Greeley Tribune endorses HB-1161 and HB-1165
Newspaper cites Summitville Superfund site and groundwater contamination in Texas
Posted February 15, 2008
Mining protections are
February 10, 2008
It's become the classic battle between big industry and the little guy.
A fight is well under way over proposed uranium mining near Nunn in north-central Weld County. It's the big industry -- Powertech Uranium Corp., versus the little guy -- the farmers, ranchers and residents in the area, concerned the mining will contaminate their ground water.
Unfortunately, in this battle, there may be no winners.
Uranium mining has seen resurgence in the United States as we turn to nuclear energy once again to save us from our dependence on fossil fuels. Because it is considered a more clean energy source than, say, coal, even environmentalists such as Greenpeace co-founder Paul Moore have jumped on the nuclear bandwagon.
That increase in demand has prompted companies such as the Canadian Powertech to expand mining operations. The company has announced it will apply for permits to mine uranium using an in-situ method from 5,760 acres of land near Nunn on which it owns mineral rights. At its current price, about $873 million worth of uranium sits at the proposed mine site.
The in-situ leaching method of extraction involves pumping oxidized water into the underlying aquifer and bringing the uranium to the surface. The uranium is extracted from the water, solidified and shipped.
Residents say the process could lead to groundwater contamination, not only from uranium, but from other dangerous chemicals such a selenium and arsenic.
Powertech has repeatedly promised that the in-situ operation will not contaminate groundwater. Unfortunately, there are simply no guarantees.
Some residents in Goliad, Texas, near a similar uranium mine operated by Uranium Resources Inc., have reported significant changes in their well water since the mine began digging wells. They say their water is now sludgy, red and undrinkable. Tests of the water have shown large deposits of iron in the water.
The mining company says it isn't to blame for the changes in the water supply. Yet, there appear to be no other answers for the sudden and undeniable decline in water quality.
We believe Powertech's intentions are good. We know the company does not set out to contaminate ground water and, in fact, does everything it can to ensure that doesn't happen.
But, again, there are no guarantees.
Time and time again, mining companies have assured their operations would not affect the environment or residents' quality of life. Unfortunately, time and time again, they have failed.
Most people probably remember Summitville, the open-pit gold mine in southwestern Colorado. In 1986 the mine opened using cyanide to leach precious metals from ore, pumping the tailings into synthetic-lined leaching ponds that were "guaranteed" not to leak. But almost immediately, a leak was detected. Cyanide and other dangerous trace minerals were released into the Alamosa River system, killing virtually all organisms living in the water. Of course, the mining company abandoned the site, declared bankruptcy and the Environmental Protection Agency was force to take over cleanup under its Superfund program in 1994. The clean up is ongoing and has cost millions.
That's why the government must do all it can to protect residents from potentially harmful mining operations. We support two bills currently before the Colorado House that would take a first step toward doing just that.
House Bill 1161 would require that companies such as Powertech clean groundwater to pre-mining quality after it finishes operations. House Bill 1165 would give local governments more control over what sort of mining is allowed in their communities.
It is essential that state and local governments have the power to oversee application and operation of mining operations. It must have the power to protect residents.
The truth is, we've all paid for bad mining practices in the past through extraordinarily expensive EPA Superfund cleanup efforts, some of which take decades. And their success is still in question.
We hope our lawmakers have the foresight to prevent that from happening in Weld County.