America’s First Vanadium Mine Project Getting Fast-Tracked to Permit

July 24, 2020 Updated: July 24, 2020

Federal land managers have announced the launch of an expedited permitting process for what, if approved, will be America’s first vanadium mine.

The Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in a release earlier this month that it has begun the scoping process for the proposed Gibellini Vanadium Mine Project located around 27 miles southeast of Eureka, Nevada.

Scoping is part of the process of preparing environmental impact statements (EIS) required for major projects that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which the Trump administration recently modernized to get projects done faster.

In announcing plans for the vanadium mine’s expedited review, the bureau said that U.S. dependence on foreign vanadium “creates a strategic vulnerability for both the economy and military to adverse government action or other events that can disrupt the supply of this key mineral.”

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Fused vanadium is poured to be cooled at a vanadium plant, near Maracas, Brazil, on June 15, 2016. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Reducing this vulnerability was one of the objectives of the 2017 Executive Order 13807, which directed the interior and commerce secretaries to develop, protect, and expand commercial access to critical minerals.

Vanadium is a rare metal used as an alloy to strengthen steel, aluminum, and titanium for use in a variety of key industries, including aerospace. The United States currently imports vanadium, mostly from Austria, Canada, and Russia. China produces more than half the world’s vanadium but consumes most of it domestically.

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A worker puts vanadium into a kiln at a vanadium plant, near Maracas, Brazil, on June 15, 2016. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Besides the 2017 executive order that allowed expedited permitting, the Trump administration on July 15 introduced a revised final rule (pdf) on implementing NEPA, which introduced a presumptive time limit of two years for the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) and suggested a 150-page limit on the document, unless it relates to proposals of “unusual scope or complexity,” in which case they should be less than 300 pages.

A recent report (pdf) by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) found that the average length of an EIS was over 600 pages while the average time for federal agencies to conduct NEPA reviews was four and a half years.

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A truck carries vanadium ore at a vanadium plant, near Maracas, Brazil, on June 15, 2016. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Bureau of Land Management District Manager Doug Furtado said he expects a decision regarding the Gibellini Vanadium Mine in about 12 months.

“If approved, this project would provide hundreds of jobs and will contribute to the nation’s domestic source of critical minerals,” Furtado said.

The applicant for the vanadium mine is the Nevada Vanadium Company, which plans to mine about 10 million pounds a year, or about half of the overall U.S. demand.

Ron Espell, Nevada Vanadium’s vice president for environment and sustainability, said vanadium mines historically have been cost-prohibitive in the United States because of the poor quality of deposits.

“It’s all about the purity and it never pencils out economically,” he said. “This one is unique. It’s in the 98 to 99% percent pure range. It makes our project very attractive.”

The project, which is “to develop, operate, and close an open-pit heap-leach mine for the extraction and recovery of vanadium and minor amounts of uranium,” is currently in the analysis and document preparation stage, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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