The nascent gold and copper project west of Cheyenne is now a proposed mine.
U.S. Gold Corp, a gold exploration company evaluating deposits in Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada, submitted its application to open a mine in Laramie County to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Land Quality Division on Sept. 13. Neither gold nor copper is currently mined in Wyoming.
Roughly a century has passed since metals were produced commercially at the old Copper King mine, though numerous companies have tried to restore operations over the years. U.S. Gold Corp — armed with promising results from more than two years of site study and an encouraging economic analysis completed this spring by researchers at the University of Wyoming — believes mining there is finally possible.
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“I don’t think it’s a huge surprise,” said Laramie County Commissioner Brian Lovett. “I think some people are a little surprised that this one seems to be going forward. Because we’ve kind of had this dangled in front of us a couple of times before, and it never really materialized that the economics were there.”
Advancements in mining methodology mean gold and copper can now be extracted from mined rock more cheaply and without using cyanide, a toxin that can damage the heart, lungs, nerves and brain and has often fed local opposition to such projects.
And while the U.S. already mines substantial volumes of both gold and copper, making them less of a national security worry compared with lithium, nickel, several rare earth elements and other materials needed to build renewables and a variety of other commonplace technologies, the need for copper, in particular, is still projected to skyrocket in the coming years. “Securing domestic supply, particularly when the demand is high and is going to increase, as we look to electrification, for copper — that’s huge,” said George Bee, CEO of U.S. Gold Corp.
The company estimates that the project site contains more than 1 million ounces of gold and about 248 million pounds of copper. The mine is expected to be active for about a decade, employing more than 300 workers and generating in the ballpark of $75 million in tax revenue. Construction and reclamation will tack on another 5 or so years.
“In Wyoming, where a lot of the revenue the state enjoys comes from the resource business, it’s a really good diversification,” Bee said. It’s been a long time since gold or copper were part of Wyoming’s portfolio. But mining is something the state knows well.
The company’s submission to the Department of Environmental Quality kicked off a preliminary completeness review. Next, the application will move to public comment, then to technical review, which can take a while. Then it’ll have to withstand a final round of public comment.
If all goes to plan, U.S. Gold Corp hopes to receive its permit in the first half of 2024.
“This is a large mine,” said Keith Guille, the agency’s outreach manager. “There’s a lot of environmental standards that go into these, and protections, obviously. So it’s going to take some time.”
Separately, U.S. Gold Corp plans to apply early next year for an Industrial Siting Permit to address the social and economic impacts of development, along with disruptions like noise, light and traffic. With the project located on state land, surrounded by private land, the company will also need to secure an array of other, smaller permits and approvals.
Laramie County’s leaders are excited about the jobs and revenue the mine promises. They also have concerns — especially about water. The county’s finite water supply could end up limiting future development.
U.S. Gold Corp anticipates using 750 gallons per minute. The company is in talks with the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities about buying water and has incorporated other conservation measures, like squeezing and reusing water from mine tailings, into its plans.
“There’s some pros and cons,” Lovett said. “There’s going to be a lot of things to look at, and a lot of things to consider.”
It’s only after the key permits have been secured, Bee said, that the company can turn its primary focus to funding.
“You cannot really finance a project until you have certainty that there’s a permit in place,” he said. “It only takes about 18 months to build something of this nature, if you’ve got all the activities lined up. And we would love to put that as a reality, but for the little question of raising a quarter of a billion dollars.”
But with the expansion of domestic mining becoming a national priority, and with commodity prices forecast to aid that growth, Bee is optimistic.