"Wyoming is strategically positioned to address the geopolitical challenges affecting critical minerals, particularly in the uranium sector."

Travis Deti

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WYOMING MINING ASSOCIATION (WMA)

April 19, 2024

Can you provide an overview of the Wyoming Mining Association?

The Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) has been active for 65 years. We represent about 30 member companies engaged in mining, covering a diverse range of minerals. While uranium was the primary focus in the 1950s, our current flagship commodity is coal, with Wyoming being the nation's largest coal producer, accounting for 40% of the country's coal production. We advocate for the coal industry at both state and federal levels, facing challenges due to climate change initiatives and the Biden administration's shift away from fossil fuels.

In addition to coal, we mine trona, a unique mineral processed into natural soda ash, which finds applications in various industries, including glass, chemicals, and lithium batteries. Natural soda ash from trona is becoming increasingly significant in addressing global climate change through applications like flue gas desulfurization and carbon capture techniques. Because of this, our industry is looking at significant expansion in the near future. Bentonite clay is another key industrial mineral used in oil and gas products, cosmetics, clarifying agents, fertilizer, and cat litter. And although currently scaled back, our uranium production aims to revitalize in response to renewed interest in nuclear energy. Furthermore, we are exploring rare earth deposits, considered among the richest in North America.

What measures is Wyoming taking to secure domestic supply chain for critical minerals?

Wyoming is strategically positioned to address the geopolitical challenges affecting critical minerals, particularly in the uranium sector. The dependency on Russia for nuclear fuel raises national security concerns, prompting efforts to enhance domestic uranium production. With its in-situ mining operations, Wyoming is poised to contribute to this revival. Legislative support at both state and federal levels is aiding these endeavors. Challenges such as supply chain issues persist, hindering a swift ramp-up.

In addition to uranium, Wyoming is actively involved in addressing the demand for rare earth minerals. Projects led by private companies, along with support from institutions like the University of Wyoming, aim to explore and exploit rare earth deposits. Legislative reforms are streamlining regulatory processes, fostering a comprehensive, all-encompassing effort to develop critical minerals.

What are the primary challenges facing the mining industry in Wyoming?

Permitting, particularly on federal land constituting 50% of Wyoming, poses a significant hurdle. While uranium operations find some relief with state-level primacy, federal regulations, including those by the NEPA process, involve a complex web of oversight agencies, making it time-consuming and costly. Workforce scarcity, especially in the nuclear and uranium sectors, presents another critical challenge, requiring efforts to raise awareness among young individuals and address the reluctance to work in remote areas.

How can Wyoming attract more investment for its mining industry?

Securing investment in Wyoming's mining sector is challenging, particularly for coal operations due to ESG standards imposed by major banks. However, there is more promise in uranium, nuclear and rare earth industries. The focus on small modular reactors presents opportunities, especially in countering utility rate hikes imposed by companies like PacifiCorp and Rocky Mountain Power. Mining operations are exploring these reactors for on-site power generation, potentially fueled by Wyoming uranium.

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