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Confusion at the Grand Canyon

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2009 – The U.S. Department of the Interior last week authorized mining for uranium on federal land near Grand Canyon National Park in an apparent violation of a Congressional resolution passed last June that declared more than 1 million acres around the Park off-limits to new mining activity. Documents from the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) obtained by the Grand Canyon Trust show that on April 27, BLM listed as “Operations authorized” applications for exploratory drilling by a mining company known as Quaterra Alaska. BLM documents authorizing operations: Quaterra Alaska is a U.S.-based subsidiary of Quaterra Resources of Vancouver, a Canadian mining concern that holds as many as 2,400 mining claims near the Grand Canyon. Without decisive action by the Obama administration to halt mining activities near the Grand Canyon, the Interior department’s rubber-stamping of Quaterra’s application could trigger a dramatic increase in mining in close proximity to pristine national park lands and the precious Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 25 million Americans “We were surprised to see that BLM appears to have approved drilling operations near the Canyon in violation of Congressional action,” said Dusty Horwitt, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group. “Secretary Salazar should act today to put these lands off-limits to mining activity to protect the Canyon and the Colorado River.”

On June 25, following a surge of uranium mining activity that raised concern about impacts to Grand Canyon National Park and the nearby Colorado, the House Natural Resources Committee invoked its rarely-used emergency authority to pass a binding resolution banning new mining activity for up to three years on 1 million acres near the Canyon. The area designated to be withdrawn includes the land covered by Quaterra Alaska’s applications for drilling operations. The Bush Interior Department refused to comply with the House panel’s resolution. Ken Salazar, the current Interior Secretary, has not yet agreed to comply. The BLM quietly authorized Quaterra’s applications without commenting on the broader policy implications. The Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed suit last year to force the Interior secretary to comply with the House resolution. The suit is pending. Quaterra’s website boasts that its uranium mining initiative has “positioned the company as one of the largest claim holders on the Arizona strip,” a reference to the area north of Grand Canyon National Park where BLM has approved drilling. According to Environmental Working Group’s analysis of BLM records, Quaterra Alaska holds 241 mining claims in the area ruled off-limits by the House committee action. Of those claims, 66 are within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Patrick Hillard, named on Quaterra’s website as a “consulting geologist,” holds 2,234 claims within the withdrawal area and 426 claims within five miles of the park. A 2005 news release issued by Quaterra identifies Hillard as an exploration geologist leading an acquisition project for the company in Northern Arizona.

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