The mining land rush is on
Lithium and uranium claims are staked en masse in southeastern Utah
We’ve had a few folks ask if we had a Group Subscription discount for the Land Desk. The answer now is, YES! It’s a serious bargain, too.
In the spring of 1951, a 31-year-old Texan geologist by the name of Charlie Steen staked 11 mining claims in the Lisbon Valley in southeastern Utah. He was guided to the spot not by a Geiger counter’s reading—he couldn’t afford one of those—but by intuition and his geological knowledge. He was convinced that the Valley, which follows a salt anticline between Moab and Monticello, contained rich uranium ore some 200 feet below the surface.
Steen finally was able to rustle up the funds to explore the claims in July of the following year. And as he drilled into the earth on his Mi Vida claim, he hit a dark gray rock: It turned out to be pitchblende, or high grade uranium ore.
Steen would ultimately become a millionaire, his find would lure prospectors from all over the nation to the Colorado Plateau, and Moab would be transformed from a sleepy Mormon town with a touch of tourism to a boisterous uranium boom town where, according to one account, millionaires were sleeping in Cadillacs and offering hundreds of dollars for lodging in the county jail.
As demand for the minerals used in electric vehicles and other clean energy application soars and federal efforts to bolster domestic supply chains intensify, prospectors are again converging on the Western U.S. in search of the next big find. Some are sampling subterranean brines for lithium, others are reviving old copper mines, and still others—banking on geopolitical tensions driving up the price of uranium—are going after their own Mi Vida-like strike.
To get a sense of if and how this rush might be playing out in the Four Corners region, the Land Desk delved into a year’s worth of new mining claims staked in southeastern Utah and western Colorado. I limited the geographical scope so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of claims, which turned out to be a wise choice: More than 1,200 mining claims were filed with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah’s San Juan and Grand Counties alone over the past 12 months.
My research led me to two conclusions. One is that in a sort of rerun of the 1950s, the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah will be a focal point for this 21st century land rush. The other is that Bears Ears National Monument was restored just in the nick of time, as many of the new claims push right up against its boundaries.
While a few individual mining claims were staked, most of the filings were in bulk, where a single claimant located as many as 500 claims at one time. I focused on those for this report. Let’s get into the biggest ones filed between Oct. 13, 2021 and Oct. 13, 2022:
Recoupment Exploration Co. LLC—a wholly owned subsidiary of Atomic Minerals Corporation—filed 324 claims totaling 6,500 acres on Harts Point, which borders Indian Creek outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The tribal nations that originally proposed the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument wanted Harts Point to be included. But the Obama administration ultimately left it out, most likely as a concession to uranium and oil and gas interests. Now it forms a sort of peninsula of un-protected land reaching into the national monument where mining claims and oil and gas leasing can continue. In an Atomic Minerals press release, CEO Clive Massey remarked: “The Harts Point area is an excellent exploration target. We staked the ground based on historical drill data indicating Chinle Formation sandstones with significant gamma ray kicks in three holes … ”
White Canyon Uranium LLC filed 33 lode claims of 20.66 acres each on Wingate Mesa in San Juan County, Utah, just southwest of Fry Canyon. These claims lie just outside Bears Ears National Monument. This is another area that was proposed for national monument protection but did not receive it.
While White Canyon Uranium lists a Salt Lake City law firm’s address on its claim filings, it appears to be a branch of Consolidated Uranium (which in August 2021 registered CUR White Canyon Uranium, LLC with the state of Utah). Canada-based Consolidated Uranium, according to its website, recently “completed a transformational strategic acquisition and alliance with Energy Fuels Inc. … and acquired a portfolio of permitted, past-producing conventional uranium and vanadium mines in Utah and Colorado.”
That acquisition included the Daneros Mine, which is in the same area as the new claims. Energy Fuels runs the White Mesa Mill and lobbied both the Obama and Trump administrations to move or shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.
Consolidated Uranium Sage Plain LLC filed 84 lode claims at 20.66 acres each in San Juan County. These are mostly on a mesa between Monticello and the Lisbon Valley and seem to be aimed at adding acreage to an existing Sage Plain and Rim Mine projects. Consolidated Uranium, which is allied with Energy Fuels, also owns the Tony M Mine at the foot of the Henry Mountains and the Daneros Mine in the White Canyon area.
Clean Nuclear Energy Corp stakes 300 lode claims, each 20.66 acres, in San Juan County, for a total of 6,219 acres. The claims are on Wray Mesa, which is on the southern toe of the La Sal Mountains near the community of La Sal. A few months after the claims were filed, Basin Uranium entered into a letter of intent to acquire 100% interest in the Wray Mesa project. In its news release, Basin noted: “The Property is contiguous to and adjoins Energy Fuel’s fully-permitted and production-ready La Sal projects which includes a number of past-producing uranium and vanadium mines.” Energy Fuels owns the White Mesa Mill. The Vancouver-based company announced in September they received permits to begin exploratory drilling at the project.
Kimmerle Mining LLC out of Moab, which gained notoriety for staking uranium mining claims within Bears Ears National Monument after Trump shrunk the boundaries, filed 47 claims in San Juan and Grand Counties. The claims are scattered about, and some seem to be following or anticipating some of the big bulk claims noted here. At least one is on the northeast slope of the La Sal Mountains, others are west of the town of La Sal, and still others are in the Lisbon Valley. Kimmerle has claims all over the area and has leased some out and worked others in the past.
Boxscore Brands of Las Vegas, Nevada, file 102 placer claims, at 20 acres each (2,040 acres total) in the Lisbon Valley in San Juan County, Utah. Boxscore Brands is “An American Lithium and New Energy Company” that is looking to extract lithium—used in EV and grid-scale batteries—from ancient subterranean brine deposits. They say their method is “environmentally friendly.” They are probably referring to a form of direct lithium extraction, which pulls geothermal brine from deep underground, filters out the lithium, then re-injects the water. The method requires no strip-mining or evaporation ponds.
The claims were staked for its Lisbon Valley Project, which is in the pre-exploration stages. The company’s website notes: “This asset provides access to the targeted brine deposits. Historical data show a substantial commercially viable concentration of lithium brine.” Read the technical report for the project.
The oil and gas industry is also active in the Lisbon Valley and a copper mine is being revived there, too.
Blackstone Resources Corp. of Midvale, Utah, filed 294 lode claims, at 20.66 acres each, between Moab and Green River south of Dead Horse Point in Grand County. We weren’t able to find much reliable information on Blackstone, in part because it’s a very common name for companies. But it shares a Las Vegas address with A1 Lithium, which is the same as Anson Resources, which recently embarked on a lithium exploration project in the same area. These claims appear to add to existing claims owned by A1/Anson that are part of its Paradox Basin Lithium Project. Anson’s plan can be found here. The odd thing is that these lithium projects typically file placer claims, not lode claims.
American Potash LLC (based in Vancouver BC) filed128 placer claims in Grand County, Utah, between Moab and Green River. These claims are an extension of the company’s Green River Project.
Geobrines International filed 18 claims in Grand County, Utah, near the town of Thompson Springs (which is right off of I-70). Geobrines is a Colorado-based company that says it specializes in providing geothermally sourced brines for use for minerals extraction and geothermal energy applications. Plus, they do something with carbon capture and sequestration. I’m guessing they’re looking to do some lithium extraction on these claims.
By my estimates, this adds up to more than 20,000 acres of public land that has been “claimed” by corporations for potential mining. But it’s not a reason to panic. At least not yet. It’s so easy and cheap ($165 maintenance fee) to stake a mining claim, thanks to the 1872 Mining Law that still applies, that companies or individuals can literally do so just for the heck of it. And they can’t do much without getting permits first.
That said, this apparent land rush on lithium- and uranium-bearing lands is an indicator of where the industry may be headed (more mining) and which regions it may be targeting (the West). It’s a wake-up call, in other words.
But it’s also incomplete. I found very few new claims in western Colorado, even in the Uravan Mineral Belt. That’s not due to a lack of interest. To the contrary, much of the prime mining land there has already been claimed and even patented, so it can’t be claimed again (only bought or sold, which is something that wouldn’t appear in BLM records). Also, uranium-bearing lands have been withdrawn from the public domain and put under the Department of Energy’s leasing program—those lands can’t be “claimed” under the 1872 Mining Law.
The most emphatic conclusion here is that the 1872 Mining Law should be scrapped and replaced with modern regulations. It’s unconscionable that an individual or corporation can simply claim public land without any advance notice, opportunity for public comment, or tribal consultation and that it can be done for a measly $165. It’s illogical and unfair that companies can rip open the land, extract and profit off Americans’ minerals, and not pay a cent in royalties. Even the inadequate 122-year-old Mineral Leasing Act, which governs oil and gas and coal development on public lands, is an improvement.
A modern mining upsurge is already underway. Isn’t it time to bring mining regulations into the 21st century?