The EPA admitted it could have done more to avoid the toxic Colorado mine spill in a decidedly defensive internal review of the agency’s response to the crisis released Wednesday.
EPA-supervised contractors working on abandoned mines in southern Colorado underestimated the water pressure behind a blockage they were working to remove, and ended up unleashing 3 million gallons of toxic waste from the Gold King Mine earlier this month. (RELATED: EPA’s Toxic Mine Spill Could Cost Taxpayers BILLIONS)
The contractors could have drilled into the mine to determine the exact water pressure, the internal review acknowledges. But they decided against it because the process — which has been completed successfully at other sites — would have been challenging and expensive, and because no one involved raised any concerns.
“Because of the soil and rock conditions, the access and drilling of a hole into the Adit from above would have been quite costly and require much more planning and multiple filed seasons to accomplish,” the review says. “Although difficult and therefore expensive and technically challenging, this procedure may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”
Mine waste has spread hundreds of miles to Lake Powell in Utah since the initial breach, and experts have stated it could take decades to clean up the mine waste that’s spread throughout Navajo Nation. American Action Forum estimates the cleanup could cost taxpayers anywhere from $3 million to $16 billion.
Seven of the eight conclusions the EPA arrived at in the review are essentially a defense of its site investigation team, which was part of a crew sent to do cleanup work.
“None of those participating or informed parties raised any significant concerns with the proposed activities,” the review concludes firstly, noting that the team had “extensive experience” and “inspected the area.”
And in the fifth conclusion: “It should be noted that the site team responded appropriately during and after the blowout … ”
Only later in the review does the EPA get begrudgingly and briefly conclude that “additional expert opinions may be warranted” at future sites.
The blowout “was likely inevitable,” the review concludes, again praising the on-site crew that caused the toxic spill by noting they “probably avoided any fatalities” with their response.
The review recommendations include more guidance, including from regional mining engineers and geologists, more protocols for blowouts, and a panel of experts consisting of the mining industry.
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