Friday, August 27, 2010

Uranium mine's foes oppose aquifer exemption

The Banister River (part of proposed uranium mining and milling)!

Comment:  Look at the following statement: "The issue is about water and whether anybody has the right to make the region unlivable."  So true, so true, our water is our life!  No to uranium mining!

George Ledbetter Chadron Record
Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 10:30 pm

CHADRON, Neb. -- Uncertainties regarding the presence of faults and factures in the land underlying northwest Nebraska are a major reason that the Crow Butte Resources uranium mine should not receive an ‘aquifer exemption' for its proposed North Trend expansion project, opponents of the mine said Monday.

But an attorney for the Canadian owned mining company said a 27 year record established at the in situ uranium mine east of Crawford shows that the operation is safe and reliable.

"The record shows that Crow Butte has done in 27 years what it said it would do, and has not done what it said it would not do," attorney Mark McGuire said at a public hearing on a requested permit that would forever close off a portion of the water underlying the 2,100 acre North Trend expansion to use as drinking water. "Over the years opponents have made all sorts of claims, all of which have been disproved or made inapplicable."

Making a decision now to allow use of the estimated 1.85 billion gallons of water in the lower portions of the Chadron formation under the expansion area would be premature, countered David Frankel, an attorney representing mine opponents in hearings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"There is a tempation to not look at the geology which doesn't support your position," said Frankel. Detailed research by Chadron geologist Hannan LaGarry indicates that faults and fractures common in the area could link the Chadron aquifer to other water bearing layers, including the Brule and Arikaree, which are used for drinking water, he said. "These claims have not been adjudicated. Until that is done, no one can say if there is a connection between the aquifers or not."

A recent hearing at the Crawford High School auditorium was conducted by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which must decide on the aquifer exemption request by Crow Butte Resources, a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Cameco.

The in situ mining process works by injecting a mixture of water and sodium bicarbonate into the underground uranium-bearing layers of sandstone, then pumping out the water and removing the dissolved uranium.

The target area for mining in the North Trend lies at depths from about 350 to about 700 feet below the earth's surface. Water from that depth is not currently being used in any of the proposed expansion area, which lies about a mile north of Crawford, the company said.

There are wells in the project area, but they tap the Brule formation, which is above the Chadron and separated by a layer of clay, said local well driller Leonard Chubb. And the water in the Chadron formation isn't good for drinking anyway, said Chubb. "It's not drinkable water coming from the ground. It stinks and has a bad taste," he said. "There is better water above it in most places."

But Nancy Erickson, who lives not far from the area proposed for exemption, and has two wells tapping the Brule formation, said she sees a contradiction in the idea of closing off the water to human use. "There is huge concern about falling levels in the underground water tables, and now they are going to take how many acres worth of water that we'll never be able to use again?" she said.

Olson also cited the presence of artesian wells in the area near the mine site as reason for concern about water contaminated by mining eventually reaching the surface.

There is also danger of the water migrating underground said Tom Cook of Chadron, who also owns a home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Cook, one of the people participating in NRC hearings opposing the mine expansion, said he believes the water in his shallow well on Pine Ridge has been contaminated with heavy metals as a result of the existing Crow Butte mine. Those issues will be advanced before the NRC as hearings on the mine permit advance, he said.

LaGarry said that his work for the Nebraska Geological Survey in western Nebraska revealed the existence of fractures that could allow water from different aquifers to mingle, and migrate. "We learned that previous models were flawed in a number of ways," he said.

 "Our mapping showed...the brittle crust has been faulted and fractured and new faults continue to form....This same network of faults interconnect to potentially carry liquid in them directly to Chadron and to Pine Ridge."

LaGarry said his concern isn't about uranium mining itself, but about its effect on water. "It's not about whether uranium should be mined or not. The issue is about water and whether anybody has the right to make the region unlivable."

The DEQ has already made a preliminary decision to approve the aquifer exemption permit, but will take into account testimony at the hearing, and issue replies to the objections, before making a final decision, the department's hearing officer said Monday.

Another hearing, on Crow Butte's request for an underground injection well permit, is set for Sept. 23 in Crawford.

All of the sessons are simply steps in a process that began 27 years ago, when the first hearing on the operation now known as Crow Butte Resources was held in the same location, said McGuire. "At the first hearing, this room was packed," he said. "People had legitimate questions and those have been resolved...This is an ongoing part of the process."

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