What is the role of the Nevada Division of Minerals?
The Nevada Division of Minerals assists in the responsible exploration and production of minerals, oil, gas and geothermal energy. The agency is entrusted with providing information to the public and to entities interested in exploring and developing mines in the state. We are increasingly doing so through our Open Data Platform, which makes publicly available data downloadable and user-friendly. We also regulate fluid minerals (oil, gas and geothermal) as well as dissolved mineral resource exploration (lithium brine). Our mining registry tracks all mineral production in the state, as well as the status of exploration and mining. We also operate the Reclamation Performance Bond Pool and address the physical safety side of the historic legacy mine issue in Nevada. Finally, through our education and outreach component, we educate the citizens of Nevada about the importance of mining to modern society.
How is the Nevada Division of Minerals addressing the challenges posed by abandoned mines in the state?
The Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program was established to address the physical hazards represented by the abandoned mines and shafts that are located throughout Nevada. Through this program, we inventory inactive mining features, rank their degree of hazard, and secure them. If there is an owner or claimant, that entity is responsible for safeguarding it from the public. Otherwise, the feature is considered an orphan and the Division carries out activities to secure the site. We estimate 250,000-350,000 historic mine features in Nevada and believe that approximately 50,000 of them are hazardous. We are currently tracking 80% of them as secured. In addition, we work closely with land management agencies to carry our permanent closures. The AML program is setting the standard for our country; part of its success derives from the fact that the funding comes from mining claimants themselves, unlike in many other states.
Could you tell us about the Nevada Reclamation Performance Bond Pool administered by the Nevada Division of Minerals?
Before any mining or exploration company can initiate any surface disturbance on public lands in Nevada, they must put forth a financial instrument to cover the total cost needed by a federal or state regulating agency to perform all the required reclamation that would result from their proposed project. On average, the total cost for a bond is approximately US$6,000 per acre of proposed disturbance at small exploration projects. Companies can put the money forth with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which can take several weeks to adjudicate the bond, or through our Bond Pool. We have established a US$2.5 million statewide bond with the BLM, which allows the State of Nevada to act as the co-principal on new project obligations. We receive the full amount that the BLM has determined is necessary to do the reclamation and charge a 2% annual administrative fee. Upon receipt, a bond rider adding the obligation amount is submitted to the BLM and the proponent can immediately move forward with their project. This program is also designed to reduce the financial burden and the timeframe for obtaining a plan-level reclamation bond for small companies that may not have a robust credit history. We currently do around 1/3 of the reclamation bonds for notice-level projects in the state, while the BLM does the remaining 2/3.
How does the mine permitting process in Nevada compare to that of other states in the US?
The Mining Law of 1872 established the ability for anybody, regardless of age, sex or nationality, to locate a claim on lands open to mineral entry, providing the exclusive right to explore and extract mineral material. In Western States, especially Nevada, there is a large amount of federal land which is open to mineral entry. This represents a huge opportunity, but it can also be an additional burden in the sense that companies have to permit both with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and with the federal regulator, BLM or US Forest Service. The permitting process can therefore be quite involved and lengthy, but fortunately, the agencies communicate well with each other and reach a consensus on the bond amount. Nevada is a mining-friendly state, with a permitting process that is clear and stable. Companies will usually not face unexpected permitting requirements, as long as they communicate often with all the regulatory agencies.