Legal and Administrative Obstacles to Extracting Other Minerals From Oil Shale

EMD-79-65: Published: Sep 5, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 1979.

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Federal mineral leasing laws and resultant administrative procedures frustrate multiple extraction of intermingled minerals on public lands. These valuable minerals can be acquired under one of two mining systems: (1) the General Mining Law of 1872 allows unfettered access to exploration and development of public lands valuable for minerals (locatable minerals); and (2) the Mineral Lands Leasing Act designates some of the minerals which can be mined under specified terms of a lease issued by the Secretary of the Interior (leasable minerals). Both laws assume that minerals occur in identifiable geological deposits. There were few problems as long as identifiable, or discrete, deposits were mined or little attention was paid to less valuable intermingled minerals. As more complex deposits are mined and advances in the technology of recovery increase the value of the mixed mineral deposits, it becomes more difficult to determine whether minerals should be developed under the 1872 law or the 1920 law. Statutory ambiguity plus procedural problems have prevented basic evaluation of the nonfuel potential of sodium/aluminum-rich oil shale. The Department of the Interior has formulated oil shale disposition policies which jeopardize future development of sodium/aluminum-rich oil shale.

Conflicts will arise when public lands contain a mixture of valuable minerals, each subject to separate legal conditions for development. These conflicts occur on lands under one of the following three sets of circumstances: (1) lands containing a mixture of leasable minerals, each subject to separate provisions of the Mineral Lands Leasing Act; (2) unappropriated lands containing intermingled locatable and leasable minerals, economic development of which depends on simultaneous extraction; and (3) lands on which a mineral claimant has existing rights under the 1872 law but which also contain leasable minerals. The Multiple Mineral Development Act advanced the principle of multiple-mineral development on public lands. This law permitted the multiple development of both leasable and locatable mineral deposits on the same tract, but the Act did not solve the problem of a single developer of both locatable and leasable minerals. Congress recognized that mineral mixtures were not covered under the Multiple Mineral Development Act by passing the Uraniferous Lignite Act in 1955, which allowed simultaneous development of uranium (a locatable mineral) and coal (a leasable mineral) when the two were mixed together. Unfortunately, this law applied to only one particular mineral mixture.

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