Blogger John Tsitrian posted a complaint Monday calling out Azarga (formerly Powertech) for lying to investors in its public statements about the progress of its plans to mine uranium in the southern Black Hills. Tsitrian's Black Hills neighbor Juli Ames-Curtis issues her own complaint about South Dakotans' easy surrender of valuable resources to foreign corporations:

I am saddened over some of the sentiment in South Dakota regarding the mining of uranium at the Dewey-Burdock site near Edgemont. Some South Dakota citizens, despite being fiercely independent, seem willing to sell out to a foreign company. Azarga Uranium, formerly known as Powertech Uranium, is a Canadian company whose major shareholder and continued source of funding is a Chinese investment fund.

Azarga/Powertech is seeking South Dakota permits for 12.96 million gallons of water per day indefinitely. In 2012 Rapid City used 11.35 million gallons per day. The (foreign) company is applying for water rights for which they will not pay. If Azarga/Powertech were to buy the water from, say, Rapid City, it would have to pay over $1 million for the amount it seeks to use.

Our American water is very precious, especially the Madison and Inyan Kara aquifers in question here. How patriotic is it to trade our water in perpetuity for a handful of short term jobs? [Juli Ames-Curtis, letter to the editor, Custer, South Dakota, 2015.02.19]

For decades, South Dakota has traded its water and other resources for promises of economic development. Yet we seem as mired as ever in the problems of low wages, labor shortages, youth flight, and lack of revenues for schools and roads.

Just as Azarga exaggerates to its investors, we seem to exaggerate to ourselves the benefits of throwing our doors wide for outside corporations to exploit our water and land and weak regulatory and taxation systems. The corporations get the payoffs, and we get something less than prosperity.

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Custer County uranium mining informational event, hosted by Dakota Rural Action, January 15, 2015

(click to embiggen—share with your neighbors!)

Dakota Rural Action is educating South Dakotans on the risks of uranium mining in the southern Black Hills. The group is hosting a free information session tonight (January 15) at the Custer County Courthouse Annex Pine Room in Custer from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MST. DRA will have experts on hand to talk about the impacts Azarga/Powertech's plan to mine uranium in Custer and Fall River counties may have on water, agriculture, and public safety.

Among the topics sure to be discussed will be geologist Hannan LaGarry's newly released analysis of previous uranium exploration data from the area indicating that improperly capped boreholes and certain natural features of the local geology may pose a greater risk of contamination from in situ recovery mining operations than either Azarga or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have let on.

Also worthy of discussion tonight are new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (and brought to our attention by Donald Pay—thank you!) to regulate in situ recovery uranium mining. The EPA would impose standards for groundwater recovery. Miners in polluted aquifers would actually get a break: they would only have to restore groundwater to pre-mining conditions—i.e., undo their own pollution but not the pre-existing contaminants. The EPA rules would allow mining companies to propose alternate restoration standards if they can show that meeting the EPA standards is not feasible.

So put on your science hats and come to Custer tonight to talk about the proper balance between economic development and environmental protection in the Black Hills.

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Dr. Hannan LaGarry teaches geology, biology, statistics, and research methods at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Geology is his main area of study, and he put his geology knowledge to work analyzing borehole logs, drillers' notes, maps, and other data released by Powertech/Azarga last year in its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to conduct in situ recovery mining for uranium in the southern Black Hills.

The NRC-ASLB yesterday released Dr. LaGarry's written supplemental testimony, given November 21, 2014. Dr. LaGarry's analysis finds a number of holes in the ground that, claims the scientist, poke holes in Powertech/Azarga's claims that their uranium mining poses no risk to local ground water.

Reviewing drillers' notes from 4,177 boreholes out of 7,515 boreholes logged, Dr. LaGarry finds...

  • 140 open, uncased holes
  • 16 previously cased, redrilled open holes
  • 4 records of artesian water
  • 13 records of holes plugged with wooden fenceposts
  • 6 records of holes plugged with broken steel
  • 12 records of faults within or beside drilled holes
  • 1 drawing of 2 faults and a sink hole within a drilled transect 7 notations “do not record this value on drill hole maps”
  • 2 notations “do not return this to landowner”
  • 63 redacted borehole logs

LaGarry says that the open boreholes and those capped with wood (which rots) and broken steel (which rusts) could allow mining fluids and contaminants to move through the rock strata into unmined areas. He concludes, "There is no reasonable expectation that confinement remains in drilled areas."

LaGarry says the presence of artesian water reveals the possibility that subsurface contaminants from mining operations could reach the surface and contaminate the Cheyenne River and its tributaries.

And what's that about faults?

During hearings before the ASLB in August of 2014, Powertech repeatedly asserted that faults and sinkholes were not present in the license area, and that the license was somehow unique in that regard. In my previous testimony, I offered the expert opinion that faults were almost certainly present, and the license area was most likely crossed by numerous faults. The observations I document herein demonstrate that my previous expert testimony was correct, and there are numerous faults present in the licensed area. Likewise, the drillers’ notes document a sinkhole along a drilled transect associated with two closely spaced faults also intersecting the drilled transect. Sinkholes typically form along faults, as the fault allows the initial penetration of acidic surface waters, which then dissolve a conduit through the rock which eventually forma a cave that subsequently collapses to for the sinkhole [Hannan LaGarry, written supplementary testimony to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, 2014.11.21, p. 3].

NRC staff evidently accepted Powertech/Azarga's assertions of environmental safety based on a spot check of three dozen borehole logs, with no apparent mention of the drillers' notes. LaGarry schools the NRC on basic math:

The minimum number of data points for a statistically valid and meaningful sample is generally 10%. In the Powertech instance the minimum acceptable sample size would be a randomly selected sample of at least 175 borehole logs. Based on the recent disclosure of over 4,000 previously withheld borehole logs, the appropriate sample would be 10% of the entire set, or about 575+ borehole logs checked. NRC Staff presents no basis for its so-called “random” selection. Without such information, professionals in my field cannot accept such assertions where it is possible that the limited data set resulted in poor methodology that is the hallmark of modern junk science. Having examined only 37 data points out of thousands available, NRC would have failed my Math 123 Introduction to Statistics class. None of my student researchers would be allowed to publish or present their research findings had they made such a fundamental error [LaGarry, 2014.11.21, p. 5].

Powertech/Azarga has contended that its in situ recovery mining project poses no threat to water quality in the Black Hills and the Cheyenne River watershed. Dr. LaGarry says we shouldn't be so sure.

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With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission coming to the Black Hills next week to hear public comment and consider evidence in the challenge to Powertech/Azarga's application for in-situ leach uranium mining in Fall River and Custer counties, Powertech watchdog Jim Woodward comes up with a couple of curious new developments:

  1. Back in May, Powertech bought some Tennessee Valley Authority data on over 4,000 boreholes and three aquifer pump tests that the TVA conducted in the Dewey-Burdock mining area in the 1970s and 1980s. Boreholes—i.e., paths through which water and pollution from in-situ leach mining could leak.
  2. That data could have some bearing on the contention of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and other official intervenors in the mining permit process that the final environmental impact statement on Powertech's proposal (completed before Powertech got that TVA data) lacks sufficient hydrogeological data on the impact ISL mining could have on the area. The data may also offer more perspective on more serious natural leakage at the site.
  3. The NRC told Powertech to show the tribe that data; Powertech is resisting that order, saying the TVA data is (in Woodward's words) "irrelevant to the evidentiary hearing."
  4. Even if the data is irrelevant, by balking at releasing the data up to this point, Powertech makes it difficult for opponents to see for themselves and study the data in time to effectively comment on it at the August 18 NRC hearing.
  5. And in business new that John Tsitrian will find interesting, Azarga was supposed to complete its reverse-takeover of Powertech by July 31. Azarga and Powertech have not completed that maneuver; instead they have extended the acquisition deadline to September 15.

Powertech uranium mining proposal, as well as its business arrangements with Azarga, are complicated. The public deserves as much data as possible to understand the risks and benefits. Powertech, help us out: let us see the TVA data.

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Darned wasicu and their in-situ uranium mining....

The Clean Water Alliance is placing the following public service announcement on KOTA and KEVN television. But since TV is as bad for your brain as Powertech/Azarga's uranium mining will be for the Black Hills, why not watch it here on the Internet instead?

Chinese-Canadian Powertech/Azarga, whose big-money officers mostly live elsewhere and won't have to deal with the pollution they will leave in the Black Hills, face a public comment hearing hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Hot Springs on Monday, August 18, followed by the NRC evidentiary hearing August 19–21 in Rapid City.

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South Dakota is "under-explored" for oil, says Sturgis consultant and former cop Adam Martin, the new exec of the South Dakota Oil and Gas Association.

"Under-explored" appears frequently in press dealing with South Dakota and oil exploration. State officials are doing a lot of petro-wishing, but geology and economics are still working against them. Heck, we can't even find the right sand to use in the fracking process—except for maybe one isolated patch of the Black Hills near Hill City where South Dakota Proppants thinks it can mine a million tons of frac-sand a year... and turn the central Black Hills into a dusty freeway for trucks thundering out to Wyoming and the Bakken. Yay.

Plenty of folks have made money punching holes in the Black Hills. If we punch more holes across the state and find oil, more folks will make money. But not all of them. Texas is far from under-explored, but the growing petro-wealth still doesn't flow smoothly to the greater good:

...[D]espite the boom, Texas has some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and ranks first in the percentage of residents without health insurance. Republican leaders have supported tapping the Rainy Day Fund for one-time investments in water and transportation infrastructure, but they have blocked attempts to use the fund for education and other services, arguing that it was designed to cover emergencies and not recurring expenses.

“Despite the bounty of the Eagle Ford, which is considerable and on the whole clearly positive, it is not a rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and author based in Waco. He noted that Texas had long had a philosophy of limited government and an aversion to spending on social services, an attitude intensified by the current political environment.

“Texas is not a good place to be poor, and there is little political appetite for change,” he said [Manny Fernandez and Clifford Krauss, "Boom Meets Bust in Texas; Atop Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In," New York Times, 2014.06.29].

It may not hurt to go looking for the spare change dinosaurs may have left in the couch cushions in West River. Then again, it might. But don't let the South Dakota Oil and Gas Association or South Dakota's state government fool you: fracking what little oil we may have won't bring easy, widespread wealth to South Dakota.

p.s.: Hey! Anyone strike oil down in the Precambrian rock by Wasta yet?

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The Custer County Democrats hosted a candidates forum over the weekend. Among the topics discussed was the in situ leach (or in situ recovery) mining Canadian/Chinese uranium prospectors Powertech/Azarga want to do in the Black Hills. Custer and Hot Springs have been hotbeds of opposition to this environmentally risky project.

Democratic candidate for governor Joe Lowe came ready for his audience. A Black Hills resident himself, Lowe said bluntly, "I will not support uranium mining in the Hills." He cited information from local press on a 2009 USGS report that found "No remediation of an ISR operation in the United States has successfully returned the aquifer to baseline conditions." Lowe says we don't want to be West Virginia having to truck in drinking water after mining operations pollute our groundwater. Lowe's firm, informed stance met with applause from Custer residents.

Then Susan Wismer took the mic. Lowe's opponent in the Democratic primary offered the following position statement on uranium mining in the Black Hills:

...I don't know enough about it to say too much of intelligence. I'm willing... I know I have a lot to learn, yes. What I've been told does concern me greatly. I can't really say any much more than that. It sounds like it would be something that it would make... I just hate to make promises without being, without all the information, so I hesitate to say I would, that there's no way, but, no, what I know so far, which really isn't very much, I would say I would be opposed [Susan Wismer, statement to Custer County Democrats, Custer, South Dakota, 2014.05.10].

That's odd: three years ago, Rep. Wismer knew enough about ISL uranium mining to vote for 2011's Senate Bill 158, a bill brought by Powertech to the Legislature to remove state oversight of uranium mining and hand that authority to the distant and understaffed EPA.

Here's the video, edited by the Lowe campaign, of Lowe's and Wismer's comments on uranium mining in the Black Hills:

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The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold a teleconference Tuesday, May 13, for the purpose of "Scheduling Oral Argument on Motion to Stay Powertech’s NRC License." This scheduling meeting begins at 2 p.m. (I'm guessing Eastern Time, from the Maryland area code of the contact).

The stay issued by the ASLB is another unwelcome monkey wrench in Powertech/Azarga's endless exaggerations to investors. Adam Hurlburt of the Black Hills Pioneer does some digging and finds that the ASLB has stayed an active license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission just once before. Piling remarkable atop remarkable, Hurlburt discovers that the previous stay also involved current Powertech boss Richard Clement:

On Jan. 5, 1998, the NRC issued Hydro Resources Inc. a materials license for its proposed Crown Point and Church Rock in situ recovery uranium mining projects in New Mexico. Two weeks later the ASLB ordered a temporary stay on the license until the board held an evidentiary hearing on the project and the NRC completed the historic and cultural site reviews required under the NEPA and NHPA acts. This was in response to stay requests by a Navajo uranium mining opposition group, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) and an environmental group, the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC). Current Powertech President and CEO Richard Clement served as president of Hydro Resources at the time (1996-1999).

More than a year later, on Aug. 20, 1999, the ASLB removed the stay and upheld Hydro Resources’ license. But this was not the end of the company’s troubles.

The NRC put Hydro Resources’ license back on hold in May of 2000, again at the request of ENDAUM and SRIC, along with a few additional intervenors. The Crown Point and Church Rock projects are currently still under review by the NRC and EPA, some 26 years after Hydro Resources initially applied for an NRC license to mine uranium in New Mexico through in situ recovery [Adam Hurlburt, "Judges Put Powertech Uranium’s Mining License on Hold," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.04.30].

Crownpoint is a Navajo community that suffered groundwater pollution and high rates of birth defects and cancer following heavy uranium mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Responding to concerns that Hydro Resources Inc. would bring back those problems, Clement made the following claim in a 1999 High Country News article:

"There is no opportunity for the legacy (of uranium) to be repeated," says former company president Dick Clement.

The Albuquerque-based company uses a method called in situ leach mining, which Clement says reduces the spread of radioactive dust and contamination. After drilling underground wells, technicians inject a chemical solution into the aquifer. This removes uranium ore from surrounding rock and sucks it into a treatment plant for removal.

"We've had a perfect record in terms of restoring conditions to what they were before we began operations," Clement says. Hydro Resources' parent company, Uranium Resources Inc. operates two similar mines in south Texas [Andy Lenderman, "Uranium Haunts the Colorado Plateau," High Country News, 1999.12.06].

That last statement about a "perfect record" is complete bunk:

...no mine—not just in Texas but also in the entire United States—has returned the post-mining groundwater to baseline for all required elements. For example, the USEPA established the MCL [maximum contaminant level] for uranium as 0.03 milligrams per liter. Ninety-five percent of Texas uranium mining PAAs [Production Area Authorization] have a baseline value above MCL and 68 percent of Texas mines show a final restoration value for uranium above this MCL. The MCL for radium is 5 picoCuries per liter in drinking water. All PAAs are characterized by baseline values and all post-restoration radium concentrations nwere reported above this MCL (Hall 2009). Clearly, there is a problem here [Ronald Sass and Cylette Willis, "The Legacy of Uranium Mining on the Coastal Plains of Texas," James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, 2013.12.05].

Such distortions from Clement give us all the more reason to encourage the ASLB to extend the stay on Powertech's license and give South Dakota opponents and regulators more time to research Powertech's plans and claims.

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