Will Assembly make mining decision?

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Some Buckingham County residents are a step closer to getting what they want, when it comes to gold mining. Six months after the county decided to postpone work on a gold mining ordinance, the General Assembly is getting involved. HB84 and HB 85 have passed the State House of Delegates and are headed to the State Senate. 

The two bills contain several things that were topics of discussion over the last year in Buckingham. First, HB84 would require 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. The second bill, HB85, would place a ban on using cyanide or any cyanide compound in mineral mining or processing. 

“I think it’s a great thing that both bills passed,” said Kenda Hanuman. The Buckingham County resident served as part of the state’s gold mining workgroup in 2022, making recommendations on improving Virginia’s regulations, which haven’t been updated since the 1980s. “Exploratory drilling needs to be more transparent, not hiding where they want to drill. It seems like baby steps, but making progress is a good thing.” 

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LET’S TALK ABOUT GOLD 

First off, let’s give a quick refresher. Yes, a gold deposit does exist in Buckingham County. In April 2019, the Canadian prospecting company Aston Bay Holdings announced they were beginning to search for gold in the area. 

To be clear, Aston Bay isn’t a mining company. It’s a prospecting company. That means they search for gold deposits, silver or other minerals, identify and purchase a location, then sell that information (and property) to the highest bidder. 

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

Aston Bay CEO Thomas Ullrich said his group has no problem following whatever regulations Virginia’s Assembly agrees to. 

“Aston Bay respects the rights of the residents of Virginia to set regulations,” Ullrich said. “We always operate to all regulations and to the highest standards. We will continue to do so.” 

As to why Aston Bay is interested in Buckingham? In statements given in March 2019 and July 2020, company officials declared their drilling confirmed a “a high-grade, at-surface gold vein system at Buckingham, as well as an adjacent wider zone of lower-grade disseminated gold mineralization.” In other words, they found enough to keep going. At the beginning of 2020, the company secured the right to prospect on 4,953 acres of land in Buckingham County. 

To date, Ullrich says the group hasn’t done much in the area. 

“We have been doing only a small amount of prospecting in Buckingham County,” Ullrich said. 

NO CYANIDE NEEDED 

Now that we’ve talked about gold, let’s focus back on those two bills. The cyanide part, especially, seems to be something most groups, both for and against gold mining, can agree on. In fact, those involved in the mining business say cyanide isn’t used here and won’t be. 

Ullrich said while nobody from the Assembly has contacted him, he wishes they would clear up some of what he sees as fundamental misconceptions. He says cyanide isn’t used and won’t be used in Buckingham, no matter what company is doing the work. 

“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. 

WHAT HAPPENS NOW? 

Both bills have passed through the Virginia House and now they’re in the State Senate. As of Jan. 31, both were sent to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, where it looks like they’ll be discussed next week.