Federally proposed uranium rules reflect local fight

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

April 14, 2015 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated April 15, 2015 at 1:41 a.m.

CORPUS CHRISTI - Federally proposed rules that would strengthen environmental protection against uranium extraction address concerns Goliad residents previously voiced against Uranium Energy Corp., according to the county's groundwater district.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to add a new subsection to its uranium mining standards, which would establish groundwater restoration and monitoring requirements for in situ uranium mining.

The Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District again faced off against Uranium Energy Corp. at a public hearing about the proposed rules in Corpus Christi. Two public meetings in Corpus Christi on Tuesday were part of an ongoing public comment period on the rules, which ends at 5 p.m. May 27.

The meeting was largely attended by uranium industry leaders, who oppose the draft rules. Craig Wall, with Uranium Energy Corp., said the rules would adversely affect uranium operations, while having no positive environmental effect.

Wall, like many of the industry leaders, said the current rules are adequate and should not be revised.

"This method of rule making is fear-based and irresponsible," he said. "A very thorough and protective set of rules already exist."

There is no evidence that uranium extraction has contaminated groundwater, Wall said.

But during its eight years of monitoring, Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District found evidence of iron oxide contamination in water wells after uranium exploration by Uranium Energy Corp., said Art Dohmann, a member of the board of directors for Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District.

For years, the Goliad groundwater district fought an aquifer exemption submitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that would allow Uranium Energy Corp. to use a water solution fortified with gaseous oxygen to dissolve uranium ore underground and then pump the uranium-bearing mixture back to the surface.

In December 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the exemption. But last June, after Goliad residents took the agency to federal court, officials withdrew part of the exemption noting there was not enough data to determine if residual waste from mining activities would flow outside a given boundary.

"Groundwater is the lifeblood of Goliad County," Dohmann said. "Without adequate and good quality groundwater, rural areas like Goliad County would suffer a tremendous economic disaster."



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