Relatively speaking, it’s not saying much, but Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is presently the largest uranium producing area in the United States. Cameco’s (NYSE: CCJ) Smith Ranch produces over one million pounds of uranium oxide, more than one-third of U.S. uranium production. Because the spot uranium price has now surpassed $50/pound, more uranium development companies expect to profitably produce uranium in Wyoming. Uranerz Energy (Amex: URZ) has initiated environmental licensing and mine planning on two properties, which could make the company one of the leading junior uranium producers in this state. It would also bring more attention to uranium companies bringing their U.S. projects online.Investors generally miss the boat when evaluating the junior uranium companies. While many accept the fact that only a handful of companies should be producing uranium by 2010, very few understand U.S. and foreign utilities have been negotiating to buy this uranium from companies which have not yet permitted those properties to be mined. Of course, after these announcements are made, the stocks would likely soar if the spot uranium price is sustained above $50/pound. Many of these uranium development projects are reportedly economic at sub-$40/pound uranium. Last week, CIBC World Market set a price target of $70/pound on spot uranium for 2008, which should help boost the sector.Uranerz Energy is an excellent benchmark for other uranium companies. When we met with the company’s Chief Executive Glenn Catchpole in Cheyenne this past February, he explained his company would be building a “Chevrolet” sort of in situ operation, not a Cadillac. In other words, he would construct an inexpensive, but functional, solution mining facility. These facilities, called in situ leach (ISL) mining or more correctly in situ recovery (ISR) operations, are basically water treatment plants. Oxygenated water is pumped through the sandstone to dislodge the trapped uranium. The uranium is recovered and then processed in a nearby facility. Catchpole believes his company can build an ISR plant for about $10 million, possibly less.He told us in August his company has an indicated uranium resource on the Hank and Nichols Ranch properties in excess of 13 million pounds of uranium oxide. Both properties are located in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Drilling this past summer confirmed the historically known uranium resource along about 8,500 feet of strike length. The drilling apparently found an additional uranium-mineralized horizon. Before Uranerz issued its news release in August, the company staked another 54 federal mining claims in the immediate area. After thirteen holes were drilled on its Hank property, of which nine encountered uranium mineralization, Uranerz staked or leased another 840 acres near this property. Again, this drilling confirmed historical data. Developments on both properties bode well for the company’s prospects.Investors should separate the junior uranium exploration companies, of which there are about three hundred worldwide, from those which are developing uranium projects in the United States. During the last uranium boom, in the 1970s, major U.S. oil companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars in exploration drilling and delineating uranium deposits. After Three Mile Island, the sector went into a 25-year depression and the oil companies got out of the business. A few industry insiders, such as Catchpole, picked up those nearly developed uranium properties for a song.A global nuclear renaissance has revived the hopes for many juniors, which means there are too many with too little. We focused on those developing resources, which were in the planning stages before the drought arrived. Quietly, Uranerz Energy assembled its U.S. portfolio, farming out its Canadian and Mongolian uranium exploration prospects to others, who would pay the freight for a potential discovery. As with three similar Wyoming-based uranium companies we’ve been tracking – Strathmore Minerals, UR-Energy and Energy Metals, Uranerz is moving quickly toward commercially mining uranium. Others are still looking for a deposit, and many investors don’t realize the last major uranium discovery was about 20 years ago. That one should go into production next year.Trying to shake further data out of Glenn Catchpole borders upon frustration. He is “old school” uranium, which means he just goes ahead with his mining project and talks very little about it. In an August telephone conversation, Uranerz chairman Dennis Higgs laughed about how little Catchpole will tell even him about the company’s properties. Having worked as a senior executive with Uranerz Exploration, before it was acquired by Cameco, Catchpole was once general manager of Cameco’s Inkai solution mining project in Kazakhstan. He brought with him many of the senior executives and technical team from the old Uranerz. For example, the company’s chief operating officer, George Hartman, was the mines manager for Westinghouse’s Wyoming Mineral Corporation and has spent more than 35 years in the uranium and minerals sector.If one is looking for chatty, Uranerz is the wrong place to look. We hounded Catchpole for a number of months with emails and phone calls for some sort of update on his project. At first, he told us he was developing something in Wyoming. As we got to know him better, he told us it was somewhere in the Powder River Basin. We discovered, as did everyone else, how valuable his projects might become in an early August news release. The company’s website is just as secretive. This sentence describes the company’s Wyoming projects: “Based on Uranerz management’s in-situ recovery mining experience in the Powder River Basin, the Company feels that it has sufficient critical mass in terms of mineable uranium resources to begin commercial environmental permitting and mine development planning.”Why would anyone put up with this? Our conversations around the uranium sector confirmed what we suspected about Uranerz Energy. Glenn Catchpole is credible. He may be quiet, but he knows how to bring a project into commercial operation. We got the nod from Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality land manager that Catchpole gets the job done right. With a $10 to $30 profit spread per pound of uranium, Uranerz Energy could very well deliver promising future earnings.According to Catchpole, Uranerz hopes to begin commercial operations sometime in 2008. That may be subject to change, but that is probably the same ballpark date UR-Energy has been talking about. Strathmore Minerals may start around the same timeframe. Energy Metals is concentrating their primary efforts in Texas, but the company did establish an office in Casper, Wyoming’s largest city, which is also near the Powder River Basin.What all of this adds up to is this: Uranerz and its Wyoming competitors could uplift U.S. uranium production. At this writing, U.S. utility consumption of uranium outpaces U.S. uranium production by a factor of more than 20 to 1. While we hear the mantra of breaking U.S. dependence on foreign oil, U.S. utilities are at the mercy of foreign-mined uranium. At this time, about one-half of this uranium comes from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads. This ends in 2013 when the US-Russian HEU (highly enriched uranium) swords-for-plowshares deal is terminated. U.S. utilities will be scrambling to fill the gap. And companies such as Uranerz Energy should be producing sufficient uranium to help make up some of that difference.COPYRIGHT © 2007 by StockInterview, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
June 18, 2016
Uranerz Energy: Developing Uranium Projects in Wyoming