(Casper Star Tribune, April 14) – The rare-earth industry may be one step closer to reality in Wyoming.
The U.S. Forest Service recently announced it is preparing to study the environmental impact of a rare-earth mine in the Black Hills National Forest.
The agency will hold two public meetings on the planned mine, one in Sundance on Monday and another in Upton on Tuesday.
The Bear Lodge Project would be built near Sundance. The project’s proponent is Rare Element Resources, and its aim is primarily to mine elements like neodymium, praseodymium and europium.
Together these elements provide the building blocks of much of today’s technologies. They are used in products ranging from windmills and solar panels to cellphones and MRIs.
At present, the vast majority of the world’s rare earths come from China. That country provides 86 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths and 100 percent of the so-called “critical” rare earths, said Robbin Lee, director of investor of relations at Rare Element Resources.
The Bear Lodge Project could benefit not only Sundance and Upton, which would diversify their employment bases, but also the country, which needs rare-earth elements, she said.
The Department of Defense has identified the development of domestic rare-earth supplies as a national security priority, given the elements used in military technology, she said.
“It is great project in a great location that serves a greater need,” Lee said.
The proposed open-pit mine has a planned lifespan of 43 years, after which the land would be reclaimed and restored to its natural state, Lee said.
The intent of the Forest Service meetings next week is to gather public input on the project as the agency embarks on a study of its impacts.
The input will help the service help establish the parameters of the study, identify issues that need to be tracked and explore potential alternatives on how to mitigate impacts, said Bearlodge District Ranger Steve Kozel.
“It really forms the foundation of the environmental analysis in the future,” Kozel said. “It is probably one of the most important pieces of public involvement in the (National Environmental Policy Act) process.”
The operation has two components in addition to the open-pit mine: a hydrometallurgical plant on private land in Upton and mineral exploration in the Bear Lodge Mountains.