By Grace Moore
Strata Energy hosted a meeting on Monday night to announce the company’s plans to change the chemical used to extract uranium from the sandstone at the Ross Project near Oshoto. With wells nearby running dry or turning acidic, however, there were rumblings of concern from the audience towards a change in the company’s operations.
The meeting was hosted by CEO Ralph Knode and Wayne Heili, managing director and CEO of parent company Peninsula Energy. Knode told the audience that, in 2010, before he took the reins of the project, Strata received permission from the Department of Environmental Quality to use alkaline bicarbonate to mix with water and release the uranium into a slurry from the bedrock.
The bicarbonate is one of two chemical options available, the other being acidic (low PH). Currently, bicarbonate is the only chemical used in Wyoming for the purpose of releasing uranium from sandstone.
However, Knode explained to the more than 20 county citizens who attended the meeting that, “the type of geology that we have in this deposit is different”.
The geology in Crook County is older by several million years, he said, and is composed of a different mineral makeup. Economically, Knode told the audience, the company cannot continue to use the bicarbonate solution because it cannot release the required grade necessary to cover their current contracts.
“Overall, what we’ve seen is that the current mining chemistry that we’re using is not producing high enough uranium grades for us to have a sustainable long term success. We need to do something different,” Knode said.
According to Knode, the company plans to submit a request to DEQ to amend the license to allow the use of the acidic alternative based on existing test resuts. This involves changing from bicarbonate to either sulfuric or citric acid and, of those two, he said, the sulfuric is the most economically sound.
This change will, according to Heili, release a higher grade of uranium than the bicarbonate. The process, if approved by the DEQ, is anticipated to take about 18 to 24 months.
Bearing in mind the issue of water wells running dry or turning acidic in the Carlile area, the audience expressed concern over the new plan. Heili explained that, regardless of whether they use acidic or alkaline chemicals, they are required to return the water to its original condition before releasing it back into the water table.
When asked what the company will do for the citizens if the water restoration does not work, Knode said that Strata hopes the situation never gets to that point. However, he said, the state retains $12.2 million, “just in case any thing happens”.
When asked whether Strata will go ahead even if all stakeholders are against the plan, Knode replied that, “our first step would be to try to convince you that what we’re doing makes sense and is not going to cause you any issues”.
He acknowledged, however, that he ultimately has an obligation to the shareholders of the parent company. “In that capacity, I need to do whatever I can to make this project economically feasible,” he said.