Uranium mining contested case hearing nears its close


May 10, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.
Updated May 11, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

GOLIAD - The aquifer from which Uranium Energy Corp. is applying to mine uranium is a source of drinking water, a geologist testified Monday.

The aquifer "has been a source of drinking water and it will be," said H.C. Clark, a retired Rice University geology professor.

Witnesses offered testimony on behalf of Goliad County, its groundwater district and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the state contested case hearing over uranium mining in Goliad resumed.

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.

In pre-trial testimony, Clark said the aquifer is the only drinking water source in Goliad and is part of a larger aquifer system that stretches across the Gulf Coast from Mexico to Alabama.

He said water in the proposed mining site is unconfined and flows toward the coast.

On Thursday, a University of Texas geology professor testified clay formations surrounding the uranium ore bodies would prevent the migration of drilling fluids and protect drinking water sources from contamination.

Aquifers are federally protected from mining operations under the Safe Drinking Water Act. A company wishing to mine from one must prove the water is not in human or agricultural use and will not be in the future in order to be exempted from this rule.

If the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality grants Uranium Energy Corp. a permit to mine, the company must then receive an aquifer exemption from the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Monday, each side waded through witnesses with little cross-examination by the uranium mining company's legal team, represented by Monica Jacobs.

Jacobs asked Goliad County and Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District witnesses, at most, two questions during cross-examination.

Many of Goliad County's witnesses were unavailable because its legal team anticipated lengthier cross-examination and told witnesses to arrive later in the day.

This spurred an early lunch recess from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Later, another recess lasted 45 minutes because a witness was again unavailable.

The hearing will likely end Tuesday with the final witness, David Murray, testifying on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Murray was also called to the stand Monday afternoon.

A reviewer of the company's permit applications, he was asked whether the company demonstrated public interest in the materials it submitted.

Murray took into account materials submitted in the applications to determine if the mining operations would be in the public interest, he testified.

He looked at the method of mining and the economic benefits, he said.

In-situ mining, he said, is less invasive than older methods, and jobs, as well as energy to power homes, would be generated.

Jim Blackburn, who represents Goliad County, asked Murray if he considered negative aspects, which were expressed during forums for public comment in Goliad.

"I considered them in a general way, yes," but "still came to the conclusion it was in the public interest," he said.



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