My friends at PowertechExposed.com are going to have to change their name. Hong Kong-based but British Virgin Islands-incorporated Azarga Resources is finalizing its takeover of the Canadian Powertech, the company that wants conduct in-situ leach mining for uranium in the southern Black Hills. Powertech will take on the new name Azarga Uranium Corp.

Technically, Powertech is acquiring Azarga. However, as Mark Watson and Adam Hurlburt reported on July 3, the deal looks much more like Azarga taking over Powertech. The structure of the deal is the typical dizzying shuffle of shares, debt, and tricky tax games. Jim Woodward reports that on June 30, Powertech shareholders voted to dilute their own ownership by issuing a big gob of new stocks that will make Australian businessmen Alex Molyneux and Curtis Church, and Singaporean investment firms Blumont Group Ltd. and Pacific Advisers Pte Ltd. the controlling shareholders. Molyneux is a key advisor to Blumont, which owns another British Virgin Islands company called Powerlite Ventures Limited, which holds the note on a loan of up to $26 million to Azarga, which debt Powertech/AUC now takes over via share conversion, which could make Powerlite/Blumont the majority stakeholder...

...which is all more than you may need to know if all you're worried about is stopping Powertech, Azarga, or anyone else from wrecking the Black Hills water supply, but which Powertech's shareholders and Canadian securities regulators might have wanted to know sooner:

When added to the 41 million Powertech/AUC shares already owned by Powerlite following the closing, Powerlite/Blumont could end up with a controlling stake of 51.7%. This possibility was not fully disclosed by Powertech in its May 13 meeting notice and information circular filed with Canadian securities regulators. This document is the primary source of information on the proposed transaction, and it is not clear why this potential change of control was not adequately disclosed [Jim Woodward, "Powertech Shareholders Approve Reverse Takeover by Australian and Singaporean Investors," PowertechExposed.com, 2014.07.20].

Powertech left out other information:

The Powertech information circular also does not discuss a current wide-ranging and unprecedented investigation of Blumont by Singapore’s white-collar police unit and central bank following a 95% drop in Blumont’s stock price in October 2013. Singapore police have requested three and a half years’ of corporate electronic data from the firm, as well as data storage devices belonging to Executive Director James Hong and Executive Chairman Neo Kim Hock in their probe of possible breaches of the Singapore Securities and Futures Act.

Also missing from the Powertech filing is any mention of Alex Molyneux’s role as a consultant and key advisor to Blumont’s board of directors, or his 2013 agreement, rescinded in April, to purchase 135 million shares of Blumont and become its Chairman [Woodward, 2014.07.20].

Rapid City businessman John Tsitrian has raised questions about Powertech/Azarga's exaggerations and omissions in statements to investors and securities regulators. This month's high-financial action makes Tsitrian all the more suspicious of this shaky deal and the shady characters casting their beady eyes on the Black Hills.

Perhaps the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which takes public comment on the Powertech mining permit request August 18 in Hot Springs and holds an evidentiary hearing August 19–21 in Rapid City, should also be suspicious. Neither Powertech nor Azarga has ever received a permit to mine uranium. Molyneux is promoting a different mining technology called ablation. Adam Hurlburt raised the question last November of whether this change in ownership warrants a restart of the entire regulatory process:

It seems there’s a very real possibility the entity that drafted and submitted lengthy environmental reports, technical reports, economic impact reports, permit applications and more to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the same entity that signed agreements with numerous private South Dakota landowners; the same entity that conducted several years of extensive research into the economic viability and safety of a proposed 17,800 acre in situ recovery mine set to pull roughly 8.4 million pounds of uranium out of the southern Black Hills over a nine year period; the same entity that’s assured the state of South Dakota and its citizens that it can do this successfully without adverse affects on the environment and its inhabitants may not be the same entity that actually does the mining, should all these permits be granted [Adam Hurlburt, "Who Are We Permitting?" Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.11.05].

Powertech assures us that the new owners will be bound by the same conditions set for Powertech by any previous permits. Woodward reports that a source says NRC staff aren't going to fret over the change in Powertech/Azarga control, even though no one at Azarga has experience with in-situ leach uranium mining.

Azarga appears not to know the specific mining activity for which it's seeking a permit, and its new property Powertech isn't doing a good job of informing investors and regulators of what's coming down the corporate pike. Those are two good reasons to be suspicious of the uranium mining these schemers are trying to bring to the Black Hills.

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Darned wasicu and their in-situ uranium mining....

The Clean Water Alliance is placing the following public service announcement on KOTA and KEVN television. But since TV is as bad for your brain as Powertech/Azarga's uranium mining will be for the Black Hills, why not watch it here on the Internet instead?

Chinese-Canadian Powertech/Azarga, whose big-money officers mostly live elsewhere and won't have to deal with the pollution they will leave in the Black Hills, face a public comment hearing hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Hot Springs on Monday, August 18, followed by the NRC evidentiary hearing August 19–21 in Rapid City.

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Rep. Kristi Noem, Senator John Thune, and celebrate the passage of the Black Hills Cemetery Act, which transfers ownership of nine Black Hills cemeteries to local communities:

I am thrilled to see the U.S. Senate take up this important legislation and finally put it on the President’s desk for his signature.... These cemeteries tell the stories of the people and communities that built their lives in rural South Dakota over the last two centuries.  I’m proud the federal government will now turn ownership of these sacred grounds to their rightful owners:  the communities that have maintained them for generations [Rep. Kristi Noem, press release, 2014.07.09].

How nice to see Republicans support the restoration of sacred grounds to their rightful owners

—uh oh. The Black Hills are replete with American Indian burial sites, but the sacredness of the Paha Sapa goes beyond the known and unknown graves:

The entire Black Hills are sacred, not just one place, one burial site, one prayer site. There is a sacred energy field around the Black Hills. How far does it extend? One elder said that it continues about 50 miles around the Black Hills. How can people who believe that only man-made designations, such as a church or a cemetery are called sacred, understand a sacred space and landscape that extend for hundreds of miles? That is why Defenders of the Black Hills have as our motto: "Remember, the Black Hills are sacred." We ask only that respect be given for another peoples' understanding of spirituality. Maybe that respect will begin to generate more concrete actions that will contribute to the restoration of these sacred grounds [Charmaine White Face, "The Sacred Black Hills," Sacred-Sites.org, downloaded 2014.07.11].

Now you may think talk of sacred energy fields is hooey (if so, how do you feel about the Bakken?), but the Supreme Court made clear in the Hobby Lobby decision that the state is not to question religious claims.

So with Congresswoman Noem surrendering federal land to locals with beliefs in the sacred value of the land, her support for handing the Black Hills over to the Lakota people cannot be far behind.

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Via Northern Plains News, the Black Hills Knowledge Network reports Census data showing increased racial diversity in South Dakota's population. The Native American population is holding at 8.9% of the population, while Hispanics and blacks are increasing their population shares. The latter minorities are increasing notably in the Black Hills:

The black population in Meade County accounts for 2 percent of its population, one of the largest in the state. Nearly all of the counties in the Black Hills have a Hispanic population that exceeds 3 percent of the total population [Black Hills Knowledge Network, "Census: South Dakota's Racial Diversity on the Rise," Northern Plains News, 2014.07.02].

Local readers will appreciate the irony of more black folks around Sturgis: Meade County was once (?) a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity. Of course, 90 years ago, our Black Hills Klansmen were raising a ruckus about Catholics and prostitutes. Let's hope their descendants can reconcile with the growing numbers of non-whites on their block at least as well as they've learned to tolerate the folks following the Pope.

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Tasiyagnunpa Livermont reminds us that returning the Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation as a gesture of religious justice and restoration of treaty is not as simple as the wasicu writing this blog may think it is:

The Black Hills isn’t just for the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (Great Sioux Nation). The Ft. Laramie Treaty named other plains tribes in it. This was always a war-free zone shared in good spirit with other tribes which we often were otherwise embattled with.

If the Black Hills were turned back over, it would need a new form of jurisdiction, because there is no singular Great Sioux Nation any longer. We are divided into 9 different reservations. Plus the other tribes.

The people working on treaty councils at the local level are hypocritical, conservative (Lakota version) and prattle about issues that sound more like Evangelical Christianity than anything that connects us to our stories and land [Tasiyagnunpa Livermont, "Hobby Lobby and Reclaiming the Black Hills?" Sustainable Dakota, 2014.07.02].

Indeed, if we ever decide to give the Black Hills back to the tribes, to whom specifically do we give the deed? The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 bears the signatures of 25 Brule, 38 Ogallalla, 16 Minneconjou, 50 Yanctonais, and 6 recalcitrant Oglala Lakota (including Red Cloud, who did not sign until he had effectively waged war to force the United States government to close the Bozeman Trail). The Supreme Court held in 1980 that the Black Hills were wrongfully taken from the Sioux Nation of Indians. Who now are the descendants who rightfully own that seized land?

A big part of the problem is that we cannot restore the Black Hills to the status quo ante. When the U.S. Cavalry and prospectors arrived, no one owned or governed the Black Hills in the Western sense of the words. Ezra Kind and Hugh Glass had about as much right to be out on the High Plains in the early 1800s as the men who signed the 1868 treaty; Kind and Glass just didn't have as many guys with them.

The Black Hills now exist within the matrix of Western land ownership and government. If the United States government rescinded its ownership of the Black Hills, and if South Dakota surrendered its sovereignty over all of West River, some legal order would have to fill the vacuum. We can't just relinquish the Black Hills to whichever tribe brings the most warriors...

...or can we? Would we satisfy the historical imperative of justice by following the letter of the treaty, pulling out our troops and settlers, closing the Bozeman Trail, and leaving interested tribes to sort things out for themselves? Would such a retreat bring more trouble to our Native American neighbors than they face now? Or would a white man's retreat of such magnitude galvanize Indian attitudes and political will to overcome the current divisions and corruption Livermont sees to organize their own effective government of the treaty lands?

Update 10:55 MDT: Friend of the blog and wasicu Black Hills land "owner" Stan Gibilisco offers his video take on who owns the Paha Sapa:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3J0SAjGdp4

I "own"—and I put that in quotes—I "own" a home here in the Black Hills. I question whetehr human beings can own any particular parcel of the earth. More like the earth owns us... [Stan Gibilisco, "Who Owns Paha Sapa?" YouTube, 2014.07.01].

I know Stan says the above comment is ancillary to his main point here... but his statement on ownership bears the whiff of wisdom.

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What do you get when you combine the Hobby Lobby ruling, executive orders, and Indians? A formula for one of South Dakota Republicans' worst nightmares: the Alito-Roberts Court opening the door for Barack Obama to give the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation.

Ruth Hopkins lays the groundwork:

To say that the Black Hills (Kȟe Sapa) hold special significance for the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) is an understatement. They’re not only our traditional homelands, where our ancestors once lived, they’re sacred. The Black Hills are the birthplace of our Nation, where we rose from Mother Earth’s womb. Our legends took place there. The Black Hills itself is a terrestrial mirror of the heavens above and thus forms the basis of our ancient star maps and Lakota astronomy. The entirety of Kȟe Sapa is a sacred site. Our rituals observe the natural cycles of the planet and our Universe. There are ceremonies that we must conduct at specific locations within the Black Hills. These ancient ceremonies benefit the whole of humanity. No, we aren’t talking about dirt protected by ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Kȟe Sapa is holy ground. It is where we are meant to pray [emphasis mine; Ruth Hopkins, "Reclaiming the Sacred Black Hills," Indian Country Today, 2014.06.28].

A core doctrine of Justice Alito's majority opinion was that we (the Court, the State, the people making laws) do not inquire into religious claims. We don't throw out a lawsuit from Hobby Lobby or the Lakota people just because we think the religious beliefs on which it is based are poppycock. If we adopt the thinking that Alito adopted to accept without scientific inquiry Hobby Lobby's religious (and counterfactual) claims that certain birth control methods cause abortion, then we must accept without judgment Hopkins's assertion that her people must perform their prayers at Bear Butte, Pe 'Sla, and other holy sites and that said prayers benefit all of humanity (awfully generous of you folks, Ruth!).

If the government must exempt Hobby Lobby from a federal law to ease its owners' religious queasiness about remote moral culpability for female employees' medical choices, then surely the government must act to protect the ability of the Oceti Sakowin to carry out one of their fundamental religious mandates to serve humanity with prayers in the Black Hills. And how better to protect that religious exercise than to hand the Black Hills back to its rightful pious owners, if not by legislation, then by a stroke of the Presidential pen?

Working with both Tribal and Treaty councils, the group is hopeful that they can develop a realistic plan to present to President Obama, and perhaps, the U.S. Congress. New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley introduced a bill in 1985 that would have transferred 1.3 million acres of forest in the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation. Unfortunately the bill was unsuccessful. Even if Congress is unwilling to pass legislation to return the Black Hills to the Oceti Sakowin, it is within the President’s power to perform the task by Executive Order [Hopkins, 2014.06.28].

I'm still looking for the statute or precedent that makes clear the President's authority to transfer federal land like the Black Hills National Forest to any other entity, sovereign or private. But what better land to surrender than land that serves a crucial religious purpose and that nearly everyone, including the courts, recognizes was taken illegally in the first place?

Hopkins says Oceti Sakowin leaders will meet with President Obama to discuss the Black Hills in 2015. Just imagine President Barack Obama signing that order, shaking hands with Ruth Hopkins and her friends, and saying, "Threaten to impeach me? This is what happens."

Handing the Black Hills back to the Oceti Sakowin would be payback in many ways. It would also be one logical extension of the Supreme Court's view of religion expressed in the Hobby Lobby case.

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South Dakota is "under-explored" for oil, says Sturgis consultant and former cop Adam Martin, the new exec of the South Dakota Oil and Gas Association.

"Under-explored" appears frequently in press dealing with South Dakota and oil exploration. State officials are doing a lot of petri-wishing, but geology and economics are still working against them. Heck, we can't even find the right sand to use in the fracking process—except for maybe one isolated patch of the Black Hills near Hill City where South Dakota Proppants thinks it can mine a million tons of frac-sand a year... and turn the central Black Hills into a dusty freeway for trucks thundering out to Wyoming and the Bakken. Yay.

Plenty of folks have made money punching holes in the Black Hills. If we punch more holes across the state and find oil, more folks will make money. But not all of them. Texas is far from under-explored, but the growing petro-wealth still doesn't flow smoothly to the greater good:

...[D]espite the boom, Texas has some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and ranks first in the percentage of residents without health insurance. Republican leaders have supported tapping the Rainy Day Fund for one-time investments in water and transportation infrastructure, but they have blocked attempts to use the fund for education and other services, arguing that it was designed to cover emergencies and not recurring expenses.

“Despite the bounty of the Eagle Ford, which is considerable and on the whole clearly positive, it is not a rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and author based in Waco. He noted that Texas had long had a philosophy of limited government and an aversion to spending on social services, an attitude intensified by the current political environment.

“Texas is not a good place to be poor, and there is little political appetite for change,” he said [Manny Fernandez and Clifford Krauss, "Boom Meets Bust in Texas; Atop Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In," New York Times, 2014.06.29].

It may not hurt to go looking for the spare change dinosaurs may have left in the couch cushions in West River. Then again, it might. But don't let the South Dakota Oil and Gas Association or South Dakota's state government fool you: fracking what little oil we may have won't bring easy, widespread wealth to South Dakota.

p.s.: Hey! Anyone strike oil down in the Precambrian rock by Wasta yet?

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Joe Lowe partisans take heart: the losing contender in our Democratic gubernatorial may have gotten through to nominee Rep. Susan Wismer on at least one issue. After weeks of awkward agnosticism, Rep. Wismer is working her way closer to saying Powertech's uranium mining plan for the Black Hills is a bad idea:

Rapid City Journal: An international firm has proposed to mine uranium near Edgemont, a project that supporters say will bring jobs and pad state coffers with tax revenue. But opponents worry the mine will harm the region's water supply. Do you support the project?

Susan Wismer: Unless and until I am completely assured that there would be no damage to the water, I can't see myself supporting it. The Legislature is surrounded with pro-uranium mining people, former legislators that are now there as lobbyists. So they are not hearing the same thing that is being heard out here. And it is just another symptom of our government, which is controlled by one party [Joe O'Sullivan, "Five Questions with Governor Candidate Susan Wismer," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.09].

That answer is still wiggly. It leaves room for her to fall for those lobbyists' baloney. It shows that her study of the issue hasn't gotten around to the local press Lowe cited during the primary that said in situ leach mining always damages the water. And it doesn't explain her vote in 2011 to eliminate state oversight of uranium mining.

But Wismer's Powertech caution is better than the vague shrug she gave in May, and significantly more comforting to environmental sensibilities than Governor Daugaard's current absurd non-answer. Keep pushing, Black Hills water drinkers: we may get Wismer to take a stand against Powertech yet!

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