ELK CREEK, Neb. (AP) — In a story June 11 about niobium exploration in southeast Nebraska, The Associated Press erroneously reported the estimated size of the deposit of the rare mineral. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million tons of niobium buried there, not 100 tons.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Mining firm meets with Nebraska landowners
Nebraska landowners hope rare mineral used in steel will be mined but they won't count on it
By JOSH FUNK
ELK CREEK, Neb. (AP) — Many southeast Nebraska residents hope a Canadian firm will build a mine to extract a rare mineral used to make steel from deep beneath the ground, but they're not counting on it.
Nearly 100 people who live near Elk Creek attended a meeting Wednesday with top officials from NioCorp Developments to hear about the possible niobium mine.
Eldon and Esther Buethe, who own some of the land being explored by NioCorp, would like to see a mine built, but it's not clear if that will happen.
"You never know, but it should be good for the area in terms of jobs," Esther Buethe said.
Company officials said building an underground niobium mine would employ between 800 and 1,200 people. The mine itself likely would employ 200 to 300 people.
But many area residents have been hearing about the prospects for a niobium mine for several decades. Residents learned to be cautious about mining companies years ago after Colorado-based Molycorp abandoned plans for an Elk Creek niobium mine in the 1990s.
"I'm just thankful to get a few dollars out of it," Esther Buethe said about the lease payments. "But we haven't done anything different on our land."
Niobium prices have increased since Molycorp abandoned the site, making a mine more likely. But until last month, the project site near Elk Creek was relatively quiet since NioCorp completed a round of exploratory drilling in 2011.
The U.S. imports nearly all the niobium it uses to harden steel and make it more heat-resistant for industrial uses. The U.S. Geologic Survey estimates $500 million worth of niobium was imported in 2013, up from about $487 million the year before.
NioCorp resumed drilling samples near Elk Creek last month.
Bob Kuhl said his equipment rental business in Tecumseh has benefited from this year's work because the drilling company is using his lights.
"All I can do is really hope" that a mine will be built, Kuhl said. "I think it's the real deal."
NioCorp previously estimated that more than 100 million tons of niobium rests several hundred feet below the ground where corn and soybeans are being grown now. CEO Mark Smith told residents he thinks the southeast Nebraska deposit is "gem."
"We're going to demonstrate we have 30 years or more mine life out there," Smith said.
The drilling this summer is designed to verify the size and shape of the underground rock deposit that holds the niobium.
Then outside experts will complete a report either later this year or early next year that will determine whether it will be economically feasible to build a mine. If that report is as positive as company officials expect, then they will have to raise $300 million to $400 million from investors for a mine.
NioCorp Chairman Peter Dickie said that if everything goes well, mine construction could start as soon as late 2015 and be in operation in late 2016 or early 2017.
The company will have to decide later this year which of the five-year leases it signed with area landowners to extend and which ones it will let expire.
Follow Josh Funk online at www.twitter.com/funkwrite
NioCorp Developments Ltd.: www.niocorp.com