The state of Wyoming is no stranger to mining, but a proposed site in the Bearlodge Mountains has some crying "not in my backyard."
Dysprosium, terbium, europium; the names might sound like Pig Latin. But we use them every day in our cell phones, laptops and cars.
George Byers, Vice President of Rare Elements Resources, says rare earths make the modern world go round. "Everything we take for granted in today's high tech world are enabled by rare earth elements," said Byers.
Right now, more than 90% of the world's rare earth elements come from China and Byers says the Bull Hill deposit located about seven miles north of Sundance, could be one of the best sites for rare earth elements outside of China. "This is one of the unique deposits in the world and it's right here in North East Wyoming."
In about 20 years it could be an open pit mine nearly 500 feet deep and half a mile wide. Company leaders say that's fairly small for a mine, but there are some locals who aren't as sure. "There's many concerns I guess most of it is kind of worry about the unknown," Said local rancher Bonita Carlson.
Carlson grew up on Jackpot Ranch, just west of Sundance. She's worried mining could jeopardize a precious commodity around here: water. "I know that they've said that they're going to try to mitigate you know the leaching or the runoff, but snowfall and rain and wind can only be controlled to a certain point," said Carlson.
An Environmental Protection Agency report expresses similar concerns including contamination of ground, surface water and air, as well as depletion of streams and wells in the area. But Byers is confident that both air and water will stay clean. "This will be done right or it won't be done at all," said Byers.
Rare Element Resources Estimates the Bull Hill Mine will provide 160 full-time jobs in the area. "This is a project that will be good for America. It'll be good for Crook County too," said Byers.
Carlson only wonders if the short-term economics are worth the long-term environmental threats.
A case study done by mining engineer Jim Kuipers and geochemist Anne Maest in 2006 found that 76% of 25 hardrock mines in the U.S. had more ground water contamination than they predicted in their environmental impact statement.
At the moment Rare Element Resources is in the permitting stage and working on their environmental impact statement Byers hopes to have a mining permit and a record of decision by 2014 so that construction can begin. The Bull Hill Mine is planned to be in operation by 2015.