A national company is looking to build a gold mine in Laramie County
The plan is to dig an open-pit mine about 20 miles west of Cheyenne, just next to Curt Gowdy State Park. That area has a tightly defined metal deposit lurking under the surface. Primarily, there's gold and copper, but there's also a lot of other metals, like zinc and silver.
"I'm not a geologist, I just spend a lot of time hanging out with them," said Jason Begger, the local project spokesman for the CK Gold Project."They say it's very common for different types of metals to sort of commingle. And so having a deposit with multiple metals is fairly common."
All of that metal will be separated out and sold. And according to a video on the website of U.S. Gold Corp, the company developing the project, they're looking to sell other things produced from the mine too, like the waste rock.
According to Begger, the CK Gold Mine will be on an old mine that closed decades ago when the price of gold wasn't high enough to fund it anymore.
"One hundred years ago, when the first transcontinental railroad came in, they did a lot of prospecting. There was a significant amount of gold and copper mining in the area, to the point where there's a number of mine shafts," he said. "There's actually the remnants of the old Hecla mining mill up there. And so what this project is looking at doing is reopening the old Copper King Mine, and so that's where the "CK" comes from."
Today the price of gold is high again. Plus, the deposit is close to the surface, making it cheaper to get to the metals. Begger said the metals are encased in granite rock and they'll be removed using a process called hard rock mining. They won't be using cyanide to recover the gold either, which a lot of people were concerned about because of its effect on the environment. Beggar said hard rock mining takes a lot less water than other types of mining.
"All told, the water consumption for that process is about 750 gallons per minute, which is a lot," he said. "But really it compares to about 180-acre irrigation. So it's not an obscene amount of water. It's not something that would suck up all the wells or cause significant harm to the area."
Begger said they're looking at several options to get that water. They could use excess water from other industrial users or purchase some from the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, whose pipes bring water over the Snowy Range just a few miles away. They will probably also drill their own well or two. They've already drilled some monitoring wells to learn more about the water in the formation.
"But the great thing about it, there are some options and we're very conscious about what that could mean for others in the area," Begger said.
The mine is still in the preliminary stages. They just released their pre-feasibility study on Wednesday, December 1. The next stage will be a feasibility study, which is the final step before the company gives the approval to develop a full mine. Begger said they're hoping to put shovels in the ground in 2025.
Once it's up and running, U.S. Gold Corp projects the mine will create around 200 high-paying jobs for its approximately 10-year lifespan. That's not including construction and reclamation jobs. According to Begger, the company is also planning to work with the University of Wyoming in the future. They've already started work with a grad student who is trying to learn more about the unusual deposit. And UW's Center for Business and Economic Analysis is conducting an individual economic impact analysis for the project.
"It's kind of exciting, and it'll bring some jobs and some economic activity to Cheyenne. And to Laramie County, you may have some of those workers coming over from Laramie," said Travis Deti, director of the Wyoming Mining Association. "So it's going to be a nice little economic driver, and it's going to generate some tax revenue for the state of Wyoming."
Plus, a large portion of the mine will be on state-owned lands known as school trust lands, which means the royalties generated from it will go toward the state's school system.
"Traditionally, it (the area) has been used for agriculture grazing - about $1,300 per year. Well, with a project like this it's five percent royalties, two percent severance tax, ad valorem production tax is roughly two percent, you've got your property tax on your house, on all your equipment - and you figure, you're building those types of things. Fuel taxes, sales and use tax… all of a sudden, we won't know the final number until we finish all of our economic analysis, but I think it's pretty easy to say we're going to exceed $50 million in taxes." said Begger. "Which is a considerably higher return than grazing."
According to Deti, there have been a few companies that have looked at mining gold and other metals around the state recently but there isn't any mining like that happening now.
"This is kind of getting a little diversity into our mining portfolio. We're certainly known for our coal mining and our soda ash, and then trona mining in Sweetwater County. We mine uranium in several parts of the state. And we mine bentonite, and those are our four big things that we're mining right now," he said. "But we'd like to expand that mining portfolio for the state of Wyoming. Gold fits right in there."
This would be the first mine of this sort in the state in about 40 years.
One thing the company is taking seriously is the mine's location. Jason Begger said they're trying to build community connections in Cheyenne and Laramie.
Being next to Curt Gowdy State Park means the company is also taking precautions to protect the area and recreationists' experiences. In 2020, Curt Gowdy hosted 621,934 visitors - almost triple the number of 2019 visitors. The park has been seeing increases in the number of visitors over the last couple of years.
Nick Neylon, deputy director of state parks, said they've only met with U.S. Gold Corp once so far, but they discussed organizing operations like blasting outside of peak times, like Memorial Day weekend, to reduce impacts to the park.
"We don't anticipate any impacts, and we don't anticipate any changes to how people recreate in our parks," Neylon said. "And we expressed that to the folks who are in charge of the project. And they assured us that it was their goal to try to work with us to make that reality."
The mine is also set to be out of view of the park and the area it's being developed in creates a natural sound barrier that will also protect the experience of recreationists.
According to Begger, reclaiming the mine at the end of its life could also benefit the park. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, which owns Curt Gowdy, could in the future raise the levels of the dams at Crystal Lake and Granite Lake to secure more water for the city, which would flood some campsites and trails. Begger said one possible reclamation plan would turn the old mine pit into a reservoir, usable by the city, which could eliminate the need to raise the dams. Neylon said raising the dams is a possibility, but the board would have to go through a lot of different steps before it could happen.
"I went on a tour of Edness K Wilkins State Park near Casper, and that's actually on a reclaimed gravel pit," said Carly-Ann Carruthers, the planning and grants manager for State Parks. "So there's always opportunities, I guess, for us to take industrial landscapes and morph them into something a little more personable."
While the mine isn't a sure-shot thing yet, Jason Beggar said U.S. Gold Corp is pretty optimistic about it. In a press release published with the pre-feasibility study, the company's founder said they're so confident about the CK Gold Mine that they've set aside other mining projects to focus on it.