By Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press Writer
Fort Collins Coloradoan
March 28, 2008
DENVER — The Colorado House gave initial approval to a bill by Fort Collins legislators today that would strengthen the rules for in-situ leach mining, a process that injects substances underground that critics say could lead to the poisoning of groundwater and the landscape.
The process leaches out radioactive uranium ore. Opponents say the mining can result in harmful releases of arsenic, selenium, uranium and other toxic chemicals.
“This bill ensures uranium mining doesn’t leave behind a toxic legacy. By encouraging responsible mining practices now, we’ll protect our drinking water, our communities and our public health well into the future,” said Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.
The measure (House Bill 1161) would require mining companies to show they will reclaim and restore groundwater the pre-mining quality or to state standards. It also would require mine operators to notify all landowners within the vicinity about the proposed permit.
The House rejected an attempt to expand coverage to surface and underground mining after opponents said it could destroy the mining industry.
The bill was introduced after one mining company, Powertech, told the state it wants to begin in situ leach uranium mining in northern Colorado.
Powertech said it has shown that an in-situ mining operation in Weld County would be safe. Company officials said they still plan to apply for a mining permit by the end of the year.
Powertech, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, proposes a $20 million uranium mine west of Nunn. It has purchased uranium mineral rights on 5,760 acres in Weld County for its operation.
Kefalas said the bill was drafted to protect local communities and promote a healthy business environment.
“Mining is an important part of Colorado’s history and an essential economic driver, but we must be careful. The long-term human and economic health of our communities requires us to protect our water,” Kefalas said.
He added that hundreds of new mining claims are expected as the price of uranium soars.
Supporters said Colorado learned a lesson when pollution from the Summitville gold mine near Del Norte in southern Colorado killed a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. The cleanup cost taxpayers more than $200 million.