LM currently manages the Uranium Leasing Program and continues to administer 31 lease tracts, all located within the Uravan Mineral Belt in southwestern Colorado. Twenty-nine of these lease tracts are actively held under lease and two tracts have been placed in inactive status indefinitely. Administrative duties include ongoing monitoring and oversight of leaseholders’ activities and annual inspections to identify and correct safety hazards or environmental compliance issues.
The Atomic Energy Act and other legislative actions authorized the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), predecessor agency to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to withdraw lands from the public domain and then lease them to private industry for mineral exploration — specifically, the mining of uranium and vanadium ore. More than 25,000 acres of land in southwestern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah was withdrawn from the public domain during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
1949-1962: First Leasing Period (Mineral Leasing Program)
In 1949, AEC included portions of these lands in 48 mineral leases that were negotiated with adjacent mine owners and operators. This early leasing program ended in 1962, yielding more than 1.2 million pounds of uranium and 6.8 million pounds of vanadium, which generated $5.9 million in royalties to the federal government. As this program ended, AEC directed all lessees to backfill the portals of their respective mines — in order to avoid unauthorized access — and then walk away. These unreclaimed mine sites would later become DOE “legacy” mine sites.
1974-1994: Second Leasing Period (Uranium Leasing Management)
A second leasing program was initiated in 1974. The previously withdrawn lands were divided into 44 lease tracts and offered to the domestic uranium industry through a competitive bid process. During the next 20 years, more than 1.7 million tons of ore were produced from the lease tracts, yielding approximately 6.5 million pounds of uranium and 33 million pounds of vanadium, which generated $53 million in royalties to the federal government. During this and subsequent leasing periods, the lessees were held individually responsible for reclaiming their respective mining operations, once those operations ceased.
1994-2008: Third Leasing Period (Uranium Leasing Program)
In 1994, all existing leases were allowed to expire to give DOE the opportunity to prepare a programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if the leasing program should continue. Recognizing that the former lessees had a vested interest in their respective lease tracts, DOE granted the lessees access to the lease tracts to maintain their existing operations or perform reclamation. The EA was finalized and approved in July 1995. A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued in August 1995 for the proposed action, which called for the continued leasing of DOE-managed lands for the exploration and production of uranium and vanadium ores.
In 1996, DOE reoffered respective leases to the previous lessees. At that time, many former lessees opted out of the program, leaving just two lessees, who chose to continue with their respective, multiple leases. During the ensuing 12-year lease period, limited production resumed at four lease tract mines in May 2003 and continued through November 2005. Approximately 65,400 tons of ore were produced, yielding 327,000 pounds of uranium and 1.4 million pounds of vanadium, which generated $4 million in royalties to the federal government.
Lands associated with the single, fully reclaimed lease tract in New Mexico were returned to the public domain in 1994. In 1999, under similar circumstances, lands associated with the five lease tracts located in Utah were also returned to the public domain.
1994-2011: Legacy Mine Reclamation
In October 1994, DOE initiated a detailed mine-site reconnaissance program to locate, identify, and quantify the mine-related features associated with the abandoned uranium “legacy” mine sites located on the lease tracts. Based on the information gained during the reconnaissance activities, DOE systematically reclaimed all its legacy mine sites, the last ones being completed in the summer 2011.
2008-2018: Fourth Leasing Period
In 2005, DOE prepared a second programmatic EA to determine if the leasing program should continue. The EA was finalized and approved in July 2007. A FONSI was issued in the same month for the proposed action, which called for the continued leasing of DOE-managed lands for the exploration and production of uranium and vanadium ores. DOE extended the existing leases through the interim period, May 2005 to April 2008.
In April 2008, DOE executed new, 10-year lease agreements with the existing lessees of the 13 active lease tracts. In June 2008, DOE executed new, 10-year lease agreements for 18 of the 19 inactive lease tracts, through a competitive bid process; the remaining lease tract (C-JD-8A) received no bids and was placed on inactive status indefinitely. After the execution of leases, lease tract C-JD-7A was incorporated into lease tract C-JD-7; one of the 18 lease tracts, C-SR-14, was returned to DOE and also placed on inactive status indefinitely.
In early 2011, DOE determined that a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) should be prepared to further assess the potential environmental impacts, including site-specific impacts, associated with program activities that were defined under a reasonable range of alternatives. In June 2011, DOE notified the lessees that no plans (e.g., exploration, mining, reclamation) would be approved until the PEIS process was completed.
On Oct. 18, 2011, in response to a lawsuit filed by several environmental organizations in July 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that DOE violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing its July 2007 EA and finding instead of issuing an environmental impact statement. The court invalidated the July 2007 evaluation and finding, stayed the 29 leases in existence under the program, and prohibited DOE from issuing any new leases or approving any lease-related activities on lands governed by the program until DOE had completed an “adequate environmental analysis” of the program, including site-specific impacts.
The court later granted, in part, a motion by DOE for reconsideration of the order, amending its injunction to allow DOE; other federal, state, or local governmental agencies; and the current lessees to conduct only necessary activities on program lands. Activities allowed included conducting the environmental analysis; complying with regulatory orders; responding to dangers to public health, safety, and the environment; and maintaining the lease tracts and their existing facilities. No mining operations are active on these lands during this time.
In 2014, DOE announced the public availability of the Final Uranium Leasing Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) specifically on March 21, 2014. During the evaluation, DOE conducted a 109-day public comment period, held four public meetings in southwestern Colorado, and considered all public comments on the draft PEIS. The PEIS informed the DOE decision on the future course of the Uranium Leasing Program. DOE issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on May 6, 2014.
Although the environmental impact statement was completed in 2014, the federal court did not dissolve the injunction until March 18, 2019. The existing 10-year leases, issued in 2008, expired in 2018.
Court Injunction Ends in 2019
On March 18, 2019, the court granted the motion submitted by DOE to dissolve the injunction and then closed the case, ending a seven-year injunction on the program. The court acknowledged that the PEIS and subsequent ROD by DOE represented an adequate analysis that complied with NEPA. The new environmental evaluation was central to the court’s decision in resuming the lease program in a manner that protects public health and the environment. The leasing program evaluation determined that continuing the program would result in “negligible to moderate” potential environmental impacts and would provide access to a domestic source of uranium.
2020-2030: Fifth Leasing Period
DOE continued the leasing program for an additional 10-year period and executed new, 10-year leases in January and July 2020 with the existing leaseholders. The lessees may begin preparing exploration and mining plans as well as site-specific environmental assessments, all of which DOE must approve before any mining can be initiated. In addition, the lessees must provide reclamation bonds and develop site-specific mitigation plans for each mining activity. Due to the low market prices of uranium and vanadium at the time of this publication, DOE has received reclamation plans from only two lessees for review and evaluation.
- Uranium Leasing Program Dolores River Restoration Program Monitoring Report (March 2022)
- Uranium Leasing Program 2021 Mitigation Action Plan Activity Summary Report (February 2022). The DOE Uranium Leasing Program's 2021 Mitigation Action Plan Activity Summary fulfills the mitigation plan’s requirement to annually notify the public of mitigation activities completed by Uranium Leasing Program lessees. For copies of Mitigation Action Plan Activity Summary Reports for prior years, please contact us at ULinfo@lm.doe.gov.
- Burro Mines Reclamation Environmental Assessment (March 2021)
- Uranium Leasing Program Mitigation Action Plan for the Final Uranium Leasing Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement DOE/EIS-0472 (November 2014)
- Record of Decision (May 2014)
- Final Uranium Leasing Program PEIS (March 2014)
- U.S. District Court's Order of February 27, 2012, in Colorado Environmental Coalition v. Office of Legacy Management, Civil Action No. 08-cv-01624 (D. Colo.). (February 2012)
- U.S. District Court's Order of October 18, 2011, in Colorado Environmental Coalition v. Office of Legacy Management, Civil Action No. 08-cv-01624 (D. Colo.). The Court has issued the injunctive relief described on pages 51-52 of the Order. (October 2011)
Frequently Asked Questions
How many lease tracts are there and how large is the area that DOE controls and leases to mining companies?
There are 31 lease tracts on the 25,000-acre Uranium Leasing Program (ULP)-managed property in southwestern Colorado. Twenty-nine of these tracts are under lease.
How does DOE know that mining at the lease tracts will not harm the environment?
DOE prepared a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and announced its Record of Decision (ROD) in May 2014. The PEIS evaluated the environmental impacts of continuing the leasing program and determined that continuing the program will result in "negligible to moderate" potential environmental impacts and will provide access to a domestic source of uranium. DOE will evaluate the 31 lease tracts by considering individual tract management issues, such as whether to lease the tracts that are presently not leased, and whether potential future requests for lease transfers will be approved. In implementing this decision, leases will be modified, as needed, to include mitigation measures described in the PEIS. As plans for exploration, mine development and operation, or reclamation are submitted by the lessees to DOE for approval, further National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses for these actions will be prepared and tiered from the final ULP PEIS. The level of follow-on NEPA analyses will depend on the action being proposed by the lessees. For mining plans to be submitted for approval, DOE will prepare, at a minimum, an environmental assessment with appropriate public involvement to further evaluate potential site impacts. These NEPA analyses will be prepared to inform DOE's decisions on approval of the plans, including the conditions DOE will require to mitigate potential environmental impacts. DOE will conduct further consultations regarding cultural and endangered species, as appropriate, depending on the specific action.
Why didn’t the lessees start mining these tracts after DOE completed the PEIS and ROD in 2014?
The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued an injunction on October 18, 2011, which froze lease activities at 31 tracts until this evaluation process was completed. The plaintiffs challenged the completeness of the PEIS and the court ordered DOE to provide additional information. The Department complied with the court’s instructions and the injunction was lifted on March 18, 2019, allowing the program to move forward. The Department will evaluate the lease tracts on a case-by-case basis, and the leases will be modified as needed in the implementation of this decision.
When can we expect mining to begin on the ULP lease tracts?
A timetable to resume mining has not yet been developed, but it is possible that some activities could resume as early as 2023. The lessees will prepare exploration and mining plans and site-specific environmental impact evaluations that DOE must approve before any mining can be initiated. In addition, specific mitigation plans will also have to be developed and approved.
How can DOE justify supporting new mining when there are so many abandoned uranium mines in the region?
DOE has reclaimed all former mines on the lease tracts where previous leases and permits had been terminated, as well as supporting the Bureau of Land Management’s reclamation efforts at several other abandoned mines in the region. Current ULP leases contain requirements for future reclamation and the lessees are required to provide a reclamation bond prior to any mining activities.
How much money do you think the ULP will provide to the government from mining royalties?
Lessees pay an annual royalty, essentially a rent payment, just to hold the lease. The annual royalties are intended to pay DOE’s program administration costs. The total of all the annual royalty payments is just under $500,000 per year. Lessees will also pay a production royalty, once they produce and ship ore. Because no mining has occurred since the injunction was issued, no production royalties have been paid. The estimated 13.5 million pounds of uranium ore reserves remaining at ULP lease tracts have an estimated current value of approximately $800 million, which could generate $100 million in potential royalty payments, based on the industry economics seen in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
How much of an economic impact can we expect from increased mining in the Uravan Mineral Belt in southwestern Colorado?
The most productive and economic deposits or uranium and vanadium minerals are in a relatively small area in southwestern Colorado that is referred to as the Uravan Mineral Belt. The long-term outlook for the area is favorable. An increase in the price of uranium and vanadium and an expanded market would result in increased production. Significant reserves exist on the DOE lease tracts. The known reserves and the favorable geology for undiscovered potential resources are expected to result in the Uravan Mineral Belt as being a source of uranium and vanadium ore for many years to come.
How will DOE keep the community informed about the ULP?
As the ULP resumes, DOE will begin its communication, education, and public outreach campaign. As mining plans are submitted for approval, DOE will prepare, at a minimum, an Environmental Assessment with appropriate public involvement to further evaluate potential site impacts. This will facilitate public awareness of the exploration, mine-development, and ore-production activities on the lease tracts. You can read about the Uranium Leasing Program at /lm/services/property-management/uranium-leasing-program, and, if you have any questions, you can email them to ULinfo@lm.doe.gov.
To submit information, questions, and comments:
Legacy Management Support Public Affairs
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management
2597 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO 81503