US first rare earth mine in decades may be in Wyoming

US first rare earth mine in decades may be in Wyoming

Bear Lodge project flyover, courtesy of Rare Element Resources.

The state of Wyoming could soon hold the first rare earths mine to open in the US in over 60 years, as the country’s Forest Service recently announced it is preparing to study the environmental impact of a proposed project in the Black Hills National Forest.

Colorado-based Rare Element Resources (TSX:RES), (NYSE MKT:REE)  discovered the deposit in 2004, but it only submitted plans to mine primarily neodymium, praseodymium and europium two years ago.

Locals, however, are already questioning issues related to water quality, dust control and radioactive minerals in the area, as they revealed during two public meetings held last week, Rapid City Journal reports.

At the moment about 95% of the world’s rare earths —used in a variety of industries including green technology, defence systems and consumer electronics— come from China, which also imposes export quotas.

Only two rare-earth mines currently exist in other countries. One of them is Lynas Corp's (ASX:LYC) Mount Weld mine in Australia, and the other one in Mountain Pass, California, owned by Molycorp (NYSE:MCP).

Threaten to China?

China did not always enjoy a virtual monopoly on REE production. The majority of the 17 rare earth elements were sourced from placer deposits in India and Brazil in the late 1940s.

During the 1950s, South Africa mined the majority of the world's REEs from large veins of rare earth-bearing monazite.

From the 1960s to 1980s, rare earths were supplied mainly from the US.

If it goes ahead, Bear Lodge open pit mine would cover about 6.9 square km of the Black Hills National Forest, in northeast Wyoming.  Roughly 2.6 square km of the project will be on private land surrounded by forest. The mine has a useful life estimated in 43 years and includes the construction of a hydrometallurgical plant in Upton.

The Forest Service is accepting written comments from the public on the plan until April 30. A draft environmental impact statement will be presented for public comment in the spring of 2015, with a final objection period in the winter that year.

If approved, work could begin in the spring of 2016.