UEC’s last hurdle to begin in-situ uranium mining in northern Goliad County came when the EPA granted the exemption to UEC in December 2012. The EPA’s decision followed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s recommendation of the exemption in May 2011.
In January 2013, Houston attorney Jim Blackburn, on behalf of several Goliad County residents, filed an appeal of the EPA’s decision with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The EPA requested and was granted a 60-day remand by the Fifth Circuit Court starting Jan. 30 to study new information and receive public input. The EPA must return with its information to the court on April 1, according to Stacey Dwyer, EPA Region 6 source water protection executive director.
“We’ve received about a half dozen letters from the public, but we haven’t thoroughly evaluated those letters,” Dwyer said.
According to Dwyer, the EPA had to consider if the portion of the aquifer for the exemption currently serves as a source of drinking water and is mineral-, hydrocarbon- or geothermal energy-producing.
“It is important to know that we have not exempted the entire aquifer,” Dwyer said. “We looked at a lot of data, including much information about the groundwater flow, to reach the conclusion that the portion of the aquifer was not serving as a source of drinking water.”
EPA Region 6 chief of underground injection control Phillip Dellinger provided a PowerPoint presentation explaining the EPA’s decision to grant the exemption.
Dellinger displayed sub-surface maps of the groundwater flow and capture zones in northern Goliad County with the locations of drinking water wells.
“We wanted to know if the water wells’ capture zones intercepted the aquifer exemption area,” Dellinger said. “That’s where we spent the majority of our time.”
Dellinger displayed a map of UEC’s original aquifer exemption request with a map of a smaller area that was approved by the EPA.
“The data showed the groundwater elevation differences are very small,” Dellinger said. “That indicates that there is a very low flow with velocity in the area.”
Dellinger said the EPA concluded the gentle gradient is consistent with a shelter area between the two faults in the area.
“The capture zones for the nearby drinking water wells, therefore, do not extend to the exemption area,” Dellinger said.
Speakers were allowed four minutes to provide information and express their opinions. Any questions to the EPA representatives were not directly answered.
“The EPA and UEC are gambling with our source of water,” said Raulie Irwin, president of the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District. “Can the EPA or UEC guarantee the landowners of Goliad County that there will not be a human error or tactical failure during the production of the uranium ore?”
GCGCD board member Art Dohmann said he is convinced in-situ uranium mining will contaminate the area’s drinking water.
“There are quite a number of wells that are down-gradient from the production area,” Dohmann said. “I was really disappointed that the capture zones for these wells were not shown on the map. It showed the capture zones for the wells above the production area, but the wells that are down-gradient are the real issue.”
Dohmann said water level data taken from March 2010 to September 2012 in the area show drops of five feet.
“That water is moving even though your assumption is that it sort of captured there,” Dohmann said.
Dohmann asked why the EPA didn’t conduct pump tests of water wells at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Ander after requesting to do so.
“Neither the TCEQ nor EPA has provided a groundwater protection plan that ensures the Ander community groundwater users will not suffer contamination of their drinking water supply over the long term. GCGCD respectively requests that the EPA continue this policy of water protection and withdraw this permit until data can be gathered that is not currently available.”
Blackburn claimed the EPA exemption was influenced by a Democratic Party fundraiser with close connections to the White House.
“We filed suit because the exemption had twice been refused by the EPA,” Blackburn said. “We believe the EPA was impermissibly influenced by a Washington D.C. lobbyist named Heather Podesta.”
Blackburn said he is working pro bono on the case.
“We’re mad with the way the people in Goliad have been treated and we’re mad about this aquifer being polluted. It is going to be polluted,” Blackburn said.
Attorney Andy Barrett, representing UEC, was the final speaker and made a sports analogy to communicate UEC’s position.
“There was a tennis match in the French open between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The crowd was clearly on Miss Evert’s side. But when it ended, Miss Navratilova made a comment, ‘Maybe in the future you’ll like me.’ Listening to everyone tonight, that’s kind of the way I feel. My friend, Jim Blackburn, says they’re mad. I was kind of sad to hear that. We’ve extended our hand and would like to work out things. We respect the community and the groundwater and we’ll see that will be taken care of.”
The EPA’s PowerPoint presentation can be viewed at epa.gov/regional/water/swp/groundwater/goliad-aquifer/.