Application moves forward for uranium mining in south Bee
by Jason Collins
Aug 26, 2014 | 2616 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TCEQ graphic
TCEQ graphic
Location of study area showing county boundaries and outline of Catahoula Formation and related formations; Karnes and Goliad counties and other tier 1 and tier 2 counties are highlighted.
Location of study area showing county boundaries and outline of Catahoula Formation and related formations; Karnes and Goliad counties and other tier 1 and tier 2 counties are highlighted.
BEE COUNTY – Burke Hollow is still a go — at least that is the goal for UEC officials who filed an application to proceed recently hoping to soon begin mining uranium.

“We are committed to working cooperatively with all of our neighbors, especially in those communities adjacent to our projects,” said Matt Welch, spokesman for Uranium Energy Corporation.

“Frequent communications with landowners, the media and the general public throughout the region is a major goal of ours.”

Those neighbors include Goliad County where uranium mining is being fought by some residents and praised by others.

Burke Hollow is located 18 miles southeast of Beeville, on the western side of U.S. Highway 77.

Q. What is the Burke Hollow project?

A. The Burke Hollow Project is UEC’s latest project in South Texas that covers 17,510 acres in southern Bee County. Exploration commenced in late 2013 and has yielded very promising results, so UEC moved forward with permitting.

Q. What is the timing of the project?

A. This application is the first of several regulatory requirements that will be submitted in the coming months to state and federal agencies as the project advances through the permitting stage. Public notices for all remaining applications will be published in the Bee-Picayune to keep local officials and residents informed. UEC’s applications will be thoroughly reviewed and evaluated by the TCEQ before being considered for approval.

Q. Did the company operate safely during the exploration phase of the project?

A. Absolutely. Exploration phases of uranium development are closely regulated and inspected by the Texas Railroad Commission. UEC successfully passed all state safety inspections (more than 17) related to their most recent exploration operations in Bee County, including the Burke Hollow and Salvo projects. The inspection reports cited successful site restoration efforts on the part of UEC at various exploration drilling and cased-well locations as well as advanced re-vegetation developments on the properties.

Q. Are uranium production and development safe for the groundwater?

A. The protection of groundwater is important to every uranium company, including UEC. We take great care to ensure that area groundwater is not affected by our operations. UEC utilizes the in-situ recovery (ISR) process in our mining operations because it’s a safe and proven technology that has been around for more than 30 years and is a better way to remove naturally occurring uranium without harming the environment.

ISR uranium production has been carried out safely in Texas since the mid 1970s, and there has never been a documented case of groundwater contamination by the ISR process … anywhere, ever. In its natural state, the water in a uranium mining zone already does not meet minimum federal water quality standards and should not be used for agriculture, domestic consumption, municipal or industrial purposes. The best and most productive use of this water is to assist in the production of a clean and efficient energy resource like nuclear power.

To provide an extra layer of safety, we are required by the TCEQ to carry out strict water quality monitoring by regularly collecting groundwater samples from monitoring wells in and around the mining site.

This technology allows for the detection of the slightest change in groundwater quality long before uranium or other ore zone constituents could possibly escape the mining area. Most groundwater used in mining uranium or post-mining restoration is recycled, and after mining and restoration, the groundwater is suitable to serve the same uses as before mining. Uranium production areas must be restored to pre-mining conditions in accordance with state and federal regulations and the companies carry out extensive and thorough restoration of all production areas.

Recently, UEC successfully restored an old uranium mining project called Mt. Lucas in Live Oak County.

Q. What is the public benefit to this project?

A. The Burke Hollow project will create good-paying jobs, stimulate the regional economy and expand the property tax base. UEC believes strongly in supporting the communities in which we operate and we believe in hiring and buying locally.

South Texas is fortunate to have an exceptional academic institution serving the diverse needs of its community … and doing it very well.

That entity is Coastal Bend College. CBC’s geographic service area closely mirrors the service area of Uranium Energy Corp. They are an excellent partner for our company in developing a well-educated workforce and providing educational opportunities for local residents and our employees.

UEC recently announced the second installment of our Community Scholarship Program beginning next year. We are contributing an additional $10,000 today on top of our already $20,000 donated to launch the program, bringing our total investment to date of $30,000. The program funds scholarships to any of Coastal Bend College’s four campuses in South Texas (Beeville, Alice, Kingsville and Pleasanton).

The scholarships are awarded to applicants from academic, industrial trade and engineering-related majors. Applicants must also be a resident of any of the seven counties where UEC operates: Bee, Duval, Goliad, Jim Wells, Karnes, Live Oak and Nueces.

Most uranium is imported

Uranium provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. But most, about 95 percent of it, comes from the foreign soil.

According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, much of the global demand for uranium is supplied by Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada.

Matt Welch, spokesman for Uranium Energy Corporation, said, “In order to achieve greater energy independence, we should lessen the reliance on foreign sources of energy by accessing our nation’s abundant deposits of uranium, primarily those in South Texas.

“Development of domestic sources of uranium is critical, and we are fortunate to have an extensive supply of naturally occurring uranium in South Texas. The uranium industry is a vital part of our national energy security and UEC is proud to play an important role in that effort. “

Simply reversing how it got there

The uranium industry has a long track record in South Texas dating back to the 1950s.

There have been major developments in the technology and engineering aspects of uranium mining.

The current extraction process is called In-Situ Recovery and is a much more efficient and less invasive process than in years past.

Matt Welch, spokesman for Uranium Energy Corporation, said, “ISR mining is a process that reverses the natural process that deposited the uranium in the sandstones millions of years ago. On-site ground water is fortified with gaseous oxygen and introduced to the uranium ore body through a pattern of injection wells.

“The solution dissolves the uranium from the sandstone host. The uranium-bearing solution is pumped back to the surface through production wells where the uranium is concentrated on resin beads for trucking to our processing plant in Karnes County to be concentrated further and dried into a yellow powder (yellowcake) for market.”

Once mining is complete, the groundwater is restored to its pre-mining condition and the surface area is reclaimed and returned to the landowner for unrestricted use,” Welch said.

How uranium came to South Texas

So how did the uranium get to this area and what makes South Texas special.

The South Texas Uranium Province, which includes about 20 counties, mostly wraps around a formation known as the Catahoula Formation, from the Mexican border to south of San Antonio, according to state reports.

“Approximately 100 open-pit mines operated in the second half of the 20th century, but, after a hiatus of several decades, the industry is now investing in in-situ recovery operations of additional uranium deposits,” according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The element became deposited here because of volcanic activity that occurred more than 20 million years ago. Eruptions scattered it, ash and dust throughout the area now known as the Catahoula Formation.

Uranium filtered deeper into the soil along with water eventually settling deep below ground.

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