Can you provide a brief overview of the BLM’s role in the Nevada mining industry?
In Nevada, the BLM is responsible for managing approximately 48 million acres of public lands, as well as several hundred thousand acres of “split estate” lands (non-Federal surface estate and Federal sub-surface mineral estate), which constitutes over two-thirds of the land in the state. These lands are managed for a variety of uses, including the production of solid mineral resources. Consequently, a majority of mining and other solid mineral projects permitted in the state involve BLM-managed lands and minerals.
The BLM Nevada’s solid minerals program is the largest in the Bureau and can be divided into three general categories – locatable minerals, saleable minerals (also called mineral materials), and non-energy solid leasable minerals. We approve plans of operations for the exploration and mining of locatable minerals; sales contracts and free use permits for the disposal of mineral materials; and prospecting permits and leases for non-energy solid leasable minerals that involve Federal lands and minerals. Our solid minerals program also has responsibilities and adjudicative duties associated with the location and maintenance of mining claims, mineral surveys and patents, mineral validity reports, and the use and occupancy of the surface of public lands pursuant to Federal mining and surface use laws.
How has the number of mining claims on BLM-managed lands in Nevada evolved in recent years?
In recent years, we have seen a significant upswing in the number of mining claims attributable to increases in mineral commodity prices, along with a growing recognition of the importance of domestic sources of critical minerals, such as lithium and vanadium. As of December 1, 2021, there were approximately 235,000 active mining claims on BLM-managed lands in Nevada. This is a 30% increase over the number of active mining claims on BLM-managed lands in Nevada only four years ago.
What makes Nevada’s reclamation process so effective and what role does the BLM play in it?
Nevada has been a pioneer and model that other jurisdictions seek to replicate in terms of its environmental protection and reclamation standards for mining operations. Two key factors are Nevada’s “smart from the start” approach to permitting and reclamation of mining operations, and close and effective coordination between the BLM and State of Nevada agencies, such as the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). The BLM and NDEP have a memorandum of understanding concerning reclamation, bonding, and ensuring that Federal and state regulations and oversight are consistent and coordinated. Both NDEP and the BLM jointly review and agree on the reclamation bonding requirements before issuing a decision. We also have procedures for conducting regular and as needed inspections of existing mining operations to ensure consistency with approved operations and standards and to identify and address any instances of non-compliance at any early stage.
How has the permitting process for exploration projects or mines evolved in recent years?
In recent years, BLM and members of the mining industry have placed greater emphasis on front-loading the various baseline studies and other information collection aspects associated with the environmental review and permitting processes for mining projects. This approach has been effective in producing project proposals that are more effectively planned and timelier and more predictable in their permitting processes.
What do you think makes Nevada an attractive exploration and mining jurisdiction? Are there any challenges that should be addressed?
Nevada is the US’ most mountainous state with a very active geology, which has created a favorable environment for several different types of mineral deposits. It is also a leading source for critical minerals. Nevada is the 7th largest state and 33rd most populous. This, combined with desirable geology, allows mining to occur well outside areas of urban interface, which helps reduce potential conflicts. Nevada also has well-defined regulatory frameworks and effective coordination between Federal, State and local regulatory bodies with respect to mining operations.
Land and water are finite resources and multiple users are competing for them. Balancing the use of public lands and environments for mining along with other potential uses and resources on the land and doing so while ensuring appropriate protections for natural, cultural and historic values is inherently complex and challenging.