Project Name: San Rafael Swell
The project is located in the Colorado Plateau physiographical province, approximately 30 miles west southwest of the town of Green River, in Emery County, Utah. The San Rafael Swell is a large asymmetrical anticline. <<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anticline>> The project area sits within this anticline and encompasses several townships covering an area of over 2000 square miles.
Type of Site:
This project area consists of physical safety and environmental hazards resulting from past uranium mining activity.
Utah Congressional District 2
Table of Contents
The first uranium mining in the San Rafael Swell area was by the Native Americans inhabiting the area prior to European contact. The carnotite ores were used to make bight colored pastes that were applied as war paint. The value of uranium in the area remained unknown until 1871 when Dr. Richard Pearce identified the ore and developed a number of small uranium mines. Sorenson, in his 1963 publication Wonder Mineral: Utah’s Uranium, notes that, “ores recovered from these mines were shipped overseas and used as dye colorant, in the manufacture of glass, pottery, and steel plate, and for photographic experimentation.”
As early as 1898 uranium claims were being staked in Emery County but these claims were in more organized mining districts such as the Temple Mountain Mining District. There was no clearly organized mining district associated with the San Rafael Swell and many of the deposits were discovered accidently by ranchers moving livestock through the area.
By 1906 the area was producing about 200,000 tons of ore annually with most of it going to Germany to be used in medical treatments and for radium research. Serious prospecting in the San Rafael Swell area began in 1948-49 with 910 claims filed in Emery County. The number of claims filed during the period from 1950 to 1956 eventually exceeded 50,000.
Although a few significant claims were identified, such as the Delta-Hidden Splendor mine that sold for $9 million dollars in 1954, most of the mines were small in scale with little marketable ore being produced. The 1960’s saw a virtual end to further exploration work with only a few claims remaining active.
The contaminants of concern are: uranium and other heavy metal containments such as arsenic, manganese, and cadmium, and sedimentation resulting from erosion of the waste rock dumps associated with the mines.
Actions and Timeline:
Under an Assistance Agreement between the BLM and the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program an inventory of the abandoned mines in the San Rafael Mining District began in March 2004 and was completed in October of the same year. The inventory identified 203 abandoned mine features in the project area with 181 considered physical safety hazards.
In July and August 2006, researchers with the USGS collected 117 solid phase soil samples from abandoned waste rock dumps (n=85), background locations (n=8), and adjacent streambeds (n=24) in the San Rafael Swell project area. The sampling was performed with the intent to evaluate “the nonpoint source chemical loading potential to ephemeral and perennial watersheds from uranium waste rock dumps.” Sample results were analyzed based on EPA’s Aquatic Life and Drinking Water standards which found that 21 of the 85 dumps sampled exceeded these standards for uranium and 48 of the 85 dumps sampled exceeded standards for more than one of the constituents analyzed.
By addressing the physical safety hazards the open mines represent, the public will now be able to safely travel the numerous trails described in the San Rafael Swell’s transportation plan. Mine waste rock dumps identified in the USGS sampling program as exceeding EPA standards and impacting drainages will be targeted. The Best Management Practices (BMP) identified in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) developed for the area will be implemented to reduce sedimentation resulting from erosion of the mine waste rock dumps.
These BMP’s include the removal or stabilizing of waste rock dumps exceeding EPA standards, restoring and stabilizing drainage channels affected by the waste rock dumps or their removal, and revegetation.
Cost/Funding and Estimated BLM contribution:
Costs expended by the BLM for field inventory, NEPA preparation and compliance, that includes cultural and biological surveys totaled $200,000. Funds remaining for the construction of mine seals and to address issues with the mine dumps amounts to $ 535,000. Construction work is expected to take place in Fall 2008 and Spring 2009.
Point of Contact:
Utah State Office
440 West 200 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Price Field Office
Price, Utah 84501