No more cyanide: Governor signs off on mining bill

Published 12:33 am Friday, March 29, 2024

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Last month, it became a rare case of a bill that got full approval from both the State House and Senate. Now that bill has been signed into law by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Earlier this week, Youngkin signed HB85, officially banning the use of cyanide in mining. 

Specifically, HB85 would place a ban on using cyanide or any cyanide compound in mineral mining or processing. Now as we’ve just spent more than a year debating the future of mining in Buckingham County, the question is what impact will this have on the area? And the answer is almost none. 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 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. 

When is cyanide used?

It hasn’t been used in Buckingham 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 bill signed, one set aside

Now HB85 was one of a two-bill package, intended to answer the question of how to handle new mining efforts in 2024 and beyond. The previous board of Buckingham supervisors asked for local discussions to be put on hold until the House and Senate weigh in. Now they have, passing HB85 and eliminating HB84. 

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 year, by a 10-5 vote.