Permitting to bring an exploration project to mineral production is a lengthy process that Sheldon Mudd, as mining industry specialist for the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, hopes to see streamlined after illustrating the process in a giant graphic.
He said he is looking at the graphic as a tool to “pinpoint bottlenecks and redundancies” now that the chart of permitting steps has been updated and tweaked since he first introduced it in late 2015.
Even professionals working in the permitting process for large mining companies were surprised at all the details involved to get to a new mine because they each work on their own specialties, Mudd said.
“When even they say ‘holy cow,’ something needs to be changed,” he said.
The paper graphic is roughly 12 feet wide and 3 feet long to illustrate the permitting steps from start to finish.
Mudd said he put it together as a “visual representation of how complicated the permitting process can be” and to provide a source for companies, primarily small operators, to navigate the system. Large mining companies have staff to follow all the steps, but smaller companies might need the permitting map. Companies sometimes request the graphic to show investors why projects can take so long.
“We help them cross their T’s and dot their I’s,” Mudd said.
The graphic map is detailed, and Mudd believes this is the first time it has been done on such a large scale.
“We actually start clear back to getting business licenses,” he said.
The chart has steps for recreational mineral explorers and those who would mine for profit, explains the steps for obtaining permits for exploration sites of less than 5 acres and for those larger than 5 acres, including filing a notice of intent.
Even a notice of intent for an exploration project on federal land must reach the federal level and be published in the Federal Register. Larger projects need a plan of operation for exploring, as well.
“We’re looking at quite a bit of preplanning,” Mudd said.
To open a mine, a company must go through an environmental planning process at the state level for projects on private land and the federal process for claims on public land, although state agencies are involved.
The federal government requires a draft environmental impact statement, a public comment period, a final EIS and then a record of decision. Notice of availability must be published in the Federal Register at each step in the process.
The planning process for a mine also includes cultural consultations and archaeological surveys.
Companies additionally must post reclamation bonds before they can mine so there is money set aside in case of bankruptcy, which would mean the state or federal agency would step in to reclaim a mining site, using the bond money.
The record of decision to begin mining is not the end, however. Mudd said companies then must talk about construction and later continue reporting to the regulatory agencies while in production.
“The latter part of the map shows routine reporting associated with mining,” he said.
Then, if a mining company decides to expand or change their mining plans, they must go through a permitting process, again, so “big players might have multiple projects running through the process,” Mudd said.
The time for projects to get across all the designated desks in Washington, D.C., causes delays, he said.
“I think the hardest thing for mine operators is not the timeline as much as having to complete applications. Sometimes that is difficult,” said Joe Sawyer, chief of the Bureau of Mining Regulation and Reclamation for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.
He said baseline work must be done before “we can look at permitting.”
Permitting covers all mining operations in the state, including gold, silver, barite, lithium, molybdenum and gypsum, but sand and gravel operations are exempt, Sawyer said.
The graphic map is so huge that it is hard to reproduce on paper, but Mudd said he keeps one rolled and ready to go, and he put it together in a Microsoft program so companies can access the files.
Sawyer said the minerals division list was one of the resources available for Mudd as he worked on the graphic. The list is a Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology publication, L-6 available on the minerals division website.
“We hand this out to new state operators, and it is up to them to contact all the agencies to determine what permits apply,” Sawyer said.
Mudd said when he worked on the graphic, he had input from state and federal agencies. When finished, he presented it to the Nevada Mining Association’s environmental committee that includes regulators from state and federal agencies.
“Everyone had a hand in it. I haven’t received a lot of comment, so I have to think we nailed it pretty well,” said Mudd.