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Uranium mine looking to hire county workers

May 16, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

If a new uranium boom is hitting Fremont County, only the first rumbles are sounding.

One early indication took the form of Rich Boberg, standing behind a table at the Fremont County Employment Expo on April 25 at Central Wyoming College's gym. He was offering uranium mining jobs to local residents.

Boberg is the human resources director for Ur-Energy, and the owner and permit-holder for the Lost Creek uranium mine roughly 75 miles southeast of Lander in Sweetwater County. It looks to be the first new uranium mine in decades to affect Fremont County.

"I'm up here because I know there's some good quality candidates we can hire from this area," Boberg said.

In October, the Bureau of Land Management's Rawlins Field Office approved the last permit the mine needed, capping a six-year process involving several state and federal agencies. Three uranium mines within Fremont County are still in the permitting process.

Boberg said the mine will employ roughly 61 people, and his company has hired about 20 already. Boberg plans to hire 20 more soon and hopes six of those will be from Fremont County.

Most of the current employees live in Rawlins, though he said some come from Casper.

The 90-minute commute could be an obstacle for Riverton and Lander residents.

To mitigate that issue, Boberg said Ur-Energy is considering operating a shuttle to transport its workers from Fremont County. The four days on, four days off schedule for workers also means less commuting than a five-days-a-week job.

New methods

The new mine will not use traditional open-pit or underground mining techniques and calls for workers with different skills than those of typical miners.

Planners intend to use the in-situ recovery process at the Lost Creek Mine. The in-situ method pumps water into underground uranium ore to dissolve the mineral.

Wells then draw the uranium-bearing liquid to the surface and into a plant where the mineral will be separated from water.

Because of the nature of the work, Boberg said he is looking for employees with backgrounds in drilling water wells or operating water systems.

Ur-Energy sees the demand for and price of uranium rising and thinks the industry will expand. The company is planning accordingly.

Boberg said his company is in negotiations to buy Pathfinder Mines, a subsidiary of French energy conglomerate AREVA, and its mines: the Lucky Mc, in the Gas Hills east of Riverton, and the Shirley Basin, 35 miles south of Casper.

"Once that sale is complete, we're going to start working on mining them," he said.

Boberg said obtaining permits for those mines should take less time than Lost Creek because some are already in place, and the first process blazed the trail for the others.

Environmental concerns

Environmental groups, including the Lander-based Wyoming Outdoor Council, have said the mine will hurt wildlife such as the sage grouse and Wyoming pocket gopher.

"Neither species is accorded sufficient protections to ensure that it will not need the additional support that would be provided by a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act," Wyoming Outdoor Council wildlife program director Sophie Osborn stated in a letter to the BLM.

Osborn said the mine development would hurt the local sage grouse population and violate an executive order enacted by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal and signed onto by Gov. Matt Mead.

The order is designed to protect the birds and regulate development around them.

Osborn said plans for the Lost Creek Mine include roads that are too close to sage grouse breeding grounds as indicated in the executive order.

Mine development would also destroy a population of rare Wyoming pocket gophers, Osborn said.

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