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Board OKs oversight of in situ mining

Rules require 'baseline' water quality tests and allow appeals

By Bobby Magill

Fort Collins Coloradoan

August 13, 2010


Residents who worry about uranium mining near their land in Northern Colorado will now be able to appeal to the state if a mining company is allowed to prospect in the area.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board on Thursday put its final stamp of approval on a set of rules that will govern how British Columbia-based Powertech Uranium Corp. will be allowed to mine using an in situ leaching process and provide the public with a way to appeal state decisions on uranium prospecting.

"It's been what we've been effectively fighting for, for over three years now," said Jay Davis, whose property is adjacent to the Centennial Project uranium mining site northeast of Fort Collins in Weld County.

Powertech proposes to mine for uranium at the Centennial Project using in situ leaching. The company will inject a baking soda-like solution into the ground to dissolve the uranium, then pump it to the surface for processing.

Davis and other Northern Colorado residents have worried for years that the process could contaminate domestic well water near the mine, which would be built between Wellington and Nunn.

The rules, Davis said, will hold uranium companies such as Powertech to a higher standard in Colorado than in other states where environmental rules aren't as strict.

The new rules permit the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to require Powertech and other companies hoping to mine uranium using in situ leaching to establish “baseline” water quality before they begin prospecting for uranium.

Baseline water quality is the quality of the groundwater as it exists before any mining or prospecting begins. The rules, which implement a 2008 state mining law, require Powertech, once mining is complete, to return the contaminated groundwater beneath the mine site to its original baseline condition.

Powertech USA President Richard Clement said in an Aug. 6 letter to state mining officials that the rules would be “fatal” to any in situ uranium mining in Colorado.

“At the end of the day, they’ll realize this will provide additional protection to them and insulate them from assertions that prospecting released uranium into the groundwater,” said Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a member of the MLRB. “This will provide a level of comfort and insurance to well owners, land owners in the area that they will have all the information (on groundwater quality) up front before the prospecting and mining process.”

How fatal these rules will prove to be all depends on how they’re interpreted, Clement said Thursday.

Establishing baseline water quality, he said, is part of the prospecting process. “You could interpret the rules to the point where you can’t possibly accomplish the goal before you begin operations,” he said.

Environmental groups hailed the board’s decision Thursday.

“They hit it out of the park,” said Matt Garrington of Environment Colorado, a Denver environmental group championing strong restrictions on mining companies in Colorado. “For the first time ever, local governments can appeal mine prospecting decisions.”

King said the rules take effect Sept. 15.