One bill succeeds, another fails: Assembly makes mining decisions

Published 12:43 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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There is apparently one thing the entire General Assembly can agree on: cyanide should not be used in mining. The proposal first passed the Virginia House by a 100-0 vote last month and then this past Friday, the State Senate voted 39-0 to ban the practice as well. 

Specifically, HB85 would place a ban on using cyanide or any cyanide compound in mineral mining or processing. Now as far as what impact that would have on mining in Buckingham? The answer is not much. In fact, those involved in the mining business say cyanide isn’t used here and won’t be. 

Aston Bay is the prospecting company currently looking for gold in Buckingham. The company’s CEO, Thomas Ullrich, said cyanide isn’t used and won’t be used in Buckingham, no matter who is doing the work. 

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“As I explained in a presentation to the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, as well as to members of the National Academy of Sciences panel, Buckingham contains a narrow, two meter-wide, high-grade gold vein,” Ullrich said. “This type of mineralization is typically mined with an underground method and gold extracted using a simple gravity separation. Cyanide extraction has never been contemplated, nor would a vein be mined in a large open pit.” 

He just doesn’t see where cyanide would be used, based on the type of gold deposits found in Virginia. That echoes a presentation given to Buckingham supervisors last fall by Paul Busch. The Buckingham resident owns Big Dawg Resources and runs a gold mine in Goochland County. Busch advocated banning cyanide, also saying nobody is going to use it. 

That’s due to the size of the gold deposits. Cyanide is only used on small deposits and the ones found in Buckingham are too large for that procedure to apply. By banning the process by which cyanide is used, you don’t ban the chemical itself, which is used in everything from pesticides to herbicides and cigarette smoke. 

One mining bill succeeds, the other fails

And while the cyanide bill is headed to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for his signature, a second mining bill was eliminated. When a House or Senate committee want to shelve a bill, they take a vote to “pass it by indefinitely”. That’s what happened with HB84 last week. 

The bill would have required any company that’s exploring or “prospecting” for minerals to be as transparent as possible in alerting nearby residents. First, the company would have to publish a notice of their intent in the local newspaper, then notify the board of supervisors for the county at least 15 days before they start work. Third, it would require companies to notify all individual residents and property owners within 500 yards of the property lines where the exploration would take place. 

Under Virginia law, prospecting doesn’t require a state permit if you’re searching for anything other than uranium. That’s where HB84 would have come in, as supporters saw it as a way that companies had to be more transparent. They would have to explain exactly where they would be prospecting, rather than rely on each individual group to announce it on their own.

And while it passed through the Virginia House 53-47, it was then sent to the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. The committee members voted to pass it by indefinitely, basically shelving it for this session, by a 10-5 vote.