General Requirements of the Uranium Exploration Statute
Chapter 21 of Title 45.1 of the Code authorizes DMME to administer the uranium exploration permitting program. The statute allows for, but does not require the promulgation of regulations. DMME’s Division of Mineral Mining administers and enforces the uranium exploration program.
Uranium exploration is defined in the Code as the drilling of test holes or stratigraphic or core holes to a depth in excess of fifty feet for the purpose of determining the location, quantity, or quality of uranium ore. Permit applications must be submitted with a $250 fee and a bond in the amount determined by DMME. The permit is issued for one year and may be renewed on an annual basis.
Applicants are also required to submit an accurate map showing the location of the proposed exploration activity; the courses and distances of such activity from two permanent points or landmarks on the tract; the approximate location areas in which test holes or core or stratigraphic holes may be drilled; the name of the owner; and boundaries and acreage of the tract on which the exploration activity is to take place.
The application for a uranium exploration permit also requires the identification of all surface water resources on or adjacent to the property, together with measurements of the background pH for those waterways. In addition, a radiation management plan is required for the purposes of monitoring and minimizing radiation exposure to workers, the public, and the environment. For these purposes, the plan describes the locations of data collection points for both surface water and groundwater resources used to measure water quality conditions prior to drilling, during drilling, and following the completion of drilling. The initial, pre-drilling sampling event is used as a baseline measurement for comparison to established water quality criteria and future monitoring results.
Operations and reclamation plans require the immediate plugging of uranium exploration drill holes following completion to ensure minimal impacts of the drilling on groundwater. Erosion and sediment control standards are etablished to minimize the potential for offsite discharge of any sediment, drilling fluid, or surface water. The permit includes water quality standards for water released from the exploration activities to ensure any discharge meets the regulatory standards of DEQ or EPA. Reclamation requirements for the disturbed ground surface include pre- and post- reclamation radiation measurements, regrading, and revegetation of the disturbed areas. The plan requires that drill sites have radiation levels surveyed before disturbance, and all areas brought back to or below those levels after reclamation.
The Code also sets out the requirements for the plugging of the exploration drill holes. Within forty-five days after the abandonment of a drill hole, the permittee is required to notify DMME that such exploration hole has been plugged and abandoned, giving the location of such hole. The permittee shall submit an affidavit which sets forth the time and manner in which the hole was plugged and filled. The Code requires all exploration holes to be adequately plugged with cement from the bottom of the hole upward to a point three feet below plow depth. The remainder of the hole between the top of the plug and the surface is required to be filled with cuttings or nontoxic material. Each exploration hole is required to be plugged as soon as reasonably practical after drilling. These requirements are necessary to protect water quality.
State law also allows for exploration holes to be converted to water wells, provided established drinking water standards are met. DMME is authorized to inspect any area that has been permitted for exploration activity and may issue civil penalties for any violations of statutory or permit conditions. Finally, DMME must hold confidential all logs, surveys, plats and reports filed by those engaged in uranium exploration for a period of two years after the completion of the exploratory activities. Such request shall be granted by DMME if the requesting party certifies that he considers all such information to be of a proprietary nature relating to his competitive rights. This confidentiality may be extended in 2 year intervals upon request by the permittee.