The Uranium Leasing Program (ULP), managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM), celebrated a milestone this summer that was nearly 10 years in the making. As of July 2020, lessees signed agreements for the last remaining active ULP tracts (29 in total), opening the door to the exploration, development, and extraction of uranium and associated minerals in the Uravan Mineral Belt of southwest Colorado. This action supports President Trump’s efforts to revitalize the domestic nuclear energy industry, as recommended by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group, which was created in 2019 to develop strategies for expanding the production of uranium from domestic sources.
On October 18, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued an injunction that froze lease activities until an evaluation of the DOE Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was completed. The court ordered DOE to provide additional information related to the PEIS; DOE complied with the order, and the injunction was lifted on March 18, 2019, allowing the program to move forward with developing new leases.
During the injunction, the previous leases for these 29 tracts expired. In January 2020, LM executed new 10-year leases with three entities: Energy Fuels Resources (eight lease tracts), Gold Eagle Mining Inc. (three lease tracts), and Golden Eagle Uranium, LLC (nine lease tracts). Cotter Corporation’s lease agreements for its nine lease tracts were more complicated, as the company had previously assigned its mining interests in western Colorado to Highbury Resources. Cotter executed its lease agreements, assigning them to Highbury Resources in late July 2020. The new leases contain all provisions detailed in the PEIS, including requirements for lessees to conduct National Environmental Policy Act evaluations prior to exploration and mining.
While mining on the tracts will not resume immediately due to the current depressed market value of uranium and associated minerals, the new agreements provide the opportunity for the lessees to prepare exploration and mining plans, including site-specific environmental impact evaluations and mitigation plans, all of which DOE must approve before any mining can begin.
This planning will allow the lessees the ability to prepare to mine when favorable market conditions return. An estimated 13.5 million pounds of uranium resources remain within the ULP lease tracts.