Wyoming’s fledgling mine could be the continent’s biggest rare earths developer

The company that searches for critical minerals in southeast Wyoming is increasingly confident that it has found the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in North America.

The American Rare Earths mining claims north of Laramie have started promisingly. Since the Australian developer began drilling last year to determine how far the rare earths extend, the scope of its discovery has exploded.

Its latest round of drilling – further exploration of a fraction of the deposit – revealed that the 17 most in-demand rare earth elements are widespread over an area of ​​approximately four square miles and at depths of nearly 500 feet, the company announced on Friday. . The results provide “quantifiable, verifiable evidence that what we suspect is true,” said Mel Sanderson, president of American Rare Earths for North America.

“We’re excited, not just because of the size, but because other key variables are falling into place. … We’re going to be able to consistently recover high-quality material from as deep as possible,” Sanderson said.

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And, she noted, geologists working on the drilling campaign suspect parts of the deposit are going even deeper. Maybe even twice as far.

Rare earths are ubiquitous. They are common in the earth’s crust and in the range of technologies that humans rely on every day. What is unusual is finding a deposit large enough and concentrated enough to be mined.

(Ranie Lynds of the Wyoming State Geological Survey said in an email to the Star-Tribune that the agency was aware of elevated levels of some rare earths in the area, but had “no independent way to confirm the company’s announcement.)

American Rare Earths believes that when it comes to jobs, property taxes and sales taxes (but not severance or royalties – at least for now), its project could “potentially fill the void left by the decline of some of our major producers in the coal industry,” Sanderson said.

“It excites me for Wyoming on many levels,” she said. “At a statewide level, maintaining our positioning as a significant energy provider, but also creating jobs that will keep people well employed and at home.”

Initially, American Rare Earths thought a mine at its Halleck Creek site could stay open for 20 or 25 years. Now it’s looking at double that — based, Sanderson said, on what the company has been able to confirm so far. This means that there is always the possibility that the life of the potential mine could extend even longer.

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Commercial operations, however, are still a long way off. The company hopes to start the licensing process next year. According to Sanderson, under current laws and regulations, the soonest possible it could start mining in 2029 or 2030, assuming all goes well along the way.

American Rare Earths also aims to open a processing plant for its ore somewhere in Wyoming. Ideally, Sanderson said, this plant will involve entirely new, less environmentally damaging methods that are still being developed (and kept largely secret) by researchers.

And the company will continue to study the extent of the deposit and refine its vision for the future of the mine along the way. He is more optimistic than ever about what he will find.

“All mining is a gamble,” Sanderson said. “You have to keep investing and keep believing your assumptions are right. And to get to the point where we have this justification that our guesses were right – it’s hard to describe how huge and how exciting it is.

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