Economic factors and water resources were two of the topics discussed at an open house meeting hosted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management regarding possible potash mining operations in Southwest Colorado.
The meeting, held at Dolores County High School on Tuesday night, was part of the scoping process for an environmental assessment to evaluate potash prospecting permit applications filed by an Australian mining company, Red Metal Limited, through its subsidiary RM Potash. The company hopes to drill exploratory core sites on public lands in western Dolores and San Miguel counties.
Six potential test sites are located in an area from about 5 miles north of Egnar to about 5 miles southeast of the community.
We are here to inform the public about what we are hoping to do in an exploration phase, said Jon Thorson, RM Potashs Colorado potash project manager. We want to drill two or maybe three proof-of-concept drill holes.
Potash refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals containing the element potassium, which is primarily used to make fertilizer.
Thorson said the presence of potash in Southwest Colorado was established through old oil wells in the area.
If the initial drill holes prove true, RM Potash will then drill additional core samples toward the goal of full-scale production. The prospect of a new industry in Dolores County has many residents excited by the potential economic implications.
Any work in Colorado is good, said R.W. McKamy, a resident of Billings, Mont., who spends time throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Up and down the Rockies you see dying towns.
Dove Creek resident Jerry Carhart noted any jobs added to the area would be an asset.
What a blessing something like this would be for Dolores County, Carhart said. We have the highest unemployment in the state, and this would be just wonderful.
Thorson said a potential potash mine could bring at least 50 jobs to the region.
We are looking at 55 employees at a minimum, he said. It could be more if the mine proves to be successful.
Dolores County Commissioner Doug Stowe also expressed interest in the potential of the potash exploration.
I think this could be a real boon to this area, Stowe said. We could use any jobs. I think it has got a lot of potential.
Minimal concerns were expressed at the open house. Among some of the initial thoughts were the proximity of the exploration and potential mine to breeding grounds, or leks, of the Gunnison sage grouse and the use of water resources.
According to BLM Geologist James Blair, the environmental assessment will ensure that no disturbance will occur on or near sage grouse leks.
Water is a necessary resource for mining operations, and concerns were raised over the use of water in the potash exploration and mining.
Beyond domestic water, our water is used for agriculture, said Jimbo Buickerood, with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. We dont have much water in this area, and there are questions about how much would be used and if it would have an impact on agriculture and domestic supplies. I think everyone in the room wants to know about that.
Thorson said any potash operation in Southwest Colorado would use water from underground aquifers, not above-ground evaporation ponds like potash mining near Moab, Utah.
The deeper aquifers have water too salty for anything else, Thorson said. That water is made for us. We want to use it and recycle it in the operation. It would be different than the operation in Moab because we dont have the Colorado River to use. We wont be using evaporation ponds and wasting water we just dont have.
The public comment period for the scoping period lasts through July 29. The Dolores Public Lands Office expects to reach a decision on the initial wells between September and January. Drilling most likely wont start until spring 2012.
Comments on the nature and scope of the environmental, social and economic issues, and on possible alternatives related to the proposed action can be sent to James Blair, Dolores Public Lands Office, Bureau of Land Management, 29211 Hwy. 184, Dolores, CO 81323 or fax comments to 882-6841. For more information, call 882-6800.
Further information and official documents regarding the application are posted at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/sjplc.html.
Journal Managing Editor Russell Smyth contributed to this report.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org.