EPA Document Dump: Agency Recklessly Disregarded Known Risk Of Mine Blowout

Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Officials have said that federal contractors accidentally released more …
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

The Environmental Protection Agency was aware that its actions could cause a blowout more than a year before its attempts to excavate debris from the Gold King mine created the 3 million gallon toxic waste spill into Colorado’s Animas River on August 5.

That information was found among a number of documents released by the agency Friday night at 10:30 pm after weeks of pressure from media outlets.

One of the documents was this June 25, 2014 Task Order Statement of Work, issued by EPA Region 8 to contractor Environmental Restoration, LLC of Fenton Missouri, which read, in part:

The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed. This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. ln addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.

On Saturday, Breitbart News asked the EPA to confirm or deny this Associated Press report that the EPA was aware of the blowout risk at the Gold King Mine.

“I’ve forwarded your questions to our Joint Information Center in Durango,” an EPA spokesperson told Breitbart News late Monday.

Breitbart News has received no further response.

The final Site Health and Safety Plan prepared by contractor Environmental Restoration and signed off by an executive for that company, identified as the response manager, and the EPA Region 8 Onsite coordinator on July 13, 2015, describes the final plan:

The Gold King site is an inactive mining site located near Silverton CO in the Gladstone area. The site consists of an adit with a constant flow of water at approximately 100 gpm [gallons per minute]. The State of CO Division of Mining and Reclamation Services (DRMS) need to investigate the adit to determine if it is hydraulically connected to the Red and Bonita mine.

US EPA Region 8 is supporting the investigation by installing a portal and ground support as necessary and treating the water to remove solids disturbed during the entry process. ER [Contractor Environment Restoraction] has installed a settling pond and piping for this effort. The current effort will involve installation [of] the water treatments system and additional piping. ER has subcontracted [REDACTED name of subcontractor] to provide experienced underground mine workers to construct the portal and evaluate underground conditions to determine if additional ground support is necessary

The document had little in the way of contingency plans in the event the efforts to install a portal, which apparently involved the removal of debris, at Gold King mine resulted in the kind of blowout warned of in the June 2014 task order.

Page 23 of the Site Health and Safety Plan says the response manager is responsible to “take appropriate measures to protect the public and the enviroment including isolating and securing the site, preventing run-off to surface waters and ending or controlling the emergency to the extent possible.”

However, the document does not spell out how the response manager should accomplish this task.

“In the event of a spill or leak,” page 24 of the document instructs, “locate the source of the spillage and stop the flow,” then “begin recovery of the spilled materials.”

In light of the powerful onslaught of 3 million gallons of toxic waste that spilled out of the Gold King mine in a very brief period of time after the EPA’s efforts backfired, those instructions seem laughably inadequate.