The company digging for critical minerals in southeastern Wyoming is increasingly convinced it has found the largest known deposit of rare earth elements in North America.
American Rare Earths’ mining claims north of Laramie got off to a promising start. Since the Australian developer began drilling last year to find out how far the rare earths extended, the scale of its finds has increased.
Its latest round of drilling — further exploration of a fraction of the deposit — revealed that the most sought-after of the 17 rare-earth elements are spread over an area of about four square miles and to depths of nearly 500 feet, the company announced Friday. The findings provide “quantifiable and verifiable evidence that what we suspected is true,” said Mel Sanderson, US Rare Earth’s president for North America.
“We’re excited not just because of the size, but because other key variables are falling into place. … We’ll be able to consistently recover high-quality material as deep down as we go,” Sanderson said.
People also read…
And she noted that geologists working on the drilling campaign suspect parts of the deposit are going down 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 humans rely on every day. What is unusual is finding a deposit large enough and concentrated enough to mine.
(Ranie Lynds of the Wyoming State Geological Survey said in an email to the Star-Tribune that the agency is aware of elevated levels of some rare earths in the area, but has “no independent way to verify” the company’s announcement.)
American Rare Earths believes that when it comes to jobs, property taxes, and sales taxes (though not severance taxes or royalties — at least for now), its project could “potentially step into the void left by the decline of some of our major coal industry producers ,” Sanderson said.
“It excites me about Wyoming on many levels,” she said. “On a statewide level, that we maintain our positioning in relation to an important energy supplier, but also create jobs that will keep people well employed and keep them at home.”
Initially, American Rare Earths figured that a mine at the Halleck Creek site might remain 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 still a possibility that the life of the potential mine could extend even further.
However, commercial activities are still a long way off. The company hopes to initiate the approval process next year. According to Sanderson, under existing laws and regulations, the earliest it could start mining would be 2029 or 2030, assuming everything goes smoothly 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 brand new, less environmentally damaging methods that are still being developed (and largely kept under wraps) by researchers.
And the company will continue to investigate the extent of the deposit, refining its vision for the mine’s future along the way. It is more optimistic than ever about what it will find.
“All mining is a gamble,” Sanderson said. “You have to keep putting money in and keep believing that your guesses are right. And to get to the point where we have this evidence that our guesses have been right — it’s hard to describe , how big it is and how exciting it is.”
Photos: At Wyoming’s Carissa mine, prospectors once dug for gold