Energy policy — nuclear: The EPA to revise Powertech USA’s permit for a test well

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Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Mylott):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will revise and reissue a permit authorizing Powertech, USA, to re-inject water as part of an aquifer pump test at the proposed Centennial uranium recovery site in Weld County, Colo. The new draft Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class V permit will include a specific water pressure requirement for reinjection that was inadvertently not included in a permit EPA issued last December.

“EPA will remedy this oversight and clarify this permit with full transparency and public involvement,” said Steve Tuber, EPA’s assistant regional administrator in Denver. “We will issue a new draft permit that maintains specific and rigorous requirements to ensure the protection of groundwater.”

EPA issued a final Class V UIC permit to Powertech in December 2010 following a year-long public review and comment process. Since that time, EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), an independent board that oversees EPA permitting actions, has received two petitions for review of the final permit. The EAB has asked EPA to file a response addressing the petitioners’ contentions.

After reviewing the petitions, EPA has decided to withdraw, revise and reissue the permit. This decision is based on a petitioner’s issue noting that the final permit did not specify that Powertech is required to not exceed zero pressure at the wellhead when re-injecting water from the pump test. While EPA has clearly stated its intent to require this condition, and Powertech has agreed to comply, this requirement was inadvertently not included in the final permit. The maintenance of zero pressure at the wellhead is important as it helps ensure that the re-injection activity will not cause movement of water between aquifers beyond that which is naturally occurring.

EPA intends to issue a new draft permit within the next several weeks that specifically requires that Powertech not exceed a Maximum Allowable Injection Pressure (MAIP) of zero at the wellhead. EPA will also clarify language in the permit to address additional concerns noted in the petitions. Upon issuing the new draft permit, EPA will initiate a public review and comment period.

This UIC Class V permit is limited to groundwater re-injection. Specifically, the permit will enable Powertech to re-inject water taken from a sandstone aquifer within the Fox Hills formation during an aquifer pump test in which groundwater will be placed in holding tanks and re-injected, unaltered, into the same aquifer. The test is designed to provide information about hydrogeology at the Centennial site and inform the feasibility of any future in-situ uranium extraction activities. Conditions of the aquifer pump test itself are subject to prior approval by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety.

This UIC permit does not allow for the removal or processing of uranium or the disposal of waste water at the project site. Such activities would be subject to additional EPA and State permit(s). Any future UIC permit applications will be subject to an extensive public review process, including access to technical information, public meetings and comment periods consistent with applicable laws and regulations.

The State of Colorado is an Agreement State under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations for uranium in-situ leaching facilities and has authority for the licensing and operation of uranium extraction activities.

Related documents can be found at:

More coverage from The Denver Post (Joey Bunch). From the article:

…in taking that action, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 office in Denver said it intends to draft another permit within the next few weeks and open it up for public comment, according to paperwork filed with the Environmental Appeals Board in Washington.

The environmental group Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, or CARD, and James Woodward, who lives near the proposed site near Nunn, had filed an appeal with the board in January, which temporarily stayed the permit. Their concerns included the EPA’s failure to review Power tech data from aquifer-pump tests in 2008 in the same geologic formation — one just 500 feet from the currently proposed injection well. They also claimed that the EPA failed to include a maximum well-injection-pressure requirement in the permit and that the agency did not evaluate the success in plugging other such sites. “The petitions raised substantial issues with the permit, warranting re-evaluation by EPA, and they were right to withdraw (the permit),” CARD co-founder Jay Davis said in a statement.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

“Powertech wants to clarify that this really is not a revocation of a permit, which has a negative connotation, but simply a withdrawal of a permit that the EPA wants to go back and reconsider, and Powertech believes that the next issued approval will be even more airtight than this one was,” John Fognani, of Fognani and Fought, told The Colorado Independent…

The Powertech project is part of a growing effort to revive Colorado’s moribund uranium mining industry in order to capitalize on a push for more nuclear power in the United States as a much lower carbon alternative to coal- and gas-fired power plants. However, some environmental groups in Colorado are resistant to what they consider the “dirty front end” of uranium mining.

Fognani says technology has improved dramatically since the heyday of the state’s uranium mining boom in the 1950s and 60s and that nuclear power, fueled by Colorado uranium, needs to be a bigger part of the nation’s energy mix. The latest EPA decision, he said, is an example of the federal government making sure its permitting process is “airtight.”

“The fundamental feeling is that the EPA decision to grant the permit in the first instance was imminently defensible, but this is an EPA decision and the company will respect and abide by it and is comfortable with it,” Fognani said.

More coverage from the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The permit would have allowed Powertech to take 43,000 gallons of water from an underground aquifer and re-inject it as part of a test of its uranium mining technique. No uranium would be mined in the test.

On Monday, the EPA announced it left out some details in Powertech’s permit, requiring the agency to withdraw the permit, revise it and then reissue it sometime in the next few weeks. “EPA will remedy this oversight and clarify this permit with full transparency and public in-volvement,” EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Steve Tuber said in a statement. “We will issue a new draft permit that maintains specific and rigorous requirements to ensure the protection of the groundwater.” The EPA received two petitions from the Western Mining Action Project and James B. Woodward of Wellington after the permit was issued asking the agency to review the permit, EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said.

The EPA intended to make Powertech adhere to a water pressure requirement during the test, but the EPA accidentally left the requirement out of the permit, Tuber’s statement said. The agency plans to require zero pressure at the injection well to prevent water from moving between aquifers during the test.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“There seems to be the attitude that we’re getting over the hump,” said John Stulp, the new head of the IBCC and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s point man for water issues. “We’re starting to talk about solutions.” Stulp made his first visit to the roundtable, and urged members to attend a summit of all nine basin roundtables March 3 in Denver

The IBCC has gone from being a roomful of people who were wary and distrustful to a group seeking common ground, Stulp said during brief remarks to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. “They’ve gotten out of the attitude of going to your corner and come out fighting,” said Stulp, a dryland wheat farmer from Lamar who just ended a term as Colorado’s agriculture commissioner. “They still have their corners, but there’s not as much fighting.”[…]

Roundtable members spent the last month doing their homework by reading the report, then were asked to evaluate it in an electronic poll at the meeting. Three-fourths of the roundtable members said the report was good or very good, but that it needed changes. Most felt the most neglected area was finding a new supply, and the group spent most of the afternoon talking about that issue. The group liked balancing the needs of all basins involved in water transfers, having multiple benefits in water projects and protecting agriculture and the environment. Some felt the report didn’t go far enough in addressing the real problems, however…

Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal, said more storage and ways to divert water are needed. “You can have all the alternative methods you want, but what we lack is the infrastructure to move the water from Point A to Point B,” Henrichs said.

SeEtta Moss, of the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, pointed out that all nonconsumptive uses should not be given the same weight as mitigation for water project impacts. “Water in a reservoir for boating is not a substitute for water in a mountain stream for trout,” Moss said.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.