PIERRE | Public testimony opened Tuesday on legislation that would increase regulations for water protection at mining projects in South Dakota that use the in situ process.
The measure, HB 1193, would prohibit in situ mining in areas that don’t have proper confining zones or have geologic faults that would act as conduits for groundwater movement.
For areas that aren’t prohibited by geology, mining companies such as Powertech Uranium Corp. would need to show through tests before mining that wastewater isn’t affecting groundwater.
The in situ process relies on solutions injected through wells into the ground where precious materials, such as uranium in Powertech’s case, are dissolved from the ore.
The solution is then pumped back to the surface through recovery wells and the material being mined is extracted from the solution.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is considering whether to endorse the proposed additional regulations.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, said the hearing would continue Thursday. The bill’s prime sponsor is Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission. Hoffman is a co-sponsor.
Supporters of the legislation spoke Tuesday, as did opponents who drove to Pierre for the meeting.
Yet to be heard are witnesses for Powertech and possibly the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whose regulators would be responsible for enforcement.
Powertech’s Dewey-Burdock project is at the heart of the issue, although the legislation is written to affect any in situ mine in South Dakota.
Powertech hasn’t received any of its major federal permits yet, and two state boards dealing with mining permits and water permits placed their healings on hold until the federal clearance is in place.
The legislation’s supporters are trying to add more water-safety requirements before the state permits are granted.
“We do not have a profit motive. We care about the water and our health,” said Rebecca Leas, a retired health-sciences professor who lives in Rapid City. “We just want accountability.”
Lilias Jarding of Rapid City said the legislation isn’t about just one company.
“The issue for us as South Dakotans is how do we hold these foreign companies accountable,” Jarding said.
Several residents from the Edgemont area testified against the bill. One was former mayor Jim Turner, who said local people trust Powertech.
“We have three wells that come of the Madison (formation aquifer). That is our drinking water,” Turner said. “This is just another regulation thrown on top of existing regulations.”
Bev Gehman of Edgemont said her father was a yellowcake miner at the uranium pits there. She said local drinking water already carries small amounts of uranium and that’s true for other communities in parts of South Dakota.
“We believe Powertech is following everything that is required of them,” she said. “We’ve got enough regulations already, and we don’t need another on top of it that isn’t going to add anything.”