EPA delays final decision about uranium mining in Goliad

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

June 4, 2014 at 1:04 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.

Citizens in Goliad concerned about the safety of their drinking water will have to wait 14 more days to hear the Environmental Protection Agency's final decision on uranium mining previously approved by the agency.

Although the agency has made up its mind, Uranium Energy Corp. wants 14 more days because it says the EPA's decision will "disrupt what have thus far been promising settlement discussions," according to a May 30 petition.

Neither Uranium Energy Corp. nor the EPA would comment about what decision has been made or how it will affect the previous settlement.

If the agency reaffirms the aquifer exemption, a portion of the Goliad aquifer will be exempt from protection as an underground source of drinking water, allowing the company to mine for uranium in the area.

During the review period, the aquifer exemption, granted in 2012 by the EPA, remains effective, meaning Uranium Energy Corp. has permission to mine.

One of the concerns brought up at a February public hearing in Victoria about the exemption was the lack of a pump test during the previous approval process, which would indicate how water in the Goliad aquifer moves between layers underground and across two geological faults.

Uranium Energy Corp. holds that water in the exempt area will not flow across the faults, which it has described as barriers. But experts hired by the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District have contended that the faults will act more like elevator shafts, allowing water to not only flow across the fault but also up and down between geological layers.

"If you're working in the top sand closest to the surface and you run into this fault, and it actually acts like an elevator shaft, then the water could flow down into the other strata," said groundwater district president Raulie Irwin.

During the application process, EPA officials recommended a pump test to confirm the flow of water but later dropped the requirement. Irwin speculates that the EPA's new decision may affirm the aquifer exemption with the added requirement of a pump test.

In addition to issuing its final decision, the EPA has yet to respond to all of the concerns raised at the February public hearing.

"They are supposed to respond to everybody that turned in written comments, and no one has heard from them," Irwin said.

The two-week extension delays the issuance of the agency's decision until June 17.



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