Federal probe: EPA mine spill was preventable

Federal probe: EPA mine spill was preventable
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Federal experts are blaming the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a major mine wastewater spill in Colorado.

Investigators with the Interior Department, who were charged with independently probing the August spill, reported Thursday that the EPA rushed through the engineering work leading up to the incident and did not understand the complexity of the abandoned Gold King Mine.


The Thursday report contrasts with one completed in August by the EPA, finding that the blowout of 3 million gallons of dangerous sludge was “likely inevitable.”

Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation found that the EPA, Colorado officials and a contractor decided against drilling a borehole horizontally into the mine, above the pooled wastewater, to determine its volume and pressure.

“This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure,” the report said.

The EPA was roundly criticized after the spill by officials in Colorado and Utah and congressional Republicans, who said the incident showed incompetence and hypocrisy on the agency's part.

The heavy metal-laden sludge flowed into a tributary of the Animas River near Silverton, Colo., turning it bright orange and closing it and downstream rivers for days. The EPA and its head, Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy & Environment — White House announces new climate office New White House office to develop climate change policies Kerry: Climate summit 'bigger, more engaged, more urgent' than in past MORE, quickly took responsibility for the spill.

The EPA, which requested the report days after the spill, said it would review it carefully.

“This report in combination with the findings of EPA’s internal review of the incident, will help inform EPA’s ongoing efforts to work safely and effectively at mine sites as we carry out our mission to protect human health and the environment,” spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said.

Thursday’s report additionally found that spills similar to the Colorado mine could easily happen.

“BOR found that the conditions and actions that led to the Gold King Mine incident are not isolated or unique and are, in fact, surprisingly prevalent,” the report said. “The standards of practice for reopening and remediating flooded inactive and abandoned mines are inconsistent from one agency to another.”

Richard Olson, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers who reviewed the report before it was released, told investigators that he wanted to investigate more about how communications at the EPA broke down about the mine cleanup, and how that contributed to the incident.

But Interior argued that its report should only cover the technical aspects of the spill, so it did not probe communications.