EPA issues final underground injection permit for disposal of aquifer pump test water
Permit is subject to appeal; Colorado mining regulators must hire third-party expert to oversee and monitor pump test, and issues regarding storage tank history, freeze protection, and financial bonding must be resolved before pump test can be conducted
Posted December 18, 2010
On December 3, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 8 office issued a final Class V Undergound Injection Control permit to Powertech for disposal of water produced during a proposed aquifer pump test. The pump test would take place on Section 33, northeast of the intersection of Weld County roads 110 and 17.
The test would help determine the feasibility of in-situ leach uranium mining at that site by measuring the rate and amount of water that can be pumped through the rock formation. The pump test would also provide information regarding the extent to which the aquifer to be mined is hydraulically confined from an overlying aquifer containing higher-quality water.
Although Powertech has conducted two previous pump tests at this site, more test data is required before the company can make a final determination on the technical feasibility of mining and be able to prepare permit applications.
Powertech proposes to pump out 43,000 gallons of water that would be stored in metal tanks. The tanks would be cleaned before receiving the pump test water since they may have been previously used to store hazardous wastes, according to the company renting the tanks to Powertech.
After testing the stored water and verifying that it has not been contaminated from the tanks, the water would be injected into the same aquifer from which it was pumped.
The EPA permit is required for this injection into the aquifer since the agency is required to protect underground sources of drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Under federal law, there is a thirty day appeal period following issuance of the injection permit. If a party has standing, the permit may be appealed to the Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) in Washington, D.C. The EAB is part of the EPA but is set up to independently review and decide permit appeals.
For the last two weeks, the permit and associated supporting documents have undergone detailed review and analysis by individuals and organizations concerned with the proposed Centennial project and its potential risks to groundwater quality. While significant discrepancies and deficiencies in the permit have been identified, no decision has been reached regarding a possible appeal.
Whether the EPA injection permit is appealed or not, the state of Colorado has placed additional conditions on the aquifer pump test, some of which remain unresolved.
Most importantly, in a June 1, 2009 letter to Powertech the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety (DRMS)determined that it will employ a third-party expert to "oversee and monitor Powertech's up-coming aquifer pump test in section 33..." The DRMS has yet to move to hire such an expert.
In addition, on March 18, 2010, the DRMS notified Powertech that there were unresolved issues with the pump test that remained to be addressed. The issues involved the history of the previous contents of the storage tanks, freeze protection if the test was to be conducted during the cold season, and financial bonding for reclamation of the site.
Powertech has requested four separate 60-day extensions to respond to the DRMS. The latest extension request was made on December 8. In its letter to the DRMS, geologist Mike Beshore said "Powertech intends to conduct its Centennial aquifer pumping test during the spring of 2011."