Monday, July 11, 2011

Rare Earth Mining Claims Loom Over Eastern Mojave

A review of BLM records and industry reports indicate that at least one company is consolidating old mining claims near the beleaguered Ivanpah Valley in the eastern Mojave Desert and preparing plans to start major operations.   Most of the claims being acquired date back to the 1950s, when prospectors rushed to the hills skirting the Ivanpah Valley in search of Thorium and Uranium, radioactive elements they obviously anticipated to reap financial rewards in the new nuclear age.  Thorium happens to be an element often associated with deposits of rare earth elements (REE), which are used in many of our modern luxuries, including batteries, LED lighting, solar panels, magnets, etc.

The only major mine that came of that rush in the 1950s was Molycorp's Mountain Pass mine on the west side of the Ivanpah Valley, which began producing rare earth minerals in 1952 and has expanded greatly since then.  Mountain Pass--and its history of damage to public land--may not be alone for much longer.  Elissa Resources has consolidated nearly 200 claims and announced positive results after analyzing mineral samples, signalling an intent to propose a major mine in the area.  Elissa Resources was born out of the merger of two giant coal companies -- Red Hill Energy and Prophecy Resources.  Elissa's rare earth mining claims, totaling approximately 4,460 acres (7 square miles), still appear under "Red Hill Energy" on BLM land records.

The map below depicts the approximate location of Elissa Resources mining claims next to the Ivanpah Valley.


View Elissa Resources REE Mine Claims in a larger map

Although the mines could produce wealth for the corporations and gadgets for consumers, they can also bring environmental doom to the fragile desert ecosystem.  The Mountain Pass mine was closed down for a period in 1994 after a Federal investigation found that approximately 600,000 gallons of radioactive wastewater spilled into the Ivanpah Valley over several years.  Rare earth mines also scar mountain tops, require increased traffic of heavy equipment, new power lines, gas lines, and access roads.  Elissa Resources mining claims are adjacent to critical habitat for the desert tortoise, and could disrupt the nearby Piute-El Dorado Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Desert plant and wildlife in the Ivanpah Valley is already under threat since BrightSource Energy LLC began constructing a 5.6 square mile solar facility, which is expected to kill or displace hundreds of threatened desert tortoisesAnother energy company, First Solar Inc, is proposing to bulldoze nearly 15 square miles of pristine desert habitat in the Ivanpah Valley for its Stateline and Silver State projects.   Desert biologists have expressed deep concern with development plans in the area. Not only have surveys uncovered a thriving tortoise population (a rare occurrence for a species in decline throughout much of its range), but rare and newly discovered plant life is also abundant in the area.  Many citizens argue that distributed generation, such as rooftop solar, is a more economically efficient and less destructive path for clean energy.

1 comment:

  1. As people tend to love what they know and to defend what they love, most L.A. Metro dwellers have absolutely no interest in the Mojave except as a possible mega-site for photovoltaic energy. If they ever LIVED in the Mojave, they would love it as I do, and do all they could to preserve it.

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