There are three laws covering all mining and exploration activities in Colorado. One is for coal mining and two more for hard rock and construction materials operations. Prior to engaging in any prospecting, exploration or mining, a miner or operator must first obtain the proper permits. There is typically more than just a single mining permit required. These permits and authorizations are issued by several different Federal, State or local agencies.

Obtaining a Mining Permit

To begin with, all mining and exploration activities in Colorado require a mining and reclamation permit from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS). Federal, state and local agencies are notified of the application during this permitting process. Therefore, in addition to the state mining and reclamation permit, an operator may need to obtain permits or authorizations from the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Department of Energy if the mine is located on federal lands or extracts federal minerals. Additional permits may be required from other state agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, Water Quality Control and Air Pollution Control Divisions, and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Local jurisdictions such as counties and cities may also require special use permitting. Other agencies often weigh in with special considerations about wildlife, cultural resources and post-mining land uses.

Environmental Impacts

Permitting a mine site begins with the operator collecting baseline information of the pre-mine environmental conditions in the immediate and surrounding area of the proposed mine site. This work includes geologic, hydrologic (both surface water and groundwater), soils, vegetative, wetlands and wildlife assessments, collection of climatological data and cultural and historic resource analysis. Part of this assessment is defining the mineral resource that will be extracted and also defining the pre-and post-mining land uses. This information is then used in preparing the permit application, including detailed mining and reclamation plans. This is an integral part of the application.

Agency Reviews and Public Comments

Once the application is submitted, the reviewing agency conducts a technical adequacy review. Part of this review typically involves a public comment period and notification to other agencies and interested parties. If objecting comments are received, it can lead to administrative and judicial reviews before a final decision is rendered. Upon successful completion of the state permitting review, an operator is required to post a financial assurance warranty which can be used to complete reclamation in the event the operator fails to do so. Overall, this permitting process can take from a few months to several years to complete depending on the complexity of the proposed project and the number of reviewing agencies involved. Information about the different types of mining permits and requirements can be obtained at the state’s mining website.