GOLIAD — So, do you think they’re sleeping together?
That’s where the mercenary minds in the second row have strayed.
We’ve been packed in this Catholic meeting hall with several hundred disgusted Goliad County residents, listening to the back-and-forth of accusation and denial, for hours. A spitball’s shot in the distance is the villainous panel of would-be nuke enablers.
Harry Anthony (“internationally recognized expert in the uranium industry,” according to his company’s glossy PR materials; sloppy, gun-for-hire, death-ore miner to detractors) is shaking his feet and wringing his hands under the foldout table.
The likelihood this group, Uranium Energy Corp, a Canadian penny-a-trade stock outgrowth, will severely fuck up the water here is high. But is Anthony getting play from the stylish attorney draping him from the left? It’s murky — like the slimy well water that has started turning up in county drinking water wells after hundreds of exploration holes were driven through this gently folded South Texas ranchland.
Three hours on the frontline last Thursday led to flights of immaterial imaginings. I forgive my neighbor her brief (though titillating) diversion and temporarily switch chairs. The crowd’s interest is in the relationship not between Monica
Holmes and Anthony, after all, but in that between the state regulators and the facilities they
Margaret Rutherford, whose home is surrounded by UEC-leased property, asks about the testing of area springs, to which TCEQ geologist David Murry responds, “Usually, if there’s any data we need, the company supplies it.” The room erupts in laughter, and under the thinnest of good-natured smiles, Murry, tasked with reviewing the company’s permit application, adds: “You obviously find that very comforting.”
It was just the point local resident John Barnhart was thrusting about when he rose from the crowd in a wave of wild white hair after the evening’s initial introductions.
“Is it true that TCEQ is funded by the industry?” he demanded.
Yes, said Murry, about 85 percent of the agency’s budget comes from fees (and fines) from regulated industry. Another 12 percent comes from the Feds (thanks to Texas taking the lead environmental role in the state and saving the U.S. EPA the trouble). “Less than two percent” is taxpayer money, he said. This arrangement was never far from the general rumble of the room, and set Barnhart off an another tirade, calling the regulator a “toothless giant” with a “quality duty but no money for inspections.”
On purely water-consumption grounds, the UEC plan is a no-brainer. After all, in cattle-rich Goliad County, where the San Antonio Water System only recently recanted predatory groundwater interests, the 72,000 gallons the company would use each day as they mine uranium from underground water sands via a system of pumps and spurting solution could sustain 60 cattle herds. When the company starts trying to clean up the mess it’s made, the water it plans on using could keep 200 herds slaked (200,000 gallons per day), Pat Calhoun, president of the local farm bureau, tells the crowd.
Of course, people drink from those wells, too. That is, if you can call the apparently mineral-rich slime that started clogging filters at homes around the test fields shortly after exploration began water. One man offered Anthony a tub of the stuff to drink during some of the night’s better theater.
The company maintains that there is absolutely no risk to residents living outside the mining zone from the underground mining it has planned — a technique known as in-situ leach mining. They promise a network of sampling wells circling the project would alert them to any potential migration of polluted groundwater. Officials at the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District, one of several groups who petitioned the TCEQ at the hearing for a contested-case hearing, say the application, and the state laws governing its review, is flawed at many levels.
GCGCD President Art Dohmann said his board wants better aquifer protections whether or not the operation is ultimately approved. However, just the amount of water needed to “restore” water quality to its pre-mining conditions would be potentially crippling, he says. His group submitted 40 technical questions to the TCEQ.
For the TCEQ’s part, they too have questions pending with the company — particularly regarding whether two faults in the proposed mining area allow for the lateral or vertical migration of water. Such hydrological conditions would strip the aquifer of required “confined” status and potentially kill the project.
Murry said he has yet to receive answers to his early-January letter, and that another request will be mailed in a few days if no answer arrives by month’s end. If there is still no response after that, the company stands the chance of having its permit application pulled.
Should the state grant UEC’s requested well area permit, it is still far from the end of the process. UEC officials would then need to get the shallow drinking-water aquifer declared exempt from drinking-water standards. That would be followed by yet more permit applications, including production authorization for the four uranium-ore bodies they have ID’d; an aboveground processing facility permit; and an approved class 1 injection well to dispose of radioactive wastewater, Murry said.
“They might have to go through five hearings on this thing,” Murry said. “And that’s time-consuming.”
So there are likely to be plenty of public-hearing hours left to unearth a suitably smutty cast and crew for an all-UEC-inspired mini-series, with all the torrid affairs and betrayal of NBC’s Passions. Stay tuned. •