Revival of Mineral Surveys

After a nationwide, 18-year moratorium on mineral surveys due to a misunderstood law, an Arizona surveyor conducts what may be the first of many mineral surveys in the United States.
By Jim Crume, PLS, MS, CFedS

The U.S. Congress passed the General Mining Law in 1872 stating that all un-appropriated lands are open to entry for mining claims. Since that time, the law has been amended by Congress many times and interpreted by countless court decisions. Currently, land with ores of metallic elements and uncommon varieties of nonmetallic deposits are available for entry and claims-purchase under that act.

The process by which an individual or corporation claims lands for extraction of minerals is with: 
  1. a mining claim (or claims) that is marked upon the ground by monumentation,
  2. a location certificate identifying the claimant at the discovery point, 
  3. recording the location certificate in the county where the claim has been staked, and
  4. filing with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Many mining lode and placer claims have been staked and are still being located on public lands throughout the country by individuals and corporations for the purpose of extracting valuable minerals.

Back to the mineral surveys, though. All people who claim rights to minerals underground, from corporations to individuals, will want a mineral survey. It provides an important layer of protection by eliminating gaps in and overlaps of existing claims and by providing an official file, putting the public on notice that the mineral rights have been claimed and thoroughly documented.

Misinterpreted Moratorium

On October 1, 1994, Congress imposed a moratorium on using spending-appropriated funds for accepting or processing mineral patent applications. (Those that had received the special mining patent “First Half Final Certification” or were in Washington, D.C. for review on or before September 30, 1994 were exempt.) The last mineral survey (MS No. 4897) was officially filed on September 21, 1998. Since then, no mineral survey applications have been received and/or approved.

Although the true meaning of the moratorium is to prohibit only the spending of public funds for accepting and processing mineral patent applications, the public interpreted it as being a moratorium on mineral surveys themselves. Thus, the process of filing a mineral application had completely stopped.

In 2010, a mineral-law attorney inquired about the interpretation of the language of the moratorium and pointed out the misunderstanding. The BLM agreed to this new interpretation and stated that they would accept applications for mineral surveys (they would still not be able to complete the associated patent process per the original moratorium).

First 21st-century Survey

Subsequent to this agreement an attorney for a copper mining company contacted the BLM to start the process of submitting an application for a mineral survey in the area of Superior, Arizona. Of the nearly 60 active mineral surveyors in the United States, I was selected to perform the mineral survey.

The last mineral survey I had participated in was more than 25 years ago in Jeffery City, Wyoming, for a uranium mining company. I had to brush the dust off my books and reacquaint myself with survey procedures and mining law. I reread the 2009 BLM manual for mineral surveys to see if anything had changed since the 1973 publication. I also researched any relative court cases or judgments that would affect the mineral-survey process for this group of claims.

Once it was determined the BLM would approve the application for this mineral survey, the mining company gave me notice to proceed. As a U.S. mineral surveyor, I am bound by the client/mineral surveyor privilege and cannot discuss specific details about the survey. The following is the general process that was used that would apply to any mineral survey. I started by researching all recorded location certificates in the project area, all officially filed mineral and rectangular surveys at the BLM public records room, and all results of surveys of record in that Arizona county. I made an analysis of all record information to create field-survey search coordinates for sectional corners, claim corners, end centers, and discovery points.

Working from the company’s existing control network, I began an inventory survey in which all existing sectional corners, claim corners, end centers, and discovery points were searched for, tied-in, and added to their proprietary GIS.

I then made an analysis of the found monumentation to determine the shapes and sizes of the existing claims and compared these with the recorded location certificate for each claim. Discovery points were compared with the record location on the certificate. (A discovery point is the location where minerals are discovered and is marked by a substantial physical monument. A copy of the location notice is attached to the monument in a durable container to protect it from the elements.)

The next step was to compare the existing claim shape and sizes to determine if they met the statutory size requirements. A lode claim maximum size is 600’ wide by 1,500’ long, and the end lines must be parallel. The discovery point was held as the controlling point to graphically lay out the statutory claim size for each claim. The end centers (these mark each end of the lode line that runs through the discovery point, and each is marked with a substantial physical monument) were held for the direction of each lode claim. I then made an analysis to determine if, and where, gaps and overlaps occurred between each claim.

This analysis was reviewed with the client to discuss adjusting the existing claims to eliminate the gaps and overlaps. It is worth noting that such adjustments are provided for in the law to protect the claimant’s mineral rights and do not invalidate the claim. Based on this adjustment process, claim corners, end centers, and a few discovery points were relocated in the field. Amended location certificates were then recorded with the county and filed at the BLM office. Once that process had been completed, an application was filed with the BLM for a mineral survey.

Several meetings were held with the Arizona BLM office (AZBLM) to go over the process. The AZBLM had not processed a mineral survey in quite some time, so they, too, were doing research and consulting with their administration to reestablish the process. There were no current CADD standards or templates developed for preparing the mineral plats or notes. The last mineral survey had been completed using manual drafting techniques and typewriters. Here started the tasks to bring about the historical event of mineral surveys in the 21st century.

A mineral survey order was prepared authorizing the task, and I was appointed the mineral surveyor.

Fieldwork consisted of setting aluminum caps for each of the claim corners per the AZBLM requirements, and the mineral plats and notes were prepared based upon the survey. The AZBLM survey crews performed spot checks during the field survey process and reported their findings to the AZBLM office.

The completed mineral survey plats and notes were submitted to the AZBLM for review. They wanted their in-house resources to  redrawn the plats so they could use them to create a current drafting standard for mineral surveys. The notes were compared to the 1973 and 2009 manuals and other approved mineral surveys. The plats and notes were refined through the review process.

On February 8, 2012 I finalized and signed the mineral survey. Steve Hansen, the BLM chief cadastral survey for the Arizona district, officially signed the plats and notes on February 10, 2012. I wrote this article to mark this historical event and to note that mineral surveys have been reactivated. (There is still a moratorium on the patent process.)

For more on mining for rare earth minerals see the online Pangaea issue #35:

Jim Crume has more than 30 years of experience in surveying and engineering. He is a professional land surveyor in the states of Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming and a U.S. mineral surveyor and a certified federal surveyor. He can be reached at or


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