No, Obama Did Not Save the Grand Canyon From Uranium Mining

January 16th, 2012
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Stories like this really just grind my gears, because the way it is portrayed in the media is simply false.�� If you read any of the reports about the recent extension of a moratorium on mining (uranium mining included) in the Grand Canyon area, you’d think that the big bad uranium mining industry was hell bent on destroying one of the world’s natural wonders and was only stopped by the Obama Administration from doing so.

Via the Mail and Guardian:

Obama rescues the Grand Canyon

Barack Obama took a big step towards preserving one of the world’s natural wonders on Monday, banning uranium mining on 400 000 hectares of land around the Grand Canyon.

The move, announced by the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, at a film screening in Washington DC, bans new mining claims around the canyon for the next 20 years. The area is rich in uranium deposits.

“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Salazar said. “People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place and millions of people in the Colorado river basin depend on the river.”

Environmental groups said the move, which was opposed by the mining industry and some Republicans, would secure the American president’s environmental legacy.

The measure does not affect about 3 200 existing mining claims around the canyon, however. The administration said there would be continued development of 11 uranium mines.

Conservation groups said Obama had shown political courage in going ahead with the ban in the face of opposition. “Despite significant pressure, the president did not settle for a halfway measure,” said Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group. In the final years of the George Bush presidency, when uranium prices were rising worldwide, mining companies filed thousands of claims in northern Arizona on lands near the Grand Canyon.

They also proposed reopening old mines adjacent to the canyon.

Salazar ordered a temporary halt to claims in 2009 after Obama came to office. Government officials proposed the 20-year ban in October last year, after an environmental review calling for the preservation of an “iconic landscape”.

The reality is that the Grand Canyon was never actually in any danger of being torn up for mining. That’s because the iconic expanse of canyon of eroded sandstone and river bed is located within the Grand Canyon National Park. It might depend a little on how you define the beginning and end of the canyon, but in general, the expansive “grand” part is all within the national park. Because it is within a national park, there can be no mining claims. The area is permanently and unquestionably protected and the only development and construction allowed is limited infrastructure for the park itself. (things like visitors centers, hiking trails and such.)

The park is enormous. It’s 1,902 sq mi or 4,927 sq km. It includes the canyon itself and much of the surrounding area. It was established as a National Monument in 1906 and has enjoyed the protection from commercial development of a US national park since 1919. There is absolutely no way that any part of that massive area will be mined for uranium or anything else.

The park is in Arizona, in a relatively sparsely inhabited region. Much of the area around the national park is federally administered land. As such, claims can be staked for mineral recovery. It’s not actually in the park and it’s certainly not in the canyon. It’s many miles away, but in the general region of the Grand Canyon. More than two thousand potential mining sites have been staked, many for uranium, as uranium can be found in the sandstone of the area. This is normal. Mining companies can, depending on the circumstances, claim or lease federal land for mineral recovery.

In 2009, it was proposed that a massive area that is only remotely close to the Grand Canyon be closed to mining. Now that decision has been extended, at least for the next twenty years. Vague environmental concerns are cited as the reason. There are already some long standing hard rock mines in the area, which apparently will still be allowed to operate.

I have to admit that I don’t actually have any expertise on this area or the eco-systems or whether it’s so unique or amazing as to make it worthy of complete protection from mining and development.�� However, it should be made clear that regardless of the validity of this decision, this is not the Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon was never in danger of being destroyed by mines.


This entry was posted on Monday, January 16th, 2012 at 5:07 am and is filed under Bad Science, media, Not Even Wrong, Nuclear, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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17 Responses to “No, Obama Did Not Save the Grand Canyon From Uranium Mining”

  1. 1
    Michael Says:

    But, inquiring minds want to know, was it ever in danger of being destroyed by mimes?


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  2. 2
    Blubba Says:

    I am not an expert on all of the finer distinctions between national parks, national monuments, national forests, national recreation areas , federally managed lands not to mention indian reservations, and the types of development allowed within each. There seems to be some of everything surrounding Grand Canyon. But it appears there was actual uranium mining on the South Rim as late as 1972:

    http://grandcanyontreks.org/orphan.htm

    I don’t think many would go for future mining of exposed deposits of any metals along the canyon walls or even within yodeling distance. That said, when issues like this take on an emotional tone it becomes hard for reason to get a word in edgewise. If they were situated miles away, out of sight and out of mind, it was done responsibly in accordance with current safety and environmental standards, including remediation, and if they would not harm some threatened species of jackalope in the process I would be OK with it.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

    I was under the impression that insitu leaching was being considered in that area which is minimally invasive.


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  4. 4
    Blubba Says:

    According to a book I promptly lost the link to, “There are four major types of uranium deposits in the United States; strata bound, solution breccia pipes, vein, and phosphatic deposits (EPA 1995). Of these, in-situ leach is the uranium recovery technique used mostly on strata-bound ore deposits. Strata-bound ore deposits are ore deposits that are contained within a single layer of sedimentary rock. They account for more than 90% of the recoverable uranium and vanadium in the United States and are found in three major geographic areas—the Wyoming Basin (Wyoming and Nebraska), Colorado Plateau or Four Corners area (northwestern New Mexico, western Colorado, eastern Utah, and north eastern Arizona), and south Texas.”

    My understanding was that most of the deposits around the Grand Canyon were of the breccia pipe type for which in situ leaching may not work well. I believe the Olympic Dam mine in Australia is the breccia type and is a conventional underground mine.


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  5. 5
    Kit P Says:

    This is one of those classic meaningless political moves. When Clinton was president, he declared a new national monument in Southern Utah. When visiting that area there are many, many choices. So I asked a coworker geologist from that area if it was worth a side trip. He said no and explained the only reason to make it a national monument was somebody wanted to mine coal.


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  6. 6
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Blubba said:

    I am not an expert on all of the finer distinctions between national parks, national monuments, national forests, national recreation areas , federally managed lands not to mention indian reservations, and the types of development allowed within each. There seems to be some of everything surrounding Grand Canyon. But it appears there was actual uranium mining on the South Rim as late as 1972:

    http://grandcanyontreks.org/orphan.htm

    I don’t think many would go for future mining of exposed deposits of any metals along the canyon walls or even within yodeling distance. That said, when issues like this take on an emotional tone it becomes hard for reason to get a word in edgewise. If they were situated miles away, out of sight and out of mind, it was done responsibly in accordance with current safety and environmental standards, including remediation, and if they would not harm some threatened species of jackalope in the process I would be OK with it.

    The Grand Canyon is over 250 miles long and 16 miles wide. The majority of it, the part that is seen in postcards and such – the part that’s really impressive and wide is a national park. But whether it’s all within the park boundaries would kind of depend on what definition of the Canyon you use. Part of the national protected land goes into Utah.

    Still, the Orphan Mine is clearly within the canyon and the park. This would not have ever been possible if not for the fact that it was staked as a copper mine in the late 1800′s, before the park was ever created. I very much doubt it could be re-opened. It seems that if you have an existing piece of property within a national park when it is founded, you can often keep it, but in this case it looks like it was absorbed when the mine closed.

    For some background on the definitions:

    US National Park – One of 59 areas of the United States administered by the National Park Service. They are protected from commercial development and usually kept in a natural or semi-natural state. National Parks are considered to exist both for protection and recreation and appreciation. Therefore, they do have development of visitor centers, access roads, hiking trails, lodges, gift shops, ranger stations and that kind of thing. That’s the extent of it. Private entities sometimes operate businesses on national parks under contract. For example, in Yellowstone, there are some overnight accommodations that are run by private entities that have bid for a contract to do so.

    National parks are often areas which are considered to be unique or extremely majestic. These would include places like Yellowstone National Park, which is a very unique area of the world. No other place has the same level of geothermal activity and natural features. Also the Grand Canyon or the Hawaii Volcanos. These are seen as areas that should be protected from development yet provided to the public for recreation.

    National Monument – Has the same protection from development that national parks have, but generally gets less funding for development of visitor facilities and promotion. The big difference between a national park and national monument is that the US president can declare almost any area owned by the Federal Government a national monument. Most actual “monuments” such as the Statue of Liberty and major memorials are considered monuments. They may be administered by the department of the interior or the national parks service or the national forestry service, depending on the circumstances.

    It’s interesting to think that the US president would have this kind of power and the possibilities it entails. I’ve always wondered if the president could declare the desk of a rival politician to be a national monument and then declare that the politician could not “disturb the monument” by removing some important paperwork.

    I think it might be possible for congress to overturn it.

    National Forest – Area administered by the National Forestry Service, part of the Department of Agriculture. National Forests are considered dual purpose. They do have recreational activities and may even have visitor centers, hiking trails and campgrounds, but they’re also available and often encouraged for commercial purposes. It depends on the circumstances, as some areas are protected and all uses do need to have ecological review. But logging companies can claim or lease areas for timber recovery, mineral recovery rights can be obtained etc. National Forests were developed as an economic resource and therefore things like logging, grazing and so on are considered a valid use.

    National Wildlife Refuge – An area which is protected from nearly all development, with the exception of limited construction of things like scientific research facilities and emergency resources, like fire towers and ranger stations. National Wildlife Refuges are administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The regulations depend on the sight. Sometimes limited resource recovery is permitted, but usually it’s not. Usually visitors are allowed to these areas, but some special areas where there are populations of endangered species are limited.

    Federal Lands – A catchall for any area that is owned by and administered by the Federal Government. Includes national parks, forests, military training areas, wildlife refuges and areas like the basins of the TVA. Much of these areas are just big stretches of land in the Western US that were never claimed by or developed by anyone. They may or may not be available for claim, lease, purchase or


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Oh, one other thing: national recreation areas fall into multiple categories of protection but generally are protected from mining and resource recovery. These are areas are similar to national parks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_recreation_area

    In addition to the Grand Canyon National Park, much of the land around the Colorado River and the canyon is part of State Parks or the Glenn Canyon National Recreation area. It is therefore also protected


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  8. 8
    Chris Says:

    The issue of the 1872 hardrock mining act does need to be addressed. The law does not distinguish between valuable ore bodies that have a realistic expectation of being mined for a public benefit and unprofitable claims simply made for speculation or to tie up federal land for no good public reason. In addition the royalties should at LEAST cover the cost of US government oversight – it not return some cash to the taxpayers who own the land.

    The likelyhood of any new mines in the Grand Canyon area is fairly slim – but the speculators are hoping to either get clear title to the land for housing or hoping the Fed will pay them big money to go away.


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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I agree with you there, but that’s not really a Grand Canyon issue. That’s an issue that has been a chronic problem on government land and has gotten worse in recent years. It happens on all federal lands and putting a moratorium on certain areas in the Grand Canyon vicinity doesn’t actually do anything to help it.


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  10. 10
    Gordon Says:

    For society to have what it needs, we need to log and mine and that means that we will have to cause some local changes to the land, which are not always pretty. People don’t like seeing the land being dug up for metal or fuel or logged for wood. Many will simply oppose this any time it happens because they think it is wrong or evil. It is very black and white to some.

    The problem is these people have always gotten the things they need. When they want a product made from the materials they can go get it and they don’t equate the entire process that must happen to get the product. They expect to always have it. They may stop projects for mines or farms or logging, but they’ll always have the products they want, because they’re really just sending the mining to China or some place that is out of sight and out of mind. Maybe the prices go up a little if they shut down enough, but the connection is not obvious.

    It’s the exact same mentality as “electricity comes from the outlet in the wall.”

    The only thing I do agree with is that it is a good idea to set aside some areas of land for preservation as-is, because there is value to natural settings for recreation or for science or just to enjoy them for what they are. There are a few places in the world that are unique and have features that are not found elsewhere and it’s a good idea to protect them.

    It has to be only some places. We can’t say that there is no place in the world where you can dig for the materials the world needs. Making the grand canyon a national park but allowing mining in some places that are just outside the park seems entirely reasonable to me.


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  11. 11
    Anon Says:

            Gordon said:

    The problem is these people have always gotten the things they need. When they want a product made from the materials they can go get it and they don’t equate the entire process that must happen to get the product. They expect to always have it.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if they could be excluded from the benefits of the modern society they seem to hate so much?

            Gordon said:

    It has to be only some places. We can’t say that there is no place in the world where you can dig for the materials the world needs.

    I guess you could use space mining to get the materials you need, but space mining only really makes sense for getting materials for use in space (with the exception of Platinum group metals).


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  12. 12
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Anon said:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if they could be excluded from the benefits of the modern society they seem to hate so much?

    I guess you could use space mining to get the materials you need, but space mining only really makes sense for getting materials for use in space (with the exception of Platinum group metals).

    But then you have to cut down trees or dig up areas to make room for the launch pads and tracking antennas and landing zones and all those other things. Plus, what about all the problems associated with launching and recovering the space vehicles? I mean, you might a capsule full of raw materials reentering the atmosphere and it could spook a group of highly endangered sea turtles. Or what happens if it lands on top of a spotted owl?

    And the exhaust from the rockets? What about that? I guess you could use some other space access method, but anything you choose is going to have some kind of footprint.

    Now mind you also, this mentality is not limited to just earth either. During the Apollo program after the moon walks were finished, the standard practice was for astronauts to disconnect their PLSS (portable life support system, basically the backpack with the oxygen, co2 scrubbers, batteries and such) and connect their suits to the LEM’s oxygen system. Before closing the hatch they’d ditch the PLSS’s onto the lunar surface, because they were depleted by that time and had no use, so it lightened the spacecraft a bit and made more room in the cramped quarters.

    Believe it or not, I have heard people say that they were disgusted by the fact that the last thing done before leaving the moon was a blatant act of littering. (And of course, you might get them more upset if you point out we left lunar rovers and descent stages and instruments and stuff behind too).

    So yeah, people will get all hot and bothered if it’s in their nature. It does not have to even be earth.


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    And the exhaust from the rockets? What about that? I guess you could use some other space access method, but anything you choose is going to have some kind of footprint.

    Oh I’m sure oxygen diflouride and diborane will be fine. :-)


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  14. 14
    Gordon Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Believe it or not, I have heard people say that they were disgusted by the fact that the last thing done before leaving the moon was a blatant act of littering.

    (And of course, you might get them more upset if you point out we left lunar rovers and descent stages and instruments and stuff behind too).

    So yeah, people will get all hot and bothered if it’s in their nature. It does not have to even be earth.

    Oh I believe it. I’ve heard the same thing. People have complained that humans have tainted the pristine surface of mars and think we’re bad for sending plutonium into space of some idiocy like that.

    One can just as easily say that the debris of the space programs are not trash but are monuments to human exploration. I’m sure that if someday we ever have masses of people on the moon, the sites where man landed the first times will be roped off and declared to be too historic to disturb.

    It’s just an issue of what your perspective is in defining something as trash or as an artifact. The extreme edge of the environmental movement has become one that has antihumanist self loathing ideals.


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  15. 15
    Anon Says:

            Gordon said:

    Oh I believe it. I’ve heard the same thing. People have complained that humans have tainted the pristine surface of mars and think we’re bad for sending plutonium into space of some idiocy like that.

    Then there’s what those people think of terraforming.

            Gordon said:

    One can just as easily say that the debris of the space programs are not trash but are monuments to human exploration. I’m sure that if someday we ever have masses of people on the moon, the sites where man landed the first times will be roped off and declared to be too historic to disturb.

    It’s just an issue of what your perspective is in defining something as trash or as an artifact. The extreme edge of the environmental movement has become one that has antihumanist self loathing ideals.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if they kept such crap to themselves instead of trying to force it on the rest of us.


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  16. 16
    Robert Sneddon Says:

            Anon said:

    Oh I’m sure oxygen diflouride and diborane will be fine. :-)

    I’ve heard people suggest octonitrocubane would make a WONDERFUL solid fuel motor.


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  17. 17
    Anon Says:

            Robert Sneddon said:

    I’ve heard people suggest octonitrocubane would make a WONDERFUL solid fuel motor.

    Yes, I’m sure it would, only thing is it doesn’t burn as green as boranes do. :-)


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