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Fuelling controversy

August 7th, 2015

While Quebec ponders a uranium ban and Virginia’s is challenged, explorers prepare for Japanese restarts

by Greg Klein

The company has just launched a lawsuit challenging the state of Virginia’s ban on uranium mining, but Virginia Energy Resources TSXV:VUI has also been impacted by the Quebec moratorium. Last January the company settled a debt by transferring its interest in an idled Quebec uranium project to Anthem Resources. That company, meanwhile, has launched its own action against British Columbia’s uranium ban. Since then Anthem’s been taken over by Boss Power, winner of an out-of-court settlement resulting from the same ban. Now the former Boss and Anthem, under their new name of Eros Resources TSXV:ERC, find themselves joint venturing with Denison Mines TSX:DML in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin.

Virginia Energy’s August 5 court filing claims the state’s 1982 ban on uranium mining is “pre-empted by federal law” and therefore unconstitutional.

While Quebec ponders a uranium ban and Virginia’s is challenged, explorers prepare for Japanese restarts

The suit argues that Virginia’s “refusal to develop uranium mining regulations is grounded in environmental and radiological safety concerns over the processing of uranium ore and, in particular, the long-term storage and management of uranium mill tailings. Pursuant to the federal Atomic Energy Act, the regulatory oversight and management of the uranium mill and the resulting tailings are under the clear and exclusive jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

The company’s co-plaintiffs consist of its subsidiary Virginia Uranium Inc and two part-owners of Virginia Energy, Coles Hill LLC and Bowen Minerals LLC.

“We do not come to this point lightly,” said Virginia Uranium president/CEO Walter Coles Sr. “For almost eight years, and at great expense, we have worked in good faith with our community, our local government and the General Assembly, as well as myriad state agencies…. We had hoped that our steady progress and good faith co-operation with Commonwealth legislators and officials would continue under Governor [Terry] McAuliffe’s administration. But that was not to be.”

Within days of his November 2013 election, McAuliffe promised to veto any legislation that would end the ban. That left Virginia Energy unable to develop Coles Hill, which the company calls “the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the U.S.A. and one of the largest in the world.”

A 2012 resource gave the project 132.93 million pounds indicated and 30.41 million pounds inferred, although at low grades of 0.056% and 0.042% eU3O8 respectively.

The U.S. relies on nuclear energy for 19% of its electricity but imports 90% of its uranium, according to World Nuclear Association figures. As for Virginia, the World Nuclear News attributes to the state “four operating reactors at two nuclear power plants, numerous nuclear companies and government nuclear-related facilities.”

Virginia Energy’s lawsuit comes as Quebec ponders whether to lift its moratorium or proclaim an outright ban on uranium activity. Last month a committee appointed by the province’s former Parti Québécois government released a negative report on uranium mining. The current Liberal government must now consider its recommendations before making a decision.

Last December, even while Quebec’s BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) uranium inquiry was taking place, Strateco Resources filed a nearly $190-million lawsuit against the provincial government for losses incurred during the moratorium. The company has since delisted from the TSX.

Like the rationale behind the Virginia ban, the BAPE report emphasized concern about radioactive waste, which can pose problems for thousands of years but “the most recent confinement technique recommended in Canada has been in use for only 30 years.”

That helped provoke a strong response from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which said BAPE implied Canada’s nuclear regulator and the province of Saskatchewan “have been irresponsible in their approval and oversight of the uranium mines of Canada for the last 30 years.”

The CNSC slammed BAPE for “conclusions and recommendations that lack scientific basis and rigour.”

B.C.’s 2009 ban remains solidly in place, but at considerable cost to taxpayers. In a 2011 out-of-court settlement, the province agreed to compensate Boss Power with $30.35 million. Anthem, itself a renamed version of a previous incarnation of Virginia Energy, launched its own lawsuit against B.C. last year.

Then late last month, the same day Boss closed its takeover of Anthem, the companies’ new persona of Eros Resources announced “a brand new discovery” at its Murphy Lake project, where one of four holes found 0.2% eU3O8 over 6.9 metres. Eros has a 41.06% stake in the eastern Basin project, with operator Denison holding the rest.

Operating under what the CNSC maintains is a highly effective regulatory framework covering all aspects of mining, Saskatchewan explorers continue the quest for new discoveries.

These developments take place while Japan’s on the brink of its first post-Fukushima nuclear restart.

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain castigates the Appalachian coal industry

December 16th, 2014

…Read more

Pity poor Appalachia

November 21st, 2014

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain depicts a country corrupted by Big Coal

by Greg Klein

Just as a former big boss of Big Coal faces criminal prosecution following the death of 29 Appalachian miners, a best-selling novel castigates the industry for its devastation of that region. On November 20 former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship pleaded not guilty to four charges resulting from the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia. John Grisham’s 27th novel, Gray Mountain, portrays an industry that ruthlessly destroyed the environment as well as the health of workers, their families and anyone else living there, with the help of politicians, judges, regulators and even goon squads, both civilian and FBI.

The charges against Blankenship could almost come from Grisham’s book. Three other former Massey executives have already been convicted of criminal offences involving Upper Big Branch. Blankenship’s victory in a previous legal battle has been said to have provoked Grisham into writing The Appeal, an indictment of the American electoral and judicial systems.

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain depicts a country corrupted by Big Coal

Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch workers “were intimidated,” Forbes quoted Mike Caputo, a West Virginia legislator and VP of the United Mine Workers of America. “Records were falsified. Advanced warnings of inspections were given. Two sets of books were kept. There was a lack of enforcement. The list goes on, and on, and on. The more I read about the Upper Big Branch tragedy, this wasn’t just bad business practice. This was akin to organized crime.”

But while it was a methane gas explosion that killed the 29 underground miners, Grisham’s latest book, set in 2008 and 2009, focuses on mountain-top removal. Described as “strip mining on steroids,” the practice destroyed about 600 of the region’s mountains over 30 years, according to Grisham.

The company “literally attacks the mountain with all manner of heavy equipment,” the story’s activist lawyer Donovan Gray tells newcomer Samantha Kofer. “First it clearcuts the trees, total deforestation with no effort at saving the hardwoods. They are bulldozed away as the earth is scalped. Same for the topsoil, which is not very thick. Next comes the layer of rock, which is blasted out of the ground. The trees, topsoil and rock are often shoved into the valleys between the mountains, creating what’s known as valley fills. These wipe out vegetation, wildlife and natural streams…. If you’re downstream, you’re just screwed. As you’ll learn around here, we’re all downstream.”

Samantha, whose promising career in corporate law ended abruptly with the Lehman Brothers-induced recession, takes an unpaid internship at a Virginia legal aid clinic/social services agency. There she encounters a world of Big Coal-induced woe.

Reckless practices send boulders flying toward family homes. Contaminated drinking water turns communities into “cancer clusters.” Overloaded, speeding coal trucks in West Virginia alone kill one person a week. Excessive exposure to coal dust gives miners a wasting disease called black lung. Coal companies deprive dying workers of compensation.

Fighting back are Donovan and his lawyer aunt, Mattie Wyatt, who both had parents screwed over by coal companies.

Big Coal’s regime gets support from cosy regulators and watchdogs, elected judges who depend on campaign contributions, politicians who legislate favours for the industry, doctors who lie under oath and lawyers who cover up medical evidence. The FBI uses legal intimidation. Illegal intimidation comes from the companies’ armed thugs who, it’s suggested, will murder their opponents.

Lowest of the low is Krull Mining, “a company with the worst safety record in the history of U.S. coal production and an owner who was reputed to be one of the deadliest Russian gangsters in Putin’s frat pack.”

Denied benefits for over a decade, one dying miner says, “They cheated, they won, and they’ll do it again because they write the rules…. They got the money, the power, the doctors, and I guess the judges. Some system.”

Of course despair doesn’t sell books. So Grisham, a one-time Mississippi lawyer, has Donovan, Mattie and eventually Samantha launching heroic counterattacks.

Coal’s controversy divides the people of the region, Grisham writes. A bumper sticker battle features opposing slogans like “Save the Mountains” and “Like Electricity? Love Coal.”

Coal was the fabric of life in these parts, but the strip mining had divided the people.

“Coal was the fabric of life in these parts, but the strip mining had divided the people,” Samantha reflects. “According to her Internet research, its opponents argued that it destroyed jobs, and they had the numbers to support them. Eighty thousand miners now, almost all non-union and half working in surface mines. Decades earlier, long before they began blasting tops off mountains, there were almost a million miners.”

Something to keep in mind, though: If Grisham’s portrayal is fair, and if these people have their facts right, the Appalachian and British Columbian coal industries are poles apart.

What both areas now share is devastation by coal prices, less than half what they were three years ago. Mines are shutting down, throwing people out of work. In a strategy that parallels Down Under iron production, Australia has increased its low-cost coal output, further damaging the North American industry.

Yet the Age of Coal persists, despite petroleum and uranium. According to the World Coal Association, the fuel “provides 30.1% of global primary energy needs and generates over 40% of the world’s electricity. It is also used in the production of over 70% of the world’s steel.” Twenty-year forecasts from the Coal Association of Canada call for a 50% increase in metallurgical coal demand, with demand for thermal coal more than doubling.

One wonders if Blankenship will watch that happen from a prison cell.

Athabasca Basin and beyond

August 18th, 2013

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere for August 10 to 16, 2013

by Greg Klein

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Alpha/Fission add fourth zone, extend PLS strike to 1.02 kilometres

Barely into their current $6.95-million campaign, Fission Uranium TSXV:FCU and Alpha Minerals TSXV:AMW once again grabbed the market’s attention by reporting a fourth zone at Patterson Lake South on August 15. With off-scale scintillometer readings for one hole 165 metres grid east of zone R780E, the new zone gets the informative but unsentimental name R945E. The quartet of zones now extends along a 1.02-kilometre trend.

The hand-held scintillometer measures drill core gamma radioactivity in counts per second, up to an off-scale reading of 9,999 cps. The results are not assays, which are pending. A downhole probe will also be used to measure radioactivity. Some highlights for hole PLS13-084 include:

  • <300 to 800 cps over 4 metres, starting at 104.5 metres in vertical depth
  • <300 to 1,500 cps over 7 metres, starting at 132.5 metres
  • <300 to 3,700 cps over 35.5 metres, starting at 159.5 metres
  • <300 to 5,100 cps over 7 metres, starting at 198 metres
  • <300 to 4,500 cps over 12.5 metres, starting at 209.5 metres
  • <300 to 9,999 cps over 18 metres, starting at 234 metres.

True widths were unavailable. The hole reached a total depth of 302 metres, striking the basement unconformity at 59 metres. Drilling continues on this hole.

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere

On the left are barges supporting two of three drills, part of Patterson
Lake South’s $6.95-million, 44-hole, 11,000-metre campaign.

The target was chosen after radon water sampling found an anomaly parallel to a conductor and along strike of the project’s other zones. The 50/50 joint venture partners emphasized that the mineralization’s full potential “will not be fully realized until a complete fence of holes is completed across this anomaly.”

Three days earlier the JV reported its first summer hole from R780E, showing the zone’s “widest continuous and strongest results.” Drilled 10 metres grid south of a previous hole, it extends the zone’s width to about 45 metres at that point. Highlights from PLS13-080 include:

  • <300 to 9,999 cps over 48.5 metres, starting at 122.5 metres in downhole depth
  • <300 to 2,000 cps over 3.5 metres, starting at 173.5 metres
  • <300 to 9,999 cps over 11.5 metres, starting at 236 metres
  • <300 to 5,400 cps over 3 metres, starting at 298 metres.

True thicknesses weren’t available. The hole reached a total of 347 metres, hitting the basement unconformity at 54 metres. With an 89-degree dip, downhole depths approximate vertical depths. Still to come are lab assays and results from a downhole radiometric probe.

Like PLS13-084, the target was chosen to test an anomaly found by radon sampling, this one “within a resistivity low corridor proximal to an inferred north-south cross-cutting structure.”

On August 16 Fission announced the appointment of Ted Clark to its executive advisory board. Clark is chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation and owner of Big Bear Contracting Ltd.

NexGen drills PLS-adjacent Rook 1, increases private placement again

Adjacently northeast of PLS, a two-drill, 3,000-metre campaign has begun on NexGen Energy’s TSXV:NXE Rook 1 project. Targets were identified and refined following airborne and ground geophysics that found overlapping anomalies, according to the August 16 announcement. NexGen expects to find basement rock at 65 to 100 metres in depth. Weather permitting, drilling will continue to late September.

What began as a $1.78-million private placement offered on July 29 has, after three increases, now reached nearly $5 million. The company doubled the offer to $3.53 million on August 1, increased it to $4.12 million on August 14 and, the following day, raised that to $5 million. This “third and final increase” now boosts the offer to 14.28 million units at $0.35 for gross proceeds up to almost $5 million.

Each unit consists of one share and one-half warrant, with each whole warrant exercisable for a share at $0.55 for 18 months. Raising the $5 million would leave NexGen with about $9 million cash on hand.

On the Basin’s east side, the company is earning a 70% interest in the Radio project, two kilometres east of Rio Tinto’s Roughrider deposits. Assays are pending from Radio’s 3,473-metre summer program.

Skyharbour closes $425,000 private placement, now fully funded for two years

Skyharbour Resources TSXV:SYH closed a private placement of 5.31 million flow-through units at $0.08 for $425,000 on August 14. Each flow-through unit consists of one flow-through share and one non-transferable non-flow-through warrant exercisable at $0.10 for two years. No finder’s fees were paid.

As part of the four-company Western Athabasca Syndicate exploring the PLS-area’s largest land package, Skyharbour is now fully financed for its portion of a $6-million, two-year program, president/CEO Jordan Trimble tells

“The first phase of work, the airborne surveys, is complete,” he points out. “Fieldwork started ahead of schedule to test a target we’re excited about. We’ll be doing some radon surveying, geochemical sampling and prospecting, among other field techniques. We hope to have all the results in by the end of October.”

Referring to the Alpha/Fission discovery of a fourth PLS zone, Trimble says, “Clearly they’re dealing with a very powerful geological event that created this deposition of uranium. That has implications for the surrounding properties. Another point is the success they’re having with these indicators—the radon anomalies, the boulder train discovery. They’re having huge success with their methodology and the specific targets they’re drilling. That’s important for companies at an earlier stage, and I think Alpha and Fission have shown the market the significance of pre-drilling exploration and reconnaissance work. There’s a lot of value you can put into a project even before you get the drill rigs there.”

The syndicate, which includes Skyharbour, Athabasca Nuclear TSXV:ASC, Noka Resources TSXV:NX and Lucky Strike Resources TSXV:LKY, has “about 150 years of uranium exploration experience focused on the Athabasca Basin,” Trimble adds. Skyharbour’s Rick Kusmirski, for example, “has over 40 years in the field and his area of expertise is the Athabasca Basin. He was exploration manager for Cameco [TSX:CCO], he took over the helm at JNR Resources, made a discovery and got bought out by Denison [TSX:DML]. Bob Marvin, our other geologist, also has decades of experience with extensive work in the uranium space. Then there’s the other three companies, each with at least one geologist and the focus has been on uranium expertise.”

Read more about the Western Athabasca Syndicate Project.

Lakeland offers $1.25-million private placement, plans Riou Lake exploration

Lakeland Resources TSXV:LK offered private placements up to $1.25 million on August 16. The pure play uranium exploration company announced up to 10 million units at $0.10 for gross proceeds of $1 million, with each unit consisting of one share and one warrant exercisable at $0.15 for one year. Another two million flow-through units at $0.125 consist of one flow-through share and one warrant exercisable at $0.15 for a year. Proceeds will go to Athabasca Basin exploration and general working capital.

With nine uranium properties, Lakeland’s initial focus will be the Gibbon’s Creek area of its Riou Lake project on the northern Basin’s edge, says corporate communications manager Roger Leschuk. “It’s already had work done on it so we have a lot of historic data to go through. Because it’s on higher ground we can drill year-round. We’ve got existing data, so we can work from that and possibly be drilling as early as October.”

Two of Lakeland’s properties are in the eastern Basin, with the other seven in the north-central and northeastern Basin. “The Basin’s trends run from southwest to northeast. The early discoveries were on the eastern side of the Basin, on the Wollaston trend. That goes into Manitoba and finishes in Nunavut. The next trend is at Patterson Lake South, where the Alpha/Fission story is happening. Our properties on the northeast side of the Basin are part of that trend. So it’s not inconceivable that we could find something similar. The previous Riou Lake operator did find a boulder grading 11% uranium, the drilling found some very similar things, so we’re very excited about that.”

Gibbon’s Creek offers other attractions, Leschuk adds. “It’s not only on high ground but it’s very shallow to the basement rock. We’re talking maybe 50 metres down, so our drilling is going to be very shallow and very cheap to drill. Only a few kilometres away there’s a community called Stony Rapids, so we don’t have to set up a camp. We can hire people from the community who can drive to and from work, so our costs will be even lower. Our money will go a long, long way. We’re looking at 1,500 to 2,000 metres initially but we’ll get a big bang for our buck. We’re looking forward to that.”

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