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Contested hearing on Goliad uranium mining concludes

May 14, 2010 at 12:14 a.m.


Editor's note: This story was originally published on May 11. It has been updated with corrections.

BY JJ VELASQUEZ

GOLIAD - Uranium Energy Corp. did not supply a state agency with data that shows water movement outside a proposed mining site in Goliad County, a state geologist testified Tuesday.

"Based on what I'm seeing here, yes, there is communication across the fault," said David Murry, after he was presented a chart showing test data collected at UEC wells in Goliad County.

He referred to water migration between underground sand formations as "hydrologic communication."

Murry testified on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Tuesday as the state-contested case hearing over uranium mining in Goliad concluded.

A set of two 24-hour pump tests were conducted as part of UEC's production area application and as required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

UEC's Chief Operating Officer Harry Anthony was not a witness in the hearing and did not attend the proceedings.

UEC conducted a four-hour and 24-hour pump test across a geologic fault.

These two pump tests were not required by the TCEQ but were performed to gather information about the geologic environment, he said.

The 24-hour pump test, which was questioned during the hearing, was not included in the application because it is outside the production area, Anthony said.

Anthony said that the pump test, a reading of the water drawdown between sands, shows some migration along the fault but that the mine area encompasses a confined aquifer, with shale deposits sandwiching uranium ore.

TCEQ rules do not require a mine area to be confined, he said.

TCEQ officials declined comment Thursday because events are ongoing in the case.

Philip Bennett, a University of Texas geologist, testified on Tuesday that clay formations surrounding the uranium ore bodies would prevent the migration of drilling fluids.

Monitor wells at mining sites capture drilling fluids and uranium and contain them within the mine area.

But 100 percent of these fluids are not captured, Murry testified.

Any company seeking a mining permit is obligated to present to the TCEQ information it collects that contradicts what they have submitted in applications, Murry testified.

Groundwater quality near uranium ore bodies, such as the ones in Goliad, is typically too poor to be consumed. The uranium company and expert witnesses testifying on its behalf have said the areas it intends to mine are not sources of drinking water.

Uranium is mined through the injection of oxygen, which makes it easier to extract.

Goliad County claims UEC's mining operations would negatively affect drinking water sources within the county, said attorney Jim Blackburn, who represents Goliad County.

Blackburn asked Murry about the health effects of drinking water with high concentrations of uranium.

Drinking uranium-contaminated water is toxic to the kidneys. Some who drink water with uranium concentrations higher than the federal standard face a higher risk of getting cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Blackburn posed a hypothetical situation where water with 2 milligrams per liter migrated into drinking water wells. The current drinking water standard for uranium is 0.03 milligrams per liter.

"Would you drink it?" he asked.

"I would not," Murry responded.

For seven days, Goliad County and area residents filled courtrooms in Austin and Goliad.

Goliad County Commissioner Jim Kreneck has been involved with the county's three-year legal battle against UEC from the get-go.

He was disheartened by Murry's testimony and felt the TCEQ was tampering with the county's "livelihood," he said.

"This is the saddest part of this whole trial to me," Kreneck said, gesturing to Murry. "That our state is doing us in."

Ray Carter lives in Victoria County and attended the hearings in Goliad. The chairman of South Texas for Clean Energy is for mining uranium in Goliad County because of the jobs it would bring to the area and the energy it would provide to future generations.

With the state population expected to increase, energy may be in limited supply if projects such as the one proposed in Goliad do not come to fruition, he said.

"You can't stand still. You can't go backwards," Carter said. "America's got to grow."

Mina Williams, vice president of a Sierra Club chapter, drove from Corpus Christi to attend the hearings because she is concerned about Goliad County residents' welfare, she said.

"They are the ones at risk of losing a lot if this happens," Williams said.

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