The Canadian mining company Powertech and its proposal to collect uranium by messing with the groundwater in the southern Black Hills has so many technical and scientific aspects to it that a layman like me can't hope to get a handle on the safety issues. However, I'm certain there's risk to consider, and consider it I will. More than that, in every other respect, I think the idea is for the birds.
First off, Powertech itself is a company that doesn't inspire much confidence in investors, who value the company at around 7 cents a share. What it does inspire is skepticism. Consider that for years, Powertech had been touting some land in Colorado as one of its principal assets, worth around $15 million. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, it comes out with a quarterly report last November that writes down the value of that land by about 85%. Shareholders who've watched their stock fall to just pennies a share have every reason to wonder why they didn't get some sort of heads up about the sudden devaluation of their company. It may not run afoul of securities regulations and accounting standards, but it certainly makes for a bad track record when it comes to investor relations. I generally pay no attention to a "penny stock" like this one, but its presence in the Black Hills and its persistence in pursuing a uranium mining venture in the Hills, with all the attendant controversy about the environmental prospects, are impossible to brush off, let alone ignore altogether.
Beyond what seems to be the shaky nature of the company itself, there's the matter of how much risk there actually is in a project like this--risk that extends beyond the immediate environmental impact. I think it's a bad deal for South Dakota to project an image of itself as a place where potentially environmentally hazardous mining acitivities are occurring in one of the crown jewels of America's natural treasures, the Black Hills themselves. If something actually were to go wrong with the Powertech project, you can only imagine the public relations consequences. I mean, would you like to visit Three Mile Island, Love Canal, or that town in West Virginia that just had its water supply contaminated by a chemical spill? Yuk. The shock to the residents of those ill-starred locales was probably intensified by the fact that their property values plummeted, only adding to their dismay and anger. Considering that tourism is probably the leading industry in South Dakota's Black Hills region, even the limited prospect of environmental degradation and its subsequent airing out in the national media should give all of us in the area some pause.
As a businessman I live in a world that calculates risk in terms of its rewards, and this Powertech uranium mine's risks are just not commensurate with its rewards. Those rewards, as near as I can tell, will be the profits that accrue to the company and a relative handful of jobs limited to the immediate surroundings in the southern Hills. The risks? Way too high in relation to the gains. As to the water supply, I understand that Powertech's proposal was recently given a green light by federal environmental regulators. But I have no doubt that the same could be said of any number of ventures that have gone awry. Beyond that, putting a smudge on the pristine reputation of the Black Hills is something that isn't worth the risk of this mining venture--no way, no how. Powertech can take a hike.