Sunday, November 06, 2016

By David Gerard

Jane S. Shaw
Series Editor

"Of all those expensive and uncertain projects which bring bankruptcy upon the greater part of the people that engage in them, there is none perhaps more perfectly ruinous than the search after new silver and gold mines.--Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (click here)

Last I checked the pickax was out and the mechanized mine was in. Coal mining is not labor intensive anymore, contrary to the political rantings of Mitch McConnell. 

Federal land holdings in the West are the primary sources of hardrock mineral potential in the United States. The Mining Law governs hardrock mineral exploration and development on the public domain. (The public domain is land that was originally in federal stewardship. Acquired lands are those that the government obtained through gift, condemnation or purchase.) Not all public domain land is accessible. Congress and the president have restricted or prohibited access for a number of reasons, including siting of power facilities and the designation of national monuments and parks and wilderness areas.
There are other federal systems for allocating mineral rights. For example, the federal government sells the rights to extract "common variety" minerals, such as sand, stone, and gravel, although the lands remain in federal stewardship. Rights to fossil fuels and fertilizers on federal and offshore lands are leased. So are the rights to hardrock minerals on acquired federal lands, Indian lands, and on most state-owned lands. The function of all these systems is to transfer rights to minerals from federal ownership to private hands.
For hardrock minerals, the exploration and development process begins with a survey of wide areas of land and the identification of a promising site. After makingsure that the site is part of the public domain and has not been withdrawn from access, an individual or firm establishes rights under the Mining Law by staking a claim and then reporting the site of the claim to the county recorder and to the Bureau of Land Management (even if the site is on national forest land). Because the maximum claim size of roughly 20 acres is far smaller than the typical mining operation, claimants usually stake larger blocks of land. For instance, a 1,000-acre site would require at least 50 sets of markings and filings. Claimants maintain rights from year to year by paying a $100 annual holding fee per claim. These claim rights are property that can only be removed through a legal process....