Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pittsylvania County, VA Uranium: A Detailed Timeline

Comment:  Linda, we miss your great writing!  Please update!  Thanks for the following great article!

By Linda Goin on 1 May 2009

While the Virginia Conservation Network has supplied a short history of uranium events in the Virginia Piedmont, you will find dates, events and links below that you can use to determine how to frame your questions for the public comment meetings slated for a workday afternoon on Thursday, 21 May 2009. (Corrected – only one meeting)

A few things became very clear as I researched the material below. Although I’m positive I don’t have all the information to fill in the timeline between the time Marline Oil Corporation disbanded in 1990 and Jim Jerden’s dissertation in 2001, it appears that Walter Coles and his uranium mine were dormant. Then, in 2007, you’ll see a spate of activity, where Coles and family developed a company named Virginia Uranium, Inc. They bought up contingent land and, by the end of 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) was drilling again to meet requirements for the Canadian Securities Administrators. Why? Because VUI is becoming part of a Canadian company named Santoy.

NOE: Coles Hill Uranium Property also is known as CHUP. U3O8 is yellowcake.

1977: According to this report [PDF pg. 17], Marline Oil Corporation initiated ground radiometric reconnaissance surveys by car-borne radiometrice surveys in June this year.

1978: In another story, a large uranium deposit was discovered in 1978 at Coles Hill, Pittsylvania County, Virginia by geologists [PDF pg. 5] “traveling a roundabout road to get from one part of the basin to another.” The geologists happened to have their vehicle-mounted scintillometer running when they drove over the surface exposure of the uranium ore body just west of the basin boundary. A scintillometer detects gamma rays emitted by radioactive disintegration.

According to a recent 2009 report, “The surface radiometric anomaly associated with the CHUP was found in the late 1970s by Marline Uranium Corporation (Marline), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marline Oil Corporation. Mr. Norm Reynolds, who was in charge of Coles Hill exploration for Marline, is currently president of Virginia Uranium (see 2007 below).” This report is located on the Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) Website [PDF pg. 7].

The first Marline mineral leases were acquired in September [PDF pg. 17]this year. My question is this: Why was Marline driving around private property with scintillometers? I’m not accusing anyone of anything here – I’m just curious, as this is something you don’t see every day.

1979-84: Marline drilled 74 NQ (65,082 feet) and 206 six-inch diameter rotary-percussion (RP) holes. They drilled 24 RP holes outside present CHUP boundaries. These holes were used to delineate the Coles Hill Deposits, for a total of 256 drill holes [PDF pg. 18]. “Exploration of the CHUP was conducted by Marline and Union Carbide to industry’s best practice.” However, I have yet to find a permit to drill, nor have I discovered any baseline water sample studies for this period. They also drilled approximately 200 exploratory holes in the Dry Fork area.

1980-81: Land is leased for uranium mining in multiple sites of the Virginia Piedmont (See map of Piedmont leases [PDF] and map [PDF] of former Pittsylvania County leases). 2,000 acres of land in Orange County were under lease to uranium mining companies. Local residents were approached by Marline Corporation with offers to buy mineral rights to their land.

1981: Pursuant to the Marline uranium discovery, the 1981 Virginia General Assembly directed the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission (CEC) to undertake a study of the issue of uranium development in the Commonwealth, specifically in Pittsylvania County. This study began in April and resulted in the creation of a Uranium Subcommittee in late summer 1981 (the same group that is holding the workday public hearings noted above).

July 1982: The New York Times reported that Marline Uranium Corporation announced on 22 July the “the discovery of a significant uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County that the company said was among the richest finds in the United States. About 30 million pounds of uranium lie beneath a 100-acre site the company has leased six miles northeast of Chatham.”

1982: The General Assembly passes a moratorium on uranium mining and milling (processing) pending completion of a study. Marline canceled the 40 leases it had with landowners in Orange, Culpeper, Madison and Fauquier counties, closed its office in Culpeper and headed to Chatham, Va.

December 1982: Marline and Union Carbide Corporation entered into an agreement [PDF pg. 17] with Union Carbide obtaining an 18-month option and to complete a feasibility study by June 1984.

1983: The General Assembly extends the moratorium indefinitely.

February 1983: Following Uranium Subcommittee recommendations, Senate Bill 155 established the Uranium Administration Group (UAG), which was charged with the examination of uranium development “at specific sites in Pittsylvania County.”

1985: the UAG (Uranium Administration Group) recommended [PDF pg. 6] “…that the moratorium on uranium development can be lifted…” with an overwhelming sixteen members supporting the recommendation and only two dissents. The moratorium was not lifted because specific legislation was not introduced due to the drop in uranium prices that eliminated the economic viability of any venture trying to mine uranium in Virginia. Additionally, the UAG reports and conclusions about costs, benefits and risks of a uranium industry “are based upon consultants prediction using mathematical models and other techniques to speculate about future effects of one mine and one mill…No estimates were made of impacts of a statewide industry.” Leased mineral rights were eventually returned to land owners.

1990: Marline Uranium Corp. abandoned the CHUP mining project in August 1990.

2001: Virginia Tech Ph.D. student, Jim Jerden from Atlanta, Georgia, completes his dissertation [PDF] on the uranium deposits found at Coles Hill based upon the core samples from previous drilling. While I can decipher a bit of this dissertation, it’s easier to read about its contents through this article by Science Daily, written in March 2001. In sum, Jerden discovered that the Coles Hill deposit is a unique geologic answer for containing contaminated nuclear waste.

What I also find interesting in that story is that Jerden did not need to spend corporate or taxpayer money for his investigations. He used 47 previous drilled core samples ordered by the U.S. Geological Survey (see pg. 3 in dissertation).
2005: The price of uranium begins to rise, and interest in the deposit began to grow again.

2007: Investors operating as Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) proposed to mine a large uranium deposit in Pittsylvania Co. A permit [PDF] to conduct exploratory drilling for uranium in Pittsylvania County, VA, was issued to Virginia Uranium, Inc. on Tuesday, November 27, 2007, by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). The permit authorized drilling of up to 40 exploration holes. Baseline water quality was established for water wells, surface water ponds, and streams in the area. Virginia Uranium, in April, was granted the sole and exclusive right to drill, quarry, mine, process, store, remove and sell all of the uranium and all other fissionable source materials located on or under the land of the two adjoining Coles and Bowen properties. The leases expire [PDF pg. 17] on 31 December 2045. NOTE: Majority owners of VUI were the Coles and Bowen families, owners of property sitting on uranium vein (78 percent ownership). The Coles and Bowen families are related .

May 2007: Fred W. and Shirley C. Burts and Virginia Uranium acquired land [PDF pg. 18] and assigned it to the Southside Cattle Company (LandCo), a 100-percent subsidiary of Virginia Uranium. LandCo then acquired approximately 767 acres contiguous to the South Coles Hill Deposit (Burt Lands), but excluding any Burt mineral rights. However, LandCo acquired an option to lease the mineral rights from the Burts, an option that may be exercised by LandCo at any time prior to 2045. The Burts would be compensated for the uranium removal.

June 1, 2007: Roy and Connie Criders granted Virginia Uranium an option to purchase about 112 acres of land exercisable for a period of 30 years (see link in previous paragraph).

July 2007: LandCo, on behalf of Virginia Uranium, purchased eight acres of land that was owned by Marline and sold at auction for failure to pay taxes to Pittsylvania County (recorded 9 August 2007 – see previous link, pg. 13).

October 10, 2007: LandCo, on behalf of Virginia Uranium, purchased the surface rights to 226 acres of what was then non-contiguous property. A subsequent purchase of land on 6 November made this land contiguous to the project site. The original unnamed landowner retains mineral rights, but has granted LandCo the option to lease the mineral rights at any time prior to 2045.

At the end of property consumption, CHUP’s total mineral rights and leases cover approximately 2,940 acres with about 2,296 acres in surface rights. “Since acquisition of suitable sites is required, Virginia Uranium has about 1,508 acres of contiguous land under control for potential mine, mill, waste, and tailing management areas, as well as set-back.” (see previous link, pg. 15).

Just to give you an idea of how large the proposed uranium tailings and waste rock storage was in 1983, visit this map – which shows the area in comparison with the size of Richmond. The current proposal is larger.

December 2007: Bill Speidens’ story in The Free Lance-Star stated, “Both the county Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, of which Speiden is a longtime member, voted unanimously last month to support the state’s moratorium on uranium mining. The Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District and the Orange County Farm Bureau have done the same.” (previous reference, 1980-81) Note: It was brought to my attention that Sandra Speiden passed away in February 2006.

December 2007: Exploration drilling begins again on Coles Hill, despite the moratorium. Does anyone know about a drilling permit? Were any baseline water samples conducted before drilling? Please see March 2008 below…this study was done to meet requirements by the Canadian Securities Administration.

January 2008: Senate Bill 525, a bill seeking a new study of uranium mining is defeated. The City of Virginia Beach passed a resolution supporting the moratorium because the proposed mine threatens its water supply (See map [PDF] of drinking water sources located downstream from proposed Coles Hill Uranium Mining Site).

February 2008: Neighboring Halifax Town Council unanimously approved a Corporate Mining and Chemical and Radioactive Bodily Trespass ordinance. Through the ordinance, corporations and governing officials permitting those corporations will be held liable to the people of Halifax for chemical trespass. This was in opposition to the Coles Hill mine.

March 2008: Virginia Uranium, Inc. completed their drilling program and in June 2008 issued a National Instrument 43-101 (NI 43-101) report detailing the deposit. The NI 43-101 is required by the Canadian Securities Administrators and amounts to an independent technical audit of the resource.

November 2008: The Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy voted 12-0 today to study whether uranium can be safely mined in Virginia.

December 2008: The City of Virginia Beach and “nearly one million people in southeast Virginia who obtain drinking water from Lake Gaston” sent a letter to the Honorable R. Lee Ware, Jr., stating that the 1985 UAG study (noted above) noted that Virginia’s non-degradation standard with respect to water quality would apply and that the mine would not discharge to surface waters. However, this letter stated that Virginia Uranium “does not intend to meet some or all of the Report’s essential conditions, particularly the no discharge and non-degradation criteria.”

December 2008: Santory Resources Ltd. (TSX.V: SAN), a publicly traded Canadian firm, announced on 22 December that it had signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with two private companies. Pursuant to the LOI, Santoy will acquire all shares of Virginia Uranium Ltd. (Limited), a private Yukon corporation in exchange for shares in Santoy, at a fixed ratio of six Santoy shares for each one share of Limited. Limited currently held a 12 percent minority interest in VA Uranium Holdings, Inc. (Holdco), a Yukon corporation. Holdco’s 100 percent-owned subsidiary Virginia Uranium Inc. , a Virginia corporation, controls the leasehold development and operating rights of the Coles Hill uranium property in southside Virginia.

I have searched and cannot find when VUI became a wholly owned subsidiary of Holdco.

2009: The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission votes to seek assistance from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent study, estimated to cost $1 million dollars.

February 2009: Santoy, a Canadian firm, completes paperwork to merge with “Virginia Ltd.” Santoy’s plans are to obtain 30 percent of the company, which includes VUI, Virginia Uranium Ltd. and Virginia Uranium Holdings. I’m unsure when all this merging and developing took place, but it appears that a Canadian company feels that the Coles Hill project is worth pursuing, as noted in the last paragraph before the table in this document .

Norm Reynolds, currently Chief Executive Officer of Virginia Ltd. (and former president of Marline), is expected to be appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Santoy. Walter Coles Jr., currently Executive Vice President of Virginia Ltd., is expected to be appointed Executive Vice President of Santoy. Ron Netolitzky, currently Chief Executive Officer of Santoy, will continue his active involvement in the company as a director of Santoy. Mike Cathro will remain as VP of Exploration of Santoy.

Some questions regarding this enlargement of Walter Coles’ company are voiced by the PilotOnline .

March 2009: Virginia Uranium states that its exploratory drilling “had nothing to do with elevated lead levels found in at least one resident’s water supply.”

April 2009: Chatham-Blairs Supervisor Hank Davis has proposed a resolution for the Board of Supervisors that would ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Health to investigate higher amounts of lead in home wells in the Sheva area near Coles Hill. Patrick Wales, geologist, defended VUI, stating that lead levels in water vary widely throughout the region. Patrick Wales is on the VUI staff .

Finally, it was noted on the 20th of this month that a Virginia Tech geologist was awarded a $60,000 grant to study the Coles Hill uranium deposit. “The grant, a mineral research grant from the U.S. Geological Survey, is the first one from the federal government to study this particular deposit and will be for ‘a very focused study to determine the age of the uranium mineralization,’ said Robert Bodnar, geochemistry professor at Tech.”

Yet, the story linked immediately above also stated that the study will look at how water moves through the “tiny fractures” in the bedrock and ore.

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