In the wake of the spill of 3 million gallons of wastewater from the Gold King Mine in Colorado, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, the Republican leader of a congressional panel investigating spill, said the mine was purposely breached by a government cleanup team.
The appears to contradict claims by the Obama administration that the cleanup team was doing only preparatory work at the site, the Denver Channel reported.
Bishop cited an email in which an Interior Department official said the spill occurred while the cleanup team hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was removing a "plug" blocking the mine’s entrance and holding back the wastewater.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in response she stands by her earlier statements that the spill was an accident.
An Interior Department probe said a cleanup crew rushed its work and failed to consider the complex engineering involved, triggering the very blowout it hoped to avoid.
It concluded that the spill would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels before digging into the mine.
Documents and photos released by the EPA in late August showed how a small leak at the Gold King Mine exploded into a massive spill in a matter of minutes.
A private contractor was trying to pipe contaminated water from the Gold King Mine to a nearby water treatment system when the spill occurred on Aug. 5.
Crews were using heavy equipment to remove loose dirt above the entrance of the collapsed mine on the morning of the spill, the documents show.
According to a detailed timeline from the EPA, at 10:51 a.m. “a small leak was observed approximately 15 to 20 feet above the anticipated elevation of the floor of the wall.”
Within three minutes, “the hole begun to enlarge and water was pouring out.”
Four minutes later at 10:58 a.m., the timeline stated “the hole had expanded significantly” and the “access road had begun to wash away” as three million gallons of mine waste poured out.
As the spill was happening, it took the contractor more than an hour to notify anyone downstream including the EPA.
Crews were able to evacuate the mine site in time but said in an email to the EPA that there was no cell or satellite service. They had to use two-way radios to reach nearby crews. Those crews then got in touch with the state who made the proper notifications.
At about 2:00 p.m., the report stated the "flow steadily declined" and crews were able to reconstruct the road.
The EPA has said it did not have an emergency plan in place in case of a blowout, which may have played a role in why it took so long for crews to notify the state.