"Most comprehensive report ever compiled" on ISL uranium mine restoration shows water is worse than before mining started at most mines
Texas County sues mining company over threat to ground water; county attorney claims baseline water testing is faulty
Posted September 23, 2008
What about after mining?
GOLIAD – The county needs to be concerned about the quality of its water after uranium mining is completed, a lawyer said Monday.
Texas historically allows uranium mining companies to amend the levels of minerals in restored groundwater once mining operations are complete said Jim Blackburn, Goliad County’s lawyer concerning uranium mining.
These levels are routinely greater than those established during the mining permit process, Blackburn told the commissioners court.
According to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality records, 51 requests for “amended restoration tables to make them higher” have been granted out of 80 uranium mining production areas. The data include uranium mining permits issued during the last “20 or 30 years,” Blackburn said.
“I think this study is quite important in terms of giving you information about what the past practices have been. I think this is a reason for concern about the mining process and the certainty about the administration of the mining process so far by the state,” Blackburn said.
A UEC statement contends the company “is committed to meet or exceed all applicable environmental regulations in restoration of Goliad County recovery sites, a process that is carefully monitored by responsible state authorities.”
The state commission sets restoration values for groundwater after mining. Restoration values may be amended from the original permit and are subject to public notice and contested hearings, said Lisa Wheeler, a state commission spokeswoman.
Blackburn said the state agency’s track record is consistent.
“Not a single request to make the clean-up level values higher has ever been denied, according to the records we have researched so far,” Blackburn said.
Seeking clarification, Goliad County Commissioner Ted Long asked, “So at 51 out of 80 mine sites, the water is worse than it was before it started?”
Blackburn confirmed the numbers.
Of the 29 remaining mine sites, many still operate and don’t yet have final restoration values. Blackburn said he thinks this is the most comprehensive report ever compiled on uranium mining restoration.
Blackburn provided charts showing original restoration levels, amended restoration levels and last sample concentrations for uranium, radium, sulfate and arsenic for a dozen Texas mines.
“By and large, even the original restoration values are higher than the drinking water standards. The levels that were left are higher than the drinking water standards,” he said.
Long asked if the original baselines for these reports were established after exploration began.
“That is my understanding,” Blackburn said. “Frankly, the reason we’ve got the federal lawsuit filed is that we think the baseline has been artificially elevated by the contamination during the exploration process, which gives you a false starting point to begin with. That’s very much an issue, and I think the single biggest problem with this permit application that you have facing you.”
The commissioners have filed a lawsuit against Uranium Energy Corp., which seeks a mining permit in Goliad County.
Blackburn also emphasized that the uranium mining companies submit data for establishing baselines for restoration during the permit process and also submit the last sample data. The state does not conduct these tests.
Commissioner Jim Kreneck said, “It’s like the fox watching the hen house.”
The whole idea of exploring for uranium and then taking baseline water samples later is absurd. The logic behind this bass-ackwards way of doing things is that the ore bodies must be isolated and to do this, a large grid of holes is drilled and then narrowed down to a few select areas from which the baseline samples are taken. Why couldn't a number of arbitrary sample wells be drilled and tested before massive exploration begins? Wouldn't this give a more accurate depiction of the natural condition of the aquifer?
It hasn't been shown that exploration (hundreds of holes) in the aquifer either disturbs or doesn't disturb the aquifer because no documented research exists. Common sense will tell you that sticking a blender down into the aquifer a few hundred times will increase its levels of dissolved constituents in the immediate area or otherwise affect the aquifer..
Has a new well ever affected an existing well? Any water well driller or petroleum engineer will tell you that this happens all the time. If the drilling mud hits a weak spot under pressure, sometimes it disappears (loses circulation). According to a local water well driller, if the drill bit penetrates a bed of porous sand or honeycomb limestone or a fault or fracture, then the drilling mud and water can take off in the direction of least resistance, travelling an undeterminable distance. Why would uranium exploration be any different?
Then there's the deep-well injection of radioactive waste. Everything that's not uranium (radium, arsenic, molybdenum, selenium, radon, etc.) will be injected deep (around 4,000 feet) into the ground where a brine water solution exists. Will it make its way back up into our drinking water? A retired safety engineer for DuPont isn't sure. Nobody is sure.
Texas regulation is primitive and weak regarding uranium mining. That's why they're here. Those of us who are worried about our drinking water and the aquifer from which our future generations will survive...well...it appears that we may be up a radioactive creek without a paddle.
After in-situ uranium leaching, ground water cannot be returned to the way it was - Nuclear Regulatory Commission official and uranium mining executive acknowledge restoration of aquifer to baseline is unachievable - Posted September 3, 2008
Texas in-situ leach uranium mines failed to restore ground water to premining condition - Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission agendas from 1990s reveal that relaxing water cleanup standards is routine - Posted September 7, 2008
Domestic wells in vicinity of uranium exploration drilling have "alarming" levels of radiation according to Texas ground water district - Goliad County files lawsuit against Uranium Energy Corp.; Powertech doing similar exploratory drilling in Weld County - Posted March 19, 2008
Texas county intends to sue uranium mining company for contaminating well water - Lawsuit against Uranium Energy Corp. is the result of "a number of water wells that have been rendered undrinkable" according to Goliad County attorney - Posted March 3, 2008
ORIGINAL COMPLAINT - GOLIAD COUNTY,
TEXAS; CRAIG AND LUANN DUDERSTADT, Plaintiffs, v. URANIUM ENERGY CORP.,
Defendant. IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS VICTORIA DIVISION. Case 6:08-cv-00018. Filed 03/17/2008 (pdf - 18 pages)
A recent example of an ISL uranium mine
where aquifer restoration could not bring water quality back to baseline
for all parameters, including selenium, uranium, and radium-226:
WELLFIELD RESTORATION REPORT -
CHRISTENSEN RANCH PROJECT, WYOMING - March 5, 2008, Prepared by: COGEMA
Mining, Inc. and Petrotek Engineering Corporation
A recent example of an ISL uranium mine where aquifer restoration could not bring water quality back to baseline for all parameters, including selenium, uranium, and radium-226:
WELLFIELD RESTORATION REPORT - CHRISTENSEN RANCH PROJECT, WYOMING - March 5, 2008, Prepared by: COGEMA Mining, Inc. and Petrotek Engineering Corporation
As uranium mines closed, state altered cleanup goals - Dan Kelley
Corpus-Christi Caller-Times - November 5, 2006
Consideration of Geochemical Issues in Groundwater Restoration at Uranium In-Situ Leach Mining Facilities (NUREG/CR-6870)
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Geological Survey - January 2007 (pdf)