Report calls Gold King Mine spill preventable; blames EPA

October 22, 2015

An independent review of the waste water spill from the Gold King Mine in Colorado found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was responsible for the spill and that the spill was preventable and preceded by conditions and actions that “are surprisingly prevalent” at abandoned mines.

The Denver Post reported that the 132-page Department of Interior report strays from an EPA internal review of the disaster in August that claimed the massive release was “inevitable.”

The Interior report highlights, specifically, that the EPA failed to understand impounded fluid in the mine and the ground water system affecting the Gold King area.

That “misinterpretation of the ground water conditions,” and the decision not to drill into the mine’s collapsed opening to test pressure, led to the massive release. Had the drilling been completed as it was at a nearby mine, the report says, the disaster would not have happened.

“Although this (drilling) was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done,” according to the review. "Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.”

The interior department's report also says the EPA also did not know the potential for disaster at the site and the possible environmental impacts downstream.

“The incident at Gold King Mine is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation,” according to the report.

While there are various guidelines for mine reopening work, there is “little in actual written requirements that government agencies are required to follow,” the review said.

“San Juan Corp. agrees that the root cause of the blowout at the Gold King Mine began when the neighboring Sunnyside Mine mined the Gold King property and then blocked the flows of mine water from the American Tunnel of the Sunnyside Mine. That caused a very large amount of mine water to build up in Bonita Peak and flow out of neighboring properties,” said Todd Hnnies, owner of the Gold King Mine. “ We have been advised of an independent investigation that has determined via photographic evidence analysis that the actions of the E.P.A. in 2014 in piling a large amount of backfill material on the Gold King entrance blocked off the mine discharge pipe intakes. This action by the EPA resulted in a very large volume of water backing up in the Gold King Mine workings. The act of placing such a large amount of backfill on the entrance of the Gold King Mine also prevented the pressure of the water from clearing an outlet of the waters naturally.”

The 3 million-gallon spill above Silverton on Aug. 5 left the EPA facing immense criticism as yellow-orange contaminants flowed from the Animas River across the southwest. In the disaster's wake, the agency has been working to address the still-leaching mine and other area portals that are releasing contaminants.

The interior department's report was peer reviewed by the United States Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers.


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