Who owns the west?

Patented U.S. public land

Mining industry gains title to 3.7 million acres of lands previously owned by the public

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The hardrock mining industry has acquired the title to an estimated 3.7 million acres of land previously owned by the public and rich in gold, silver, and other precious metals and minerals. Although a moratorium on new mining "patents" - conversion of public lands to private - has been in place since 1994, the government continues to grant pending requests. Since 2000, 15,600 acres of public lands across 12 western states have been converted to private ownership, for a price capped at $5 per acre in 1872. See who has gained title to lands since 1980, 1990, or 2000.

Quick facts about patented lands in The United States

• Acres of federal land, previously public, titled the mining industry: 3,718,326

• Companies and individuals granted patents, total: 60,688

• Dollars paid for each acre: $2.50 or $5

• Land area given away since 1990: 32,267 acres

• Royalties paid to federal government from mines on patented public land: $0

EWG analysis of data compiled by the Bureau of Land Management.

Top Mining Patent Purchasers in The United States Ranked by Acres Patented

Companies have been consolidated to account for subsidiaries. View this table without consolidation.

 Company/IndividualHeadquartersNumber of PatentsEstimated AcreagePatent Date(s)
1 AMCOL International Corp Arlington Heights, IL 245 21,681 1950 to 2001
2 Weber Oil Company unknown 9 21,120 1955 to 1959
3 National Lead Co unknown 197 19,597 1942 to 1967
4 Union Oil Company of California Sugar Land, TX 2 18,125 1986
5 John W Savage Rifle, CO 15 17,000 1986 to 1987
6 Joseph L Fox (Trustee) Lakewood, CO 13 16,922 1986
7 Phelps Dodge Mining Co Phoenix, AZ 151 15,715 1906 to 2001
8 Rio Tinto Limited World HQ in Australia 136 11,402 1905 to 1978
9 Energy Res Tech Land Denver, CO 6 11,012 1986
10 Dresser Industries Houston, TX 14 10,869 1982 to 1989
See all patent purchasers in The United States


State Ranking Ranked by Acres Patented

 StateNumber of PatentsEstimated Acreage  
9South Dakota1,850105,533detailsmap
10New Mexico1,84997,765detailsmap


Examples of Mines in The United States

Name of MineLocation of MineMine StatusMetal MinedOwner or Parent Company of Owner
PogoSoutheast Fairbanks Census Are County, AKProposedGoldSumitomo/teck Cominco Limited
Trenton CanyonHumboldt County, NVOpenGoldNewmont Mining Corp
Lucky Friday Silver MineShoshone County, IDOpenSilver oresHecla Mining Company
Florida Canyon MinePershing County, NVOpenGoldFlorida Canyon Mining
East Boulder MineStillwater County, MTOpenPlatinum groupMmc Norilsk Nickel Of Russia
Cripple Creek & Victor MineTeller County, COOpenGoldAnglo American
ContinentalGrant County, NMSuspendedCopper OrePhelps Dodge
JamestownStanislaus County, CAClosedGoldSonora Mining Corporation
BlackbirdLemhi County, IDClosedCobaltNoranda
Mt. Pass Mine & MillSan Bernardino County, CAOpenRare earthsMolycorp
See more mines in The United States

Source: EWG analysis.



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Source: EWG analysis of Bureau of Land Management's Land and Mineral Records 2000 (LR2000) data system. For claims, acreages are estimated based on maximum allowable size of claims. For patents, acreages are taken directly from the LR2000 database where available, and are estimated based on maximum allowable size of claim that preceded the patent where acreages are not noted in LR2000. All notices are assumed to be five acres in size, and the size of plans are calculated directly as the size of the land represented by the legal land description in the LR2000 database. The acreages we estimate through these methods would tend to overestimate the actual amount. We welcome corrections here, and would welcome a federal data management system that included the acreages involved in these important federal land transactions.