Canadian-based Uranium One, which has holdings in South Africa and Australia, defaulted on its option to purchase a 39.2 percent stake in the Hansen Project. The company had struck a deal with BRM, an Australian energy company, in January to form the partnership to join adjacent uranium projects in the Tallahassee area.
Black Range currently owns 100 percent of the Taylor Ranch Project, which lies to the north of the Hansen Project, and claims recent exploration there has proven mining and milling operations are economically viable. The two companies had planned to consolidate assets to establish a joint venture.
Instead, BRM announced an agreement last week to acquire a 49 percent interest in the Hansen deposit through NZ Minerals LLC, a U.S. company that owns almost 1 million acres of mineral rights spread across Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. NZ Minerals sold the property to the developers of the South T-Bar Ranch but retained 49 percent of the mineral rights during that transaction.
Black Range Minerals now will focus its efforts to acquire the other 51 percent of mineral rights from South T-Bar.
“We have consolidated our position,” Ben Vallerine, U.S. exploration manager with BRM, said Monday. “We’ve got a bigger area and the best deposit in the area, so we’ll continue to work on that and make it an economic project.”
Vallerine said the deal with Uranium One had his company in a holding pattern, but he foresees action in the near future.
“We haven’t progressed much, because we’ve been working on acquiring this 49 percent. Now that we have that, we will start trying to get the 51 percent from South T-Bar Ranch, which has declared their 51 percent for sale,” Vallerine said. “Obviously, if we can acquire 100 percent, we’ll work toward getting permitting in place to drill.”
Vallerine said if the pieces all fall into place, BRM would again go before Fremont County officials to seek another Conditional Use Permit for exploration drilling on the Hansen deposit.
“There was a lot of work done in the 1970s that needs updating,” he said. “We need to revalidate it. They planned to do a pit, and we plan to do underground mining. There’s a lot of different technical work that needs to be done.”
Tallahassee Area Community Inc., the local group formed specifically to fight uranium production in the area, said Uranium One pulling out of the deal was a positive step.
“Uranium One was a bigger company than Black Range Minerals is,” TAC member Kay Hawklee said Monday afternoon. “When the larger company starts to pull away, that encourages us to think the larger companies do not want to go after minerals that are of this low quality, so therefore, are not that economically viable.”
Hawklee said legal counsel advised the group the move could potentially be good news.
“It’s kind of heartened us,” Hawklee said. “We think it’s great.”
However, Vallerine said his company is moving full steam ahead.
“Hopefully, we can get the CUP approval to drill around Christmas and get it done over the winter,” he said. “Then we can spend all next year doing our drilling and follow-up studies. Obviously, we have to have the other 51 percent. Nothing is going to be economic if we’ve only got 49 percent.”
If the two projects are successfully combined, they will contain an estimated 80 million pounds of uranium ore.