Justin Abernathy, Deputy State Director for Energy and Minerals,
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM)
"As of September 2022, there were approximately 262,000 active mining claims on BLM managed land in Nevada, which is a 40% increase from five years ago."
Can you provide an overview of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) role in the Nevada mining industry?
The BLM is responsible for managing approximately 48 million acres of public lands in Nevada, and several hundred thousand acres of split estate lands (private surface and Federal minerals). We thus manage over two thirds of the land in Nevada for a variety of uses, including mining. As a result, most of the mining projects permitted in Nevada involve BLM managed land and minerals.
Our solid minerals program is generally divided into three categories – leasable, saleable, and locatable minerals. Locatable minerals include metallic and non-metallic minerals like gold, silver, cooper, lithium and vanadium. The BLM Nevada has the largest locatable minerals program in the Bureau, which includes over 200 active mine plans of operations, which we use to authorize exploration and mining operations that involve over five acres of disturbance. Within this general framework, project proponents submit proposed mining plans of operation and our staff will first review the proposals for completeness and then we complete an environmental review of the proposed projects. We will then identify what we believe is the necessary amount of financial assurance to ensure reclamation. After an approved plan of operations is issued and the required bonding is in place, we will allow the proponent to proceed with development. Once operations commence, we will inspect, at least once annually and more often for certain types of operations or if needed, and monitor the projects to ensure they are complying with the terms of their permit.
We have seen a significant upswing in the number of mining claims in recent years. As of September 2022, there were approximately 262,000 active mining claims on BLM managed land in Nevada, which is a 40% increase from five years ago.
Can you provide an overview of the socio-economic impact of the industry?
The mining industry is a huge contributor to the economy of Nevada, particularly in our rural communities. In 2021, the mining industry in Nevada generated over US$9 billion in value from all commodities. The mining industry also directly employs approximately 10,000 workers with an average annual wage of close to US$100,000. Indirect job opportunities such as equipment suppliers, consultants, hotel workers, restaurants, are also largely attributable to the presence of the mining industry in Nevada. Mining operators also pay millions of dollars in state and local taxes every year.
Can you expand on the environmental review stage of a mining project?
Nevada has consistently been recognized as a model for other jurisdictions who seek to replicate our environmental protection and reclamation standards for mining operations. We focus on early planning with mining operators and have a close and effecting working relationship with our state agency partners, particularly the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. We place an emphasis on font-loading the various baseline studies, surveys and other information that is needed to inform our environmental review processes, and this approach has been beneficial in achieving more effectively planned, timely, and predictable permitting processes. This has allowed us to be successful in setting a high standard for environmental protection while balancing the need for mineral resources.
What is BLM’s role in facilitating communication between local communities and representatives of the mining industry?
Community engagement is built in to our permitting processes. As part of our environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, BLM puts proposed projects out for public review and comment. This is often done in conjunction with public meetings held in local communities that are near or potentially affected by proposed mining operations. The BLM also plays a role in that symbiotic relationship by permitting, overseeing, and ensuring safe and effective mining operations on public lands in Nevada.
What are the advantages of operating in Nevada?
In terms of the regulatory framework, there is a great working relationship between the Federal Government and state agencies, and the level of sophistication of that framework is a great advantage.
What is the BLM’s role in supporting the US achieving energy independence?
The BLM is at the forefront of providing appropriate siting, protection, and permitting for environmentally sound renewable energy projects.