Fall River County voters declare uranium mining an “unlawful nuisance”

Dewey Map

Photo Courtesy: Encore Energy

RAPID CITY S.D. – Fall River County voters passed a ballot measure on Tuesday to declare uranium mining an unlawful nuisance. It remains unclear what impact, if any, this will have on the Dewey-Burdock uranium mining project near Edgemont.

The County has the authority to regulate nuisances outside of municipal limits in Fall River County, but this power has never been used to block a mining operation before.

The measure passed with 56% of the 3530 votes cast.

This marks just one more page in the 16-year-long attempt by Encore Energy to restart uranium mining in the southern Black Hills. During this time, the name of the company attempting to do the mining has changed from Azarga to Powertech, which is now owned by Encore Energy.

There were uranium mines throughout the area starting in the 1950’s, and continuing into the 1970’s. As nuclear weapon production fell with the end of the Cold War and nuclear power plants became less common, the mines shut down due to a lack of need for radioactive material.

The Dewey-Burdock project is a proposed uranium mine at the southern end of the Black Hills which would extract uranium from an underground water supply through a process called in-situ-recovery (ISR).

“The Dewey-Burdock mine isn’t like those other mines. It’s what you call In-Situ-Leach [ISL], or In-Situ-Recovery [ISR] mining. There isn’t a pit or a hole,” said Perry H. Rahn, Professor Emeritus of Geology and Geological Engineering at South Dakota Mines. “What they do is they put chemicals down into the aquifer that dissolve the uranium into the water, and then they pump that water out and refine it.”

It’s worth noting that the process is not the same as ‘fracking,’ which is used in oil extraction.

According to Encore Energy’s Dewey-Burdock website: “Fracking opens up preferential ‘cracks’ in the subsurface to extract hydrocarbons while ISR is designed specifically to avoid opening ‘cracks.’ Fracking would be totally counterproductive as most, if not all, the uranium would be bypassed by water moving in these “cracks.”

The potential for groundwater contamination has been a worry for local residents since the project has started but, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Inyan Kara and Minnelusa aquifers, the bodies of water where the mining will occur, are not at risk for contamination because they already contain dangerously high levels of radioactive and toxic materials and thus are not considered Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDW).

Additionally, the EPA determined that there is no risk of contamination spreading to adjacent aquifers or surface groundwater:

“While EPA agrees that uranium contamination of a drinking water aquifer would be a risk to a community, EPA’s review and evaluation determined that no such risk exists,” the report said.

Categories: Local News, Politics & Elections