Responsible Mining - Virginia vs Wisconsin | Mining University

Responsible Mining - Virginia vs Wisconsin

I was reminded recently how dangerous life can be. ABC news reported last week that actor Larry Miller was planning to return to work after sustaining a severe head injury in April. I recognize Larry from his role as the dad in the movie '10 Things I Hate about You.' Larry spent nearly 4 months in a medically induced coma after slipping and falling on the sidewalk outside a recording studio. Being an actor has got to be one of the safest jobs on the planet. Walking out the door and onto the sidewalk is something we all do every day, but here is a normal, healthy human being who ends up in a coma as a result of this everyday action.

It makes me think about how dangerous things can be and why we do them in the first place. After all the talk about gun restrictions lately I was glad to hear that nobody was up in arms wanting to ban sidewalks or walking or recording podcasts as a result of this injury, although all three played a role in Larry Miller's head injury and coma. Why is it that some things are accepted as having an inherent, acceptable amount of danger (like walking down the sidewalk) and others are considered too dangerous to even consider.

Dangers of Mining

This train of thought led me to another topic in the news recently. It seems that several political groups in Virginia vehemently oppose the lifting of a ban on Uranium mining. Recent increases in the price of uranium have made a deposit near Coles Hill a profitable ore reserve but these political groups still support a ban on uranium mining in the area.

No one can deny that the mining and milling of any resource contains an inherent amount of risk and uranium mining is no different but at what point do the rewards outweigh the risks? When does the number of jobs created prompt you to allow mining? Does the influx of raw materials to the local and global economy offset some risks? What if mining, milling and tailings disposal could be done in a safe manner, overseen by the most stringent government oversight agency in the world?

Nobody can tell you that a mining operation doesn't have the potential for something to go wrong. No matter what safety measures are put in place, there is still the potential for an accident. Of course, Larry Miller could still tell us that walking down the sidewalk carries the potential for accidents.

Why not Mine?

Groups that vehemently oppose mining generally do so on two fronts. The first complaint is that we shouldn't do mining near my residence. This is commonly referred to as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) argument. It comes from people who think that the dangers of extracting natural resources should be taken on by someone else. This attitude completely overlooks the fact that mining activities taking place in third world countries often do so without government oversight to protect workers and the environment. The NIMBY attitude also conveniently forgets that the entire planet is a closed ecosystem and that environmental disasters on the other side of the planet effect everyone.

The second argument against mining is that 'mining is evil.' This is often extended to cover all money making operations and grows into 'making money is evil.' People who argue from this platform have watched too much television. In the case of uranium mining they have watched too much X-Men. Money is not the root of all evil. Making money is not evil. Making money is what drives the economy. During most of the history of America we have embraced our natural resources, using them to feed our factories. This employed our people, increased our quality of life and made America the leading industrial power in the world. Why have we let Hollywood tell us that our heritage is bad. We can be environmentally responsible and still embrace our industrial heritage.

Proponents of Mining

There are people in the world who recognize that mining is good for the economy and good for local business. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker wants to allow iron mining in his state. Here is somebody who understands that his local economy needs new jobs. Not just mining jobs but all the supporting industries that will expand to meet the needs of a growing mine. Governor Walker also understands that mining can be done safely and responsibly. Iron mines in neighboring Michigan and Minnesota have long track records of safe mining practices.

We all like the results of mining, our cars and our computers, our homes with indoor plumbing and the electricity to run our appliances. These things are brought to us by mining. No matter how protective of the environment you might be it's always nice to come back to the indoor plumbing. We're not going to give up the things that mining gives us. The responsible thing to do is to keep mining close to home and enforce practices that are reasonable for the economy and the environment.


  1. Anthony, good editorial. I hadn't connected the Wisconsin and Virginia legislative initiatives, but they do bear similarities: Gogebic Taconite is a privately-held company who propose to mine iron in Wisconsin for 1st time in 50 years, but current reg's in Wisconsin prohibit using wetlands for waste rock or tailings - effectively a ban on any new mines. Hope that Wisconsin makes itself a little more mining-friendly, since there are so many other good resources (Crandon VMS, etc) and so many big mining equipment manufacturers (Bucyrus-Cat) in the State, and hope GTAC's mine is done responsibly.

    The Virgina legislature is being asked to reverse the moratorim on uranium mining, originally in opposition to development of the world-class Coles Hill deposit in SW VA, discoverd in 1970s by junior Marline Uranium. Marline left after the uranium-nuclear power supply chain stagnated and U3O8 prices fell to <$5/lb. Meanwhile, Walter Cole Sr returned to the farm owned by his family since the early 1800s after a career in the US military and foreign service. After watching the uranium business rebound, he founded Virginia Uranium Inc (now Virginia Energy Resources, of which he is Chairman/CEO), and has added experienced professionals to develop the 119M lbs U3O8 deposit, and sponsoring good technical studies on the local hydrology, preliminary mine planning with minimal impact (all waste on-site, tailings cement paste infill to UG mine, etc) utilizing "local" expertise from Virginia Tech and other resources. Technical reports on SEDAR, a VPI M.S. thesis, and a George Mason U economic impact study are available on the web. HOWEVER, a Nat'l Acad Sci report by distinguished committee was recently released, and that study is cited by enviro groups opposed to the mine (Piedmont Environmental Council) as confirmation that the Coles Hill mine will have dire consequences. I found the report on the Nat'l Academies Press web site, and went directly to their conclusions, which include some very astonishing facts. For example: mining CAN be hazardous; mining (especially uranium mining) CAN have adverse environmental impacts if done improperly, and so on, going on to say that "some of the... risks could be mitigated...if uranium mining, processing and reclamation are all conducted according to best practices."
    Wow, it only took a dozen or so PhD scientists 11 months, a trip to uranium mines in Saskatchewan, several "town hall" meetings, and many, many hours of extensive research to come up with THAT gem, as well as other astute comments, like how it's a good idea to collect baseline data, that mine planning should be done by experienced professionals, etc.
    The panel of "experts" (apparently chosen for not having vertabraes) also noted that there isn't much uranium mining expertise IN the State of Virginia (possibly because of that 30-yr MORATORIUM??), and furthermore that (ATTENTION: Tetra Tech, RungePincock, SRK, Behre Dolbear, AMEC et al): "There is only limited experience with modern underground and open-pit uranium mining and processing practices in the wider United States..."
    Mining industry professionals and anyone else who deplores wasting tax dollars for disingenuous conclusions like those in the "Uranium Mining in Virginia" study should be appalled.

    1. Thanks UnklBob,
      I appreciate your responsible, conservative and intelligent response. I especially like your insight about why the Coles Hill uranium deposit wasn't mined back in the 1980's. This is a tactic that lots of environmental lobbyists use to prevent mining and other job creating industries. The whole project was put on hold until there could be extensive research to the impacts of mining. This research took just long enough for uranium prices to drop and stop the project anyway. In so many cases the opponents to development know that they don't have to present actual data, they just have to stall until the project is uneconomic or has spent so much on defense lawyers that they can't afford to fund the start-up.
      Now that the state has had 20 plus years to finish their study I hope that they won't be hesitant to help their economy responsibly.