vats to leach out the uranium. Mining companies had to stop operating in ways that caused environmental problems in the past, he said.

"We will have to post substantial financial bonds to ensure that there is full reclamation of the site to an approved plan when mining ends," Reynolds said.

The proposals will be the first real test of the 1991 chemical processing mining law passed by the Legislature in response to a debate over mining's future in Oregon, said environmentalist Larry Tuttle. The law ushered in tough new bonding requirements to weed out marginal operators and guarantee environmental cleanup.

Sulfuric acid will likely be used in the process, which tends to continuously leach out heavy metals from waste materials, contaminating groundwater, he said.

"Just because you are through with the processing, years later you still have the issue with that interaction," Tuttle said.

The mine would cost $200 million to develop, and uranium extraction could continue for up to 20 years. Yellowcake would bring $52 per pound and could fuel nuclear reactors or be processed into weapons.

A Canadian company, Calico Resources USA Corp., might also seek a permit to extract microscopic gold from the area using an 850-foot underground shaft or tunnel to remove 1,000 tons of ore per day.

The operation expects to remove at least 425,000 ounces of gold from the mountain. The company's investment and exploration costs probably will total $100 million before mining begins, said Calico project manager Andy Gaudielle.

Calico hopes to begin taking gold from Grassy Mountain in five years, but the regulatory pathway is likely to be longer for the Aurora mine because uranium is involved.

___

Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press