Uranium Exploration Permit
With the interest in uranium development potential at Coles Hill, and potentially additional exploration elsewhere, DMME updated the uranium exploration permit forms the agency uses for exploration permitting, drill hole management, and bonding in 2007. These forms are available on DMM’s website and are registered on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website to ensure permit applicants and the public have easy access to them.
Uranium in Virginia
DMME has received only one application for a permit for uranium exploration by Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI). The draft application was initially received in October 2007 and was accepted as complete and the permit issued in November 2007.
Exploration activities commenced on December 14, 2007, and the last drill hole was completely backfilled with cement on July 24, 2008.The exploration permit proposed to re-enter up to 20 historic drill holes for validation, and drill up to 20 new holes. The maximum hole depth was anticipated to be approximately 1500 feet. The maximum expected surface disturbance for each drill hole was estimated to be 0.15 acres (60 feet by 100 feet).
Coles Hill, VA location
The total amount of land permitted is 194.01 acres. The permit defines two distinct areas for exploration, with the north area containing 99.47 acres, and the southern area containing 94.54 acres.
An archeological, cultural, and historic resources review of the area was provided as part of the permitting process. One projectile point fragment was documented in the permit area, but no other archeological or historic artifacts were found. Information provided indicated that there were no threatened or endangered species within or near the permit area.
Baseline water quality data was established for water wells, surface water ponds, and streams in the area in November 2007. Between December 2007 and July 2008, VUI completed a total of 10 drill holes; 7 as re-entry of historic drill holes and 3 new holes. In accordance with the permit requirements, the holes were sealed with cement immediately following the completion of data collection. One hole located in the north exploration area within the uranium-mineralized zone was converted to a monitoring well. The permit amendment that authorized this conversion required that the exploration hole be sealed with cement from the hole bottom to a depth of 300 feet below collar elevation.
Water needed for drilling operations was obtained from nearby streams, and stored and recycled through lined pits excavated at each drill pad.
During exploration February 2008, Coles Hill, VA
All water used in drilling operations was sampled before disposal. If the water met the water quality standards established by the Department of Environmental Quality and contained in the permit, it was used as irrigation water for the surrounding pastures. Water that did not meet the standards was moved to storage tanks, treated to remove contaminants, sampled again to verify that it met the standards, and used as irrigation water on surrounding pastures controlled by VUI.
After exploration November 2013, Coles Hill, VA
The permit addressed anticipated water consumption for drilling activities and required the drillers to limit water withdrawal to less than 9,000 gallons per day to minimize impact on surrounding donor streams. It also required the drillers to maintain a daily log of estimated water withdrawals. Water consumption was verified during drilling operations. Inspections on site commenced on December 14, 2007, and continued throughout the drilling operations, which were completed in July 2008. During that period, a total of 23 inspections were completed, some of which were conducted over multiple day periods. Since the completion of drilling activities, an additional 38 inspections have been conducted. In total, DMME inspectors have filed 61 inspection reports on this site as of January 2014. Inspections will continue while the permit is in effect.
VUI used a third party consultant to conduct ground surface radiometric surveys of all proposed drill pads prior to disturbance. These readings were also verified and independently confirmed by DMME personnel with their own testing equipment. Following the completion of drill holes and reclamation of the drill pads, the ground surface was again surveyed to insure that the ground surface of the drilling locations did not exceed the pre-drilling radioactive readings.
Monitoring Well During Drilling February 2008, Coles Hill, VA
As reclamation work nears completion, data continues to be collected. The permit requires VUI to monitor the water quality and water flows on a quarterly basis at 15 surface stream sites both above and below the permit area. The permit also requires VUI to monitor water quality at 4 existing private water wells on or near the permitted area. Additionally, there is also a requirement to monitor the water quality of 4 surface farm ponds in the area. An amendment was made to the permit in 2009 after the completion of drilling activities to reduce the number and types of water quality sampling. Full sampling must resume before any additional exploration activities can take place. All water sampling and analysis has been done by third party consultants and the data submitted directly to DMME. The monitoring reports indicate that there is no evidence of any contamination related to the exploration activities.
Baseline data for two private wells showed elevated levels of radionuclides, which is consistent with their locations immediately adjacent to the uranium deposit. All other samples are within the applicable standards for drinking and/or surface water, and have remained within those standards to date, with the exception of one exploration drill hole that was converted to a monitoring well in 2008. Since this monitoring well was drilled into the uranium deposit, it has also shown elevated levels of radionuclides. The water in this well cannot be discharged until such time as it meets established water quality standards.
Bonding for exploration activities is provided for under § 45.1-274.B of the Code of Virginia. The bond form and amount is set by DMME to ensure compliance with the requirements for drilling, redrilling, and plugging of holes, and reclamation of any surface disturbances. Bonds are provided to ensure the work required under the permit can be completed by a third party should the permittee fail to meet those requirements. Unforeseen offsite impacts, damages, claims, or surface or groundwater remediation are not items enumerated in the Code of Virginia to be covered by exploration bonds. The basis for setting the minimum bond amounts is DMME’s experience with historic uranium exploration drilling at Coles Hill and the agency’s experience with the drilling of nearly 8,000 active oil and gas wells. The Virginia Gas and Oil Act § 45.1-361.31A of the Code of Virginia provides that the minimum bond furnished for gas and oil wells shall be not less than $10,000 per well plus $2,000 per acre of disturbed land.
Bond amounts were determined based on the nature of the exploration activity VUI was proposing, re-entering historic holes that were successfully closed in the early 1980s plus drilling a limited number of new holes.
Box of core samples
Prior to the issuance of the permit, VUI provided a cash bond of $104,000. This amount was based on a bond requirement of $10,000 per exploration borehole for 10 holes, and a total surface disturbance bond of $4,000 for an anticipated total drill pad disturbance of 2 acres. On June 26, 2009, DMME released $90,000 of the bond back to the operator for the 9 boreholes that had been completed and plugged as required. Surface disturbances associated with drilling activity were regraded and revegetated, and ground surface radiation levels at the drill sites were surveyed and found to be at or below pre-disturbance levels. A $4,000 bond on surface disturbance and a $10,000 bond on one remaining borehole that was converted to a monitoring well remain, and have not been released.
Reclamation area November 2013, Coles Hill, VA
The exploration permit is currently in effect until November 20, 2014, and it may be renewed for an additional year. No exploration activities have been conducted since 2008, and the reclamation of all disturbances associated with drilling are awaiting final bond release. Quarterly water sampling by the permittee is continuing, and inspection of the site by DMME personnel is ongoing.