Did Powertech dump radioactive water on pasture land near a stream bed?
Documents indicate ground water with potentially elevated uranium and radium was discharged during "confidential" Weld County pump tests in 2007 and 2008
Posted October 28, 2010
For the last 19 months, Powertech officials have been attempting to obtain permits and approvals to conduct a final aquifer pump test on land in the northern area of the proposed Centennial project. But little has been published about earlier pump tests conducted by the company.
|A tributary of Spring Creek just downstream from the Powertech pump test site, near the intersection of Weld County Roads 110 and 21. (Photo by J. Woodward)|
Recently obtained documents reveal that Powertech Uranium Corp. conducted two aquifer pump tests in late 2007 and early 2008 and dumped water from the tests on a field in northwest Weld County. The water contained potentially elevated levels of uranium and radium, according to water quality lab test results submitted to the state after the pump tests were completed.
The pump test area is in Section 33, located northeast of the intersection of County Roads 110 and 17. The pump tests were conducted in October 2007 and February 2008, according to a report prepared for Powertech last year by Petrotek Engineering Corporation.
At the time the tests were conducted, Colorado law allowed a mining company to notify state mining regulators that it desired to drill wells and conduct pump tests, and this information was deemed confidential and not subject to open records laws. (In mid-2008, Senate Bill 08-228 removed this confidentiality provision.)
The results of the pump tests as well as the exact methodology used are still being withheld from the public by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS). This information was collected in accordance with Powertech's baseline characterization and monitoring plan for the Centennial project, and as such is a matter of public record according to the Mined Land Reclamation Act. It is unclear why the DRMS has not released this pump test information.
Powertech applied for and received a Minimal Wastewater Discharges for Industrial Facilities (MINDI) permit certification from the Colorado Water Quality and Control Division (WQCD) on October 25, 2007. The permit allowed the company to discharge the pump test water by "land application".
As Powertech explained in the permit application: "Water from discharge will be placed in reserve pit - allowed to dissipate on rancher field." The field slopes down to a tributary of Spring Creek, an intermittent stream bed with numerous ponds that fill with water following rainstorms.
The pumping well used for these tests is designated IS-3T and was drilled and completed by Ingram Drilling Inc. on September 7, 2007. The 495-feet deep well was drilled in what Powertech refers to as a mineralized production zone, which is an area of the aquifer containing uranium deposits.
Powertech officials have made repeated public assertions that groundwater in close proximity to uranium deposits is contaminated and unfit for drinking and domestic use. At the July 13, 2010 hearing in Denver held by the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board on proposed rules for in-situ leach uranium mining, Powertech CEO and President Dick Clement expounded on this theme during a Powerpoint presentation to the board:
Natural uranium, let's talk about uranium itself....Natural uranium and its decay products radium and radon has caused groundwater to contain radioactive elements - those elements. This water exceeds federal and state drinking water limits making the natural groundwater present near uranium only suitable for industrial purposes. And you can see that surrounding the...here's the uranium orebody within an aquifer. The water surrounding that orebody is unsafe to drink. It contains radium. It contains radon. It contains uranium. And so, consequently, there are strict limits on what we can use, and what levels we can have in water to have drinking water supplies.
Was this information conveyed to state water quality regulators? An open records request submitted to the WQCD revealed that Powertech did not provide any water quality data with the 2007 discharge permit application and did not inform WQCD staff of the potential for elevated levels of uranium and radium in the pump test water.
As a result, WQCD permit writer Erin Scott did not require water quality data and did not address the issue of elevated uranium and radium in the permit.
The MINDI permit application submitted by Powertech specifically requires the applicant to indicate whether they know or have reason to believe that certain pollutants, including uranium, may be present in the discharged water. Powertech was required to "describe the reasons the pollutant is expected to be discharged, and report any quantitative data it has for any pollutant."
Powertech's response on the application: "No baseline data available." (Under new state rules effective September 30, 2010, a uranium company is required to collect baseline water quality information prior to conducting pump tests or other prospecting activities. Powertech vigorously opposed the rules, complaining that they would be “fatal” to in-situ leach uranium projects.)
In June 2008, eight months after receiving the discharge permit from the WQCD and four months after conducting its second pump test and discharge, Powertech tested a water sample from well IS-3T (renamed IS-003T) and determined that it contained elevated levels of uranium and radium.
The lab report from Energy Laboratories in Casper, Wyoming, revealed that total uranium was 0.25 milligrams per liter, over eight times higher than the drinking water standard of 0.03 mg/L. The water also contained 15.0 picocuries per liter of Radium 226, three times higher than the combined Radium 226/228 drinking water standard of 5 PCi/L. The lab did not test for Radium 228.
By this time, the two pump tests had been conducted and tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of gallons of water potentially contaminated with uranium and radium had been pumped from well IS-003T and discharged onto the "rancher field".
Application for Minimal Wastewater Discharges From Industrial Facilities permit, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment - submitted by Powertech (USA) Inc. - October 15, 2007 (PDF 229 KB, 11 pages)
Well Construction and Test Report, State of Colorado, Office of the State Engineer - Well Permit Number MH-047222 - Owner's Well Designation: IS-3T - Name of Well Owner: Powertech (USA) Inc. - Date Completed: September 7, 2007 - Company Name: Ingram Drilling Inc. - December 10, 2007 (PDF 108 KB, 1 page)